Wednesday, February 06, 2008

On Flailing Pianists

I stumbled across an interesting column in today's New York Times about the problem with modern concert pianists. At least in this guy's eyes the problem is visual:

Wandering from one television channel to the next the other day, I came across young people playing the piano. One man, bearded and a little hefty, rippled through a Beethoven sonata, sharing with the camera complicit smiles, exultant grimaces, gazes to the right and left, and a gentle swaying from side to side.

The next, a young woman, sat down to Schumann, bending her back, lifting her head and gazing straight up. Maybe God was sitting in the rafters just above her, and she was using the opportunity to say hello. Both pianists were perfectly fluent. They kept time, played the right notes and sounded expressive when they were supposed to.

I had to turn away. I could listen, but I couldn’t watch. Two performers, four glazed eyes and four waving arms were too much for my stomach. And if someone with a lifelong love for the piano repertory has this kind of reaction, what about those coming to classical music from the outside? Think of the smart young people ready to believe, filled with curiosity and good thoughts, and imagine with what astonishment and amusement they must come away from such scenes.
It's an interesting complaint, but one that seems misplaced. I'll admit, I enjoy seeing musicians who get into a little bit when playing. I can conjure up vivid images of Stevie Ray Vaughn, sweating out every note of a solo, like his soul was pouring out his fingers. Or of Mike Keneally, grinning maniacally as he and the band rip through some tune. But I don't hold it against Bob Fripp or Tony Banks that they have the stage presence of banana slugs. It doesn't change my opinion of their playing. Sure, fake enthusiasm is awful, but fake reverence would be just as bad, it seems to me.

1 comment:

Muze Euterpe said...

"I can conjure up vivid images of Stevie Ray Vaughn, sweating out every note of a solo, like his soul was pouring out his fingers. "

And the congregation breathes "Amen!"

I figure that cat couldn't tolerate Liberace either.

Music should never be stale, dull, or boring. It should reach into the being of the listener, massage his/her soul and drag them kicking and screaming into the moment.

It is not merely an audible experience. All of our senses should be awash in the emotion.

The listener AND the performer should be able to lose themselves, and the world, in worship. Because it is an EXPRESSION of the most intimate experience.