Dave Lampson responds to me:
>>I am reminded of one of my favorite works...the Barber Second Symphony.
>>Listening to the composer's commercial recording of the work, and thanks
>>to a most generous friend, hearing the composer rehearsing the piece
>>with the Boston Symphony...I found it very odd how little "interpretation"
>>he put into his performances.
>Really? I don't find it odd at all. A composer at the podium is already
>spilling his guts, so to speak. He has already made a significant
>investment. A conductor almost *has* to "tinker" (not necessarily meant
>pejoratively) with it to make it his own. It seems to me that composers
>and conductors come at a performance from entirely different perspectives.
I guess I was different. My composition teacher used to say, "the first
performance is yours, after that it belongs to them." I had only one
piece that was performed more than just a few times. It gave me great
pleasure to hear performers making something different out of it...however,
I would cringe when some conductor would take a radically different
tempo...or when individual players missed some notes. I felt people
would think that is what I wrote and I would be embarrased...
>>... They are clear
>>and let the music "speak for itself." Yet, when I listen, I will choose
>>the Koussevitzky broadcast, or the broadcast I have with Alsop conducting
>>the Minnesota Orchestra. Both are filled with incredible excitement.
>I think there are also different types of excitement. A restrained,
>anticipatory performance can be exciting in some works. A bold,
>race-to-the-finish line performance can be exciting in others. And one
>man's exciting can either be superficial or boring to another. If you
>read enough reviews you can certainly see many examples of this.
Yes, and even after 40+ years of listening, reading and writing, I still
marvel that someone can get excited about a performance that leaves me
>I do find some of them excessive, though sometimes charmingly so (Mengelberg
>comes to mind). But you may well be right that there has been a bit too
>much homogenization, at least in the major orchestra and conductors. I
>also find it paradoxical that just as we're seeing this phenomenon, and
>there's so much concern expressed about it, what nearly always is left
>out of the equation is historical performance practice. HIP may well
>not appeal for a variety of reasons, but it is hard not to acknowledge
>it represents a movement towards more individual, even idiosyncratic,
>performances of old chestnuts, as well as lots of rediscovered music.
For me, HIP is a most curious notion. I have greatly enjoyed hearing
conductors observe the metromone markings in Beethoven, hearing performances
on period instruments...I still recall my mentor in college...he had a
forte piano and would use it when playing Mozart chamber music. The
difference in sound was a revelation to me.
Yet, on the other hand, I would love to hear a HIP performance based
upon a Nikisch recording...with rubato, and portamento, etc. I remember
reading letters where Brahms complained that performers tried to be too
precise when they played his music and that they did not put enough of
themselves in the playing.
I am also reminded of one the releases on my label, Scriabin playing
Scriabin...one short piece in particular where Scriabin used a great
deal of rubato, and then truncated the ending of his own piece. Also
on the same disc, a friend of his playing the same piece...recording it
just a few days later...it was so very "straight" by comparison, but
yet, probably too free for today's tastes.
>This is pernicious, I think. It's probably one of the two or three
>really bad things about recordings. And it's deleterious to all music,
>not just classical. I have no idea what, if anything, can be done about
>it other than to emphasize the importance of seeing live performances.
>Until one begins to have some understanding of what a piano played in a
>natural acoustic by a real musician, it's impossible to judge a recorded
>piano performance. In any case, the real thing should always be the
>frame of reference, never the recording.
I believe you raise a significant point. For me, the question is, what
is the real thing? I am reminded of a quote I have mentioned often on
this list...a group of us were sitting, having a bit of a bull session...we
were all composers who had done work with electronics...someone had posed
the question, "what is electronic music." Ussachevsky responded with one
word, "loudspeakers." For me, all recordings are electronic music and
that they become a reality unto themselves. Here in Austin, our major
concert hall uses sound reinforcement...the only time I have ever really
heard our orchestra was during rehearsal when I was next to the conductor.
As for a piano sounding like a piano...in one of our releases I think
I came pretty close to a real piano sound. With but one exception, all
of the critics found the sound "unnatural." I could only assume that
they were used to listening to recordings...