Recommended Listening for a lazy day…

16 November 2013 § Leave a Comment

If only my weekend could be so! I’m currently deep into working with the London Mahler Orchestra. We’re performing Mahler 10 tomorrow. Mixed feelings on the completion and piece in general but that’s too long for here. Plus it sounds like a lot of uncited garbage in my head. It’ll have to wait for a later date, or never!

However! I have been digging into Debussy as well recently, including writing about him in relation to futurism. His spoken beliefs versus compositional techniques are quite interesting and while I won’t write my essay out here (besides being unfinished, a non-musicologist would find it dull) I found it incredibly interesting how he was inspired by Couperin and Rameau in his last decade. I’ll leave you hear with Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. I heard it live a couple of years ago with players from the LSO all lead by a favourite conductor of mine, Michael Tilson Thomas. He wasn’t in this number, of course, but it had some wonderful players. The recording I’m leaving you below is by the Trio Leandro. I happened upon it quite randomly, but have really enjoyed it.

I’ve also included in this playlist Britten’s Second String Quartet. There are a lot of young-ish London quartets currently performing this work, probably due to the Britten Centenary, and it’s a fantastic one. If you haven’t heard it, or even if you have, give it a listen. The Jupiter SQ are fab.

I hope many are having a more relaxing time than I am. I am looking forward to my months of craziness being over mid-December! But, as a fortune cookie I received at my work this summer told me, the path will be arduous but the result will be amply rewarding. That stays in my viola case. I know it’s just a slip of paper, but it was good advice.


On Recordings…

8 November 2013 § Leave a Comment

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about recordings vs. live performances lately. It’s probably due to the fact that I have auditions coming up for Master’s programmes at a number of reputable schools, but I’ve been thinking about the consequences of sending in a recording vs. playing a live audition. One of the schools I’m applying to is too far away for me to go in and play live, so thankfully I have some help and support to send in a good recording. However, how do our expectations compare?

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the privilege of seeing some performers that I have admired over recordings since the point where I started getting serious about music (12? 13?). I’m not going to name players or ensembles as they are well-respected by the public and myself, but I must say, I frequently came away disappointed with what I heard. Not always, but this has happened enough to make me question what my expectations are in a performance.

I know from speaking with other musicians my age and older that the automatic response when looking for performance ideas, interpretations and general knowledge is to go to a recording. Spotify is so handy for giving you a wide variety of possible departures for a piece of music and if none of those are satisfying, there’s always iTunes and Amazon (for the antiquated medium of CDs, of course). When one listens to these recordings there is always an expectation of perfection, vivacity and clear artistic goals. The performer must know exactly what they want to convey as they have many takes (how many depends on budget and time constraints) to show this idea. If a technical mishap occurs, it can be rectified easily with some quick splicing.

I would largely argue that my generation, and probably the one before it as well, seems to come to the concert hall with the expectation of a recording-quality performance that has the same vivacity and technical perfection that your sitting at home can provide. However, as a performing musician, this is almost impossible to make happen. When you’re performing, stuff happens. Your A string might break in the middle of a quartet performance (this happened recently to someone I know) and you have to continue playing. You might be tired and on the second to last stop of a tour. There might have been an argument just before you went on stage. As a musician you can do your best to rectify issues, but ultimately, a live performance is never going to be as perfect as a some splicing and multiple takes, among other things.

Despite its lack of perfection, I think Sousa’s fin de siecle fears of a life without live music are still unfounded even in our technologically filled world. The groups that I find most compelling to hear live record far less and focus on live performance (for a number of reasons). The raw passion that you can hear in a young group (either musicians my age at the university-level or older) is something that you don’t hear as frequently in a well-seasoned quartet. While these ‘legendary’ groups can put out heaps of useful and enjoyable recordings, sometimes they are less enjoyable to hear in concert. Despite this, the amount of knowledge they can provide to a young group of performers is invaluable in continuing our classical tradition. As I focus here on Western Classical Music, I can safely say that our tiny part of the music world would be totally lost without the guru-like relationship we frequently have with our elders.

Although our world may shift ever more rapidly to digital everything, the live performance should never go away. While it may be less compelling and perfect than a recording, it provides extremely valuable information for today’s performers, and of course enjoyment for the public. It simply means that our focus must shift away from expecting a recording in a concert, something that I can easily say is difficult. However, our enjoyment will be greatly increased if our expectations are shifted and we recognise value in both worlds.

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