A couple mornings this last week I added David Byrne’s How Music Works to my morning reading. I should say re-added it since I had read a bit into it when I bought it.
I love the title of his book. However, I think what he is calling music is limited to his own venue of commercial popular performance art. I quite like his work in general and think both it and his observations on contemporary living and art are interesting. They provide a needed balance to an “educated” approach.
I’m pondering the two performance experiences I went through yesterday and not quite sure why they both had some hollowness in them.
The first experiences was accompanying my high school cellist at Solo and Ensemble. I learned Friday night that this excellent player is in the ninth grade. So it was not too surprising that he was not terribly articulate in my conversations with him, especially about the music we were playing. Also, despite having gone through district Solo and Ensemble, he was so unprepared that our playing time was delayed while everyone fluttered around him helping him photocopy a judge’s copy and then number each measure of his piece for him (!).
It is odd that such a talented player was so unprepared for the situation. He is young only in ninth grade. His playing was prepared and musical. One wonders if his teacher sort of wrote off the whole State Solo and Ensemble deal. Hard to say.
He played the best I’ve heard him. I tried to immerse myself in the piece both in preparation and performance, so I wasn’t as analytic as I could have been about his playing. The judge commented that the pieces is actually a duet for cello and piano which is something I had told the player the night before at our rehearsal. Eileen said she noticed that he played a bit softer this time when the piano had themes. I confess that I was so in the music I didn’t think about it. But I believe her.
So the musical performance was good, but the experience was odd. I’m more used to talking about what I’m doing with other performers I guess.
The second performance was an hour and half of the local Holland Chorale Masterworks concert with instrumental accompaniment.
This was the first time I had heard this group since coming here to Holland in the late 80s. At the time I heard them sing Brahms’ German Requiem in English with organ accompaniment. It was pretty ghastly. Last night was not ghastly but it was weird.
I’m still trying to figure it out. This might be where David Byrne comes in. He tends to back and see the entire experience as a piece of performance art. The overall feeling of the evening was stiff for me. I’m not sure why. It could be that parts of the performance were a bit under rehearsed and performers anxieties were coming through. The conductor was extremely restrained but clear in her technique. For some reason she seemed more like an orchestra conductor to me than a choral conductor. Maybe because she used a baton with such skill.
I suspect that the interplay between the music, the musicians and the audience is what troubled me in a subtle way. The choices for the evening were excellent: Vaughan Williams, Holst, Galuppi, Schütz, Bernstein. As a critic I might say that most of it didn’t “gel” into a coherent performance. There was little excitement and no evident musical risk taking is the best I can do as a critique. Also I missed music by anybody living or recently alive. I guess one is limited when one titles the concert “Masterworks,” eh?
The best performance of the evening was the Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms which is a great work. But even this had some shaky moments but for the most part seemed well prepared if carefully performed. The boy soprano did well, however. Still processing all this.