Classical Musicians Need to Commit - to the point they make mistakes

No guts no glory

There are numerous discussions about what's wrong with Classical Music.... and this article is no different - except that what I'm asking Classical Musicians to do is break out of the rut they're in and start making mistakes, big ones, BOLD ones - ones that take them out of the "wasn't that nice" into the "wasn't that amazing."

Greg Sandow wrote an article on the The classical music aura which talks about how some performances of classical music tend to be so "classical" they're off putting. I attend a number of classical music concerts in the Denver area. While the performances are excellently played, there is always an air of caution, an exactness in the performance that keeps it from going over the edge - so precise and technically perfect it's lost something.

Now watch a performance by a pair of young cellists performing a cover of "Smooth Criminal".

There are lots of classical elements in their playing, sul ponticello, left hand pizzicato, upper register and rapid technical moments. Yes, this is pop music and whether you happen to think the music has any quality at all, their performances are committed, over the top, engaging, electric (without the need for amplified instruments). They shred their bow strings - and maybe that's what this performance needs.

I attended a violin masterclass/workshop a while back. The noted professional was there to critique the playing by some rather fine students, offering suggestions as to how they could improve. Pretty much in every case the difference between the professionals performance and the students was that of commitment. The professional made mistakes in what notes were played, but the "performance" was significantly better in terms of energy. Later that week I went to watch the live performance of the same professional. On stage the professional was far more technically accurate and very confident in what they were playing - but there was also a reserve, an element as if to say "this is classical music and needs reverence." This professional is probably a much better violinist than either of the cellists in the above video, but the cellists give a better performance.

Some friends played a new string quartet of mine last quarter. After their first performance I made a few edits and they gave a second performance. Technically the first was better, but even after listening to recording numerous times (where I can actually notice the mistakes) the second performance is considerably better. I almost wish they'd perform it a dozen more times with that same intensity --not only would the technical get better but I think the intensity would improve as well.

THIS is what classical music needs - Intensity! Performers still need to work on the technical but they need that extra commitment to push the performance beyond the technical and into the frenetic. Live performances of music should be alive.


Anonymous said…
That is a really cool video. My favorite moments of playing are when I'm completely "lost" in the moment of the music. Then, I make a mistake, and my left brain re-engages. Oh, well...


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