Monday, March 05, 2007

What's it all about?

A year or two ago I got a note from a friend in the New York area who goes to a lot of different kinds of cultural events. I suppose she would be a great example of the "typical" person who goes to a symphony concert as something novel to do for a night out. Anyway, she heard the Shostakovich Violin Concerto played by Vadim Repin, and she was so excited after hearing it that she wanted to know everything about the music. I happily replied, telling her everything I knew and loved about Shostakovich and the Violin Concerto, and her response was "but what do you know about Vadim Repin?"

I think that people who are not practicing musicians themselves tend to respond to how a musician plays a piece rather than stuff about the piece itself. Being a musician who wears many hats, I bounce back and forth. If someone plays a piece that I wrote, I tend to ignore the notes and rhythms of the music and focus on the interpretation and the playing. Still, I get a special thrill when someone finds something in a piece that I didn't even know was there, and then my attention is temporarily re-directed to the music itself. When I am listening to a performance of a piece I know very well by another composer, and there is something novel about the interpretation, my attention also goes right to the piece. When I'm hearing something I have never heard before, I almost always focus on the piece, and let the playing take the back seat.

When I play a solo concert I think mostly about shifting, intonation, sound, bow distribution, phrasing, ensemble, and I think about expressing myself, relegating the composer to the role of the person who provided the notes and rhythms, and did all the work to have them fall in the right places. When I play an orchestral concert I tend to pay more attention to the music than to my playing. It's all very confusing.

All in all I think that it is the performer's art that is the most important. I don't think that I'm alone among composers (living or dead) when I imagine how someone might play a phrase while I am writing it. The notes and rhythms are essential, but the musical gesture is what really matters. Someone can design the most beautiful dance costume, but if it is worn by a person who can't dance, it means nothing. Then again, if it is worn by a wonderful dancer, the costume becomes part of the whole experience of the dance.


Werner said...

Dear Elaine,

My name is Werner and I’m living in Brussels, Belgium.

I just came across your website passing over a website “Hirshhorn, underrated violinist”.

I read your comments on Philippe as well as on Berl Senofsky and yes, I happen to have the same documentary (at least the major part of it, since one of my kids by accident wanted to use the same cassette to record something else) at home. I suppose that you know that Philippe died shortly afterwards due to cancer.

I also wanted to comment on your remark about Berl Senofsky. There are 2 points in the documentary with him that touches one very deep inside:

The first one is where he explains that during studying music, it’s not about fame, it’s not about money … it’s about more “elevated things” and also explains how he took “time off” just to improve his vibrato

And the second is where the interviewer plays him an old radio recording (if I recall well from the year 1947) of transcription by Kreisler … marvellous moments indeed.

By the way … a remark on your last paragraph … a wonderful dancer can also get “more” out of a less beautiful dress ;-)

I’ll try to get some of these Senofsky & Hirshhorn moments posted on YouTube somewhere in the near future. I have already posted on YouTube under the name “twotea22” ... so you can "check it out" :-)

Best luck with your work & music!

Kind regards,

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you Werner for telling me (and everyone else reading this) about your youtube posts. I see we have the same taste in pianists, and this stuff is terrific. It will be wonderful to have Berl Senofsky and Philippe Hirshhorn available for everyone to see and hear.

I was very fortunate to get to know Berl Senofsky during the last years of his life. He was as special a man as he was a musician.

wstroobants said...

Hi Elaine,

I only wanted to inform you that I posted some items on Berl Senofsky as well as one of Philippe Hirshhorn.

Here are the links:
Senofsky :

Hirshhorn :

I have quite some friends in music (yes, even hosted several times candidates for the Queen Elisabeth competition). And all the people I met through music, they’re all very special friendships. It’s something I don’t have with other friends. It’s maybe difficult to understand for people that are not that involved in music, but music goes so far beyond words.

As Gyorgy Sebok once said … “music enriches, music makes discover oneself” …

Kind regards,

Elaine Fine said...

Thanks Werner. I have put them in new posts so that they are even easier to share.