a brief comment on interpretation

by pieces of moments

I’ve chatted with you before about the power of interpretation. How you interpret says a lot about the way you listen, both as a performer and as an audience member. I say that because to some degree I think performers have to be their own audience in a kind of crazy out-of-body way. The best performers will be able to hear the sounds in their head, and still be lucid enough to judge if that sound is syncing with the one they actually hear reverberating around the hall. When there is a lack of critical listening, the performance will be lacking.

Now, before I say anything I feel I should confess to you that I’m not the biggest fan of Mason Bates, for reasons I won’t get into right now, but I appreciate in an abstract sense what he’s doing. That said I attempt to say sans my predisposition toward his work, I don’t think the duo part of the performance below was the best idea. For one thing, improvisation is hard, kids, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way at all – it is actually really hard. A lot of factors play into the act of improvisation, and some times you’re on and it syncs and amazing things spiral out, and other times it just never clicks. Furthermore, improving between a lyrical instrument like the cello and a cold, hard, machine like a laptop could be awesome…but my experience thus far has been to always witness it just not working in a “classical” setting. I don’t think it is because it can’t, I just don’t think the right balance has been struck yet (whatever it is).

I do think to pair improvisation with the Ligeti was certainly a bold idea, and I appreciate bold ideas. I understand the logic. That movement (the opening movement) of the Ligeti Cello Sonata is entitled “Dialogo: Adagio, Rubato, Cantabile.”  In other words: “conversation: at east, stolen time (alterations in speed) song-like.” These are the very characteristics of improvisation, are they not? So it’s a logical interpretational move. I think a lot of what doesn’t work about it is that (no personal offense to Joshua Roman, he’s clearly a capable musician) there isn’t a clear and bold moment that announces to the audience, “now the Ligeti has arrived.” The ear needs marker points, that’s why rhythm exists. Furthermore, when playing abstract music, the ear needs those invisible pulses all the more. Overall, the Ligeti here lacks anything that pushes it along (it starts just before 7:00 on the clock, if you were wondering).

To me, that is why Stephen Drury is so amazing as a performer. I have never heard silences that sound so full. Whenever there is a rest in the music (and if you know contemporary “classical” music, there are often huge stretches of silence) it sounds like something is happening anyway. It’s phenomenal. You hear the silent notes. I think part of the issue I have with the interpretation above is that it doesn’t honor the spaces but rushes through. It’s almost breathless in its earnestness to press on.

Compare that with the Matt Haimovitz performance here. They take nearly the same tempo at the beginning (after the strumming bits), and yet the Haimovitz performance has a sense of direction. It sounds more purposeful rather than hurried. Do you hear that? I realize the Roman performance is in a much more “dead” space in comparison to the more reverberant room that Haimovitz is in, but it goes beyond reverb. Haimovitz also diggs into the sound far more. This is crucial, kids. This is what I mean when I say “play it like you mean it.” After years of listening to thousands of auditions, I can tell you that the one thing that captures a judges’ ear more quickly than anything is if you sound like you mean it because you believe in every single note you let speak from your fingers.

I would also like to note that my criticism applies only to these specific performances, so don’t go around thinking that I’m just hatin’ on one and lovin’ on the other. Peace out.