Today I started my day laughing - I woke up early with my daughter, came into her room, and she just looked at me in her bed and started jumping with a huge grin. "I'm jumping Daddy!" I said - yes you are dear! It's wonderful to see an idea spark a spontaneous reaction that's simply full of joy, and it made me laugh warmly first thing today.
Classical music has a bit of a paradox: we have music that is written by someone else that we have to perform, where we work to find the essence of a great voice that composed the sounds we find so amazing emotionally and intellectually. At the same time we are supposed to give those pre-conceived sounds a fresh take that is considered. In other words, an extremely well thought out work must become spontaneous in performance.
How do we keep naturalness alive in our work when it is pre-determined on many levels? What is the role of the performer vs. the composer?
This is difficult to resolve, and I believe in part a solution lies in doing everything a little differently each time and being sensitive to how you feel today! It is easy to become wed to certain ideas that push music making into a rote experience, and this is the enemy of art. Of course when working in an ensemble there will be certain conventions within an arc that you must observe, since if you take a complete left, execution becomes unsettled. But within that space, there is a universe of possibility if everyone is truly listening. When that type of musical conversation is in play, then the music can sound as if it is being composed in the moment. The trick is to not to idealize any one idea, but to remain open to your voice and the voice of those around you, as well as to how the voice of the composer is speaking to you in present tense.
The second part is to realize that the composer and musician really become one if a performance is transcendent. In classical music, they are completely intertwined, and this makes for one work sounding completely different in the hands of multiple performers. If I listen to Mahler conducted by Bernstein, Levine, Solti, Haitink, Rattle, Barbarolli, as well as others, it is amazing how differently an individual symphony can sound. And this includes conductors who not only conduct the same work in their lifetimes, but also conduct different groups of musicians. James Levine (who I admire greatly) conducting the Vienna Philharmonic sounds so different than when he conducts the Chicago Symphony, or the Metropolitan Opera, or the Berlin Philharmonic. It's not only that he changes with time, but the relationship he has with each ensemble makes for substantive differences as well. This way a piece that is black and white and seemingly static in print, becomes alive when performed over and again.
If a performer gives themselves to the music and has enough trust in those who whom he or she is making music, then moments can occur where the music, musicians, and audience become one thing. This is a unique experience that is life affirming at the deepest levels, and I believe as artists, is what we want to work towards every day of our lives.
My hope is that you get to experience this as a listener, because no matter whether you are playing or watching a performance, we all are listeners and participants when a moment of magic occurs.
Friday, October 31, 2008
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