Among the many interesting composers, groups and musicians who “syndicate” (a fancy way of saying “republish”) their blogs through Chamber Musician Today is the estimable eighth blackbird who are currently on tour in Australia. Through the miracle of RSS, their latest post poured in earlier this evening and it contained some thoughts that seemed worth sharing with the keen minds who frequent this URL. Written by cellist Nicholas Photinos, the post is titled Should Hard Music Sound Hard? It was occasioned by Nicholas on a night off having heard Alban Gerhardt playing the tricky Shostakovich first cello concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony in Melbourne. He writes:
Old Shosti has plenty of ground to cover and places to show off, culminating in a ginormous cadenza spanning the second to third movement, which he nailed. To the wall.
And yet…standing ovation? No. A healthy applause, certainly, but no O, and barely even a hoot. Why? After it was done, I turned to Tim, who said tellingly: “I dunno, maybe the piece was too easy for him?”
It sure sounded that way—he seemed impatient, always a hair ahead of the orchestra, executing difficult passagework with barely a modicum of effort, always looking towards the next hurdle to jump. Some of the fast bits in the cadenza were faster than I’d ever heard them, and he barely seemed to be breaking a sweat. I noticed myself tuning out a little, and then asking myself why. Did it all sound too easy? Or is it that hard music sound hard?
Ok, so now here’s the money graph that requires some response:
Musically, we’re already living in a world of wonders, in that I can’t imagine any other time in history where so many people have had such a mastery of any instrument you can think of. Or, if you allow me to have a cello geek-out moment, we’re living in a time where Pablo Casals, still considered the best cellist who ever lived ever by many, would have struggled to get into an undergraduate conservatory (sorry Master P–you’re musical but too out of tune) and Prokofiev Symphony Concertante is the new Dvorak (ie 10ths are the new octaves). Even the Shostakovich concerto used to seem hard, but is now routinely learned by high school kids, and younger.
I think Nicholas has nailed it. What do you folks think?