Nov 29, 2007

Here's what Joshua Bell thinks about playing the Beethoven concerto:

“It is as though I must succumb to this world that Beethoven has created, and I suppose I almost treat it in a religious sort of way. In the world of his music, Beethoven is God. I’d never thought of it that way before, but it is as though I begin to warm up to what religious people refer to as a loving God within that musical world. I feel as though I surrender to this. I feel that there is somebody who knows this world so much better than I do – and it is Beethoven himself, who created it – and there is something very comforting about that. Somehow that gets me feeling very relaxed. I think what a privilege it is to be a part of this great, beautiful piece of music. And this helps me get rid of my nerves and stops my extraneous thoughts about technical issues and what I did or didn’t do in the practice room.”

I thought about this all evening as I practiced. I recorded myself. Then I listened to the recording, and for the first time, some of it wasn't bad. When I listen to Joshua Bell or Isaac Stern or Itzhak Perlman or Jascha Heifitz play it, as I have so many times, I hear them shift in the same places where my shifts are audible. I hear their bows slide just a hair in the awkward passages. I can practically feel their hands moving in the places where the fingering is tricky. Of course they play so beautifully - and I'll never be that good - but it's comforting to know that even the masters have trouble with the same spots as I. And sometimes, for a few glorious seconds, the recording of me sounds just like Stern - or Heifitz - or someone. And then of course the illusion fades.

But maybe, sometime this evening, the spirit of ol' Beethoven hovered 'round.


Anonymous said...

It seems so strange to me that there exists an entire arena of music (classical music) in which the performer's goal is to play centuries-old compositions as "well" as possible. By what standard? Glenn Gould and Awadagin Pratt will play a Bach piece, both very differently, and then people will set to squabbling over whether their interpretations are too unorthodox. But in what sense -- that it departs from the written music? (How can we assume that the sheet music as published today best represents how Bach or Beethoven should sound?) -- that it departs from how the piece is most commonly performed? (Isn't the point to distinguish oneself?)

I have so much respect for classical musicians, like yourself, who strive towards such an ineffable goal. It would discourage me to no end to practice for years and years and still feel that I could be doing a piece more justice. At least in the folk/popular realm, good performers are praised for their idiosyncrasies and they can go from there. People say about Dylan: "his voice is terrible -- but what an amazing singer-songwriter!" No one would say: "listen to that Bach concerto -- squeaks, wrong notes, terrible timing... but what vitality!" It really must be like a religion, in which you can only asymptotically approach perfection but never reach it.

Even though this kind of dedication is astounding, the one thing that I do wish was more valued in classical music education was composition and improvisation. Only a couple of my Music School friends have ever tried to write anything, and those who have seem reticent to share, as if they as Performers are destined to be empty vessels.

Hope you're doing well!

Keep posting. It's fascinating.

Evan D. W.

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