A couple of months ago, the great american pianist Leon Fleisher gave two masterclasses at the Eastman school of music. Although i could only attend to one, i was deeply shocked by some of the comments he had on modern performance. (I will paraphrase what Leon Fleisher said) “Now a days , performers are only interested in showing off what they feel… of course, this makes a strong impact on the audience and suddenly , no one is listening to the music any more, we are just looking at the performers expressiveness. This generation is forgetting about appreciating what the composer really intended and not what the performer is trying to show.”
This reminded me of a experience i had a couple of years ago when i saw the Berlin philharmonic perform a series of concerts which featured the Schumann a minor piano concerto. For this concerts they had invited Maurizio Pollini and Lang Lang to perform the same concerto on different dates. I attended both concerts, and the difference between both performances was unbelievable . Pollini hardly ever moved, he was so focused on creating the right sound and texture to make his phrasing the way he thought Schumann might have wanted it . (He is a classic example of an old school pianist.) While Lang Lang was the total opposite, he would whisper to the keyboard, he would constantly show facial expressions and would not stop moving …. honestly, you could not concentrate any more on listening to the concerto since everything was so acted.
John Stuart Mill argued that the best way to live is by being yourself, individuality creates geniuses and makes everyone happy, but i think that now a days , individuality of performers is just destroying the individuality of the composer we are supposedly entitled to represent. Of course, Lang Lang must be a very happy guy, he is quiet an individual (just look at the cover of every single album of his), but he puts his own personality on top of the composer way too much and this can be very irritating to a certain degree. We suddenly stop celebrating the individuality of a composer and his genius to elevate the personality of the performer.
Of course, this is not only seen in classical music. When i first came to the USA, i had the chance to watch the popular tv show The Voice which features top pop artist of the moment such as Shakira, Adam Levine, C low and country music star Blake Shelton as judges. Through the show the contestants have to pick a song every week and perform it. Usually the songs they pick are good, ive heard music from great bands such as Guns n roses, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Aerosmith, but what most of the contestant do is, they pick a song and then they do a choreography or type of dance which doesn’t really fit in the type of music they are singing . However , for the judges this clearly highlights the individualism of the contestants by being themselves and innovating . For me , this totally breaks the essence of what some songs are supposed to be about.
Now a days , we are just interested in celebrating the individuality of performers and how original they can be, but we are forgetting about respecting the individuality of the composers who made all the music happen. Lets try to think about that.