Watch it again, Sam

This is a follow-up of my last post, in which I question the necessity of going to concerts. Well, I just came back from one which shed new light on the issue for me.

Today’s chamber concert is a mixture of European (Brahms, Ysaye, Bartok) and American (Ives), romanticism and modernism (Ives is alone again). It is mostly violin solo but sometimes accompanied by piano (I hate those parts). The violinist’s name is Hilary Hahn. What her performance strikes me is the way she moves. Of course all violinists move. But I don’t remember seeing anybody move with such an elegance, as if she was dancing with the music. I believe most of her movements are of practical needs, that is, to balance the sometime rather vehement and sometime delicate exertion on the upper body. But it is hard to tell to which extent they are practical and to which extent they become independently expressive. It is as if the practical needs themselves constitute the expressivity, as in architecture. The correspondences are not entirely predictable, as in Disney’s Silly Symphonies; nevertheless it is always anticipated, therefore I venture to propose it is a true case of audio-visual counterpoint. Also it rhythms with our natural motor reaction to music—finger movements, for example. It does this through our perception of the music, naturally, but also through our visual perception of her interpretive movements. Watching her playing I guess I am 75% aural and 25% visual, contrary to our normal mode of perception. And this 25% of visual soon fades into reveries where my attention follows her figure but somehow manages to blur the rest of the stage as if they were out of focus. And I do this partly because I find the piano’s bulky presence awkward and disturbing—and the girl who is there just to turn the pages! This emotional judgment comes first from the visual, and then tries to find support in the realm of the aural.

Here is how great she looks (Google yourself, there are plenty):


So much for how fantastic is Miss Hahn. I really should have waited in line for her to sign my copy of her recent DG recording. But I was in a hurry. Today classical music performers are also stars. Open CSO’s offering for this season you see how they promote their product. It is faces, faces. One gets to know only a tiny bit of the music itself but takes a huge amount of biographical information home. Such a strong desire to know who is that that is performing tonight! And where he/she went to high school! I wonder how many percentage of the audience is equipped with a connoisseurship to tell the difference—I mean, whether a piece sounds great because it is composed so or played so. But that doesn’t matter. We go to concert to see real people, instead of the abstract music. Human being naturally attributes anything artistic to his likes. So the presence of performer/artists has an assuring effect that is purely psychological. The presence of human figures is an ideal place to project one’s emotional investment. This happens in cinema, where we often recall a movie by who plays in it. I wonder if in the future we would recall a symphony by who conducts it—well I do remember the Bayreuth Ring circle in the way Boulez conducts it. And I am sure many would remember a piece of piano by the way Lang lang plays it.


No comments:

Popular Posts

Blog Archive