Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Brilliant Career

Once before I put up a humorous (Ed.: it was humorous? I thought it was tragic!) post about my career as a performer.  Here it is:

I was making the point that performers, well, some performers, well, me, tend to ignore some basic truths about why audiences go to concerts. Let me share a little anecdote that illustrates the point. For a while, as a young artist looking to find an audience, I roomed with an elderly lady whose son was a musicologist and organist. At this time I was very worried about having enough technique to be a real virtuoso as that was what I felt was important. Part of my work was practicing some etudes every day including the Estudio brillante by Tarrega. Here is how it goes:

That is from a tv documentary about Julian Bream. Lovely and cheerful piece! But I was doing it as a technical study and so how lovely it was, wasn't really the issue. In any case, my landlady used to say, "play that piece I like, the brilliant one..." She thought it was great. I thought it was a bit halting and uneven. By the way, if you listen very closely to Bream's performance you can hear quite a few technical flaws in it as well.

This, my landlady's liking of this piece, was a useful piece of information, had I not ignored it. I should have thought, "aha, so that's what they want to hear!" But instead, though I worked it up to a pretty good level, I never played it in public! Hard to believe. What prevented me was my aesthetic evaluation that the piece was a very lightweight sparkler with no real musical substance to justify the hard work. Well, yeah! But so what? If audiences want to hear it, then that justifies the work, not some obscure aesthetic criteria. After all, I played the Etude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos for many years in public and it has even less aesthetic justification.

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