Written by Stephen Brivati
Published: January 4, 2015 at 8:48 AM [UTC]
It always amazes me how things coincide and intertwine in the world of music. Everything in and out of this site seems to me to be centered on the Bruch concerto right now.
Recently there was a thread here about Kyung Wha Chung berating the parents of a coughing child and suggesting they come back "when she is a little older." Partly I think because we hate the idea of a child being denied music, the reaction tended to be somewhat negative. I sort of felt that way myself until I read a comment by someone who was there. That person said that the hall was full of coughing people to an incredible extent, and she had been unable to start a sonata at one point. Furthermore, when I followed up on the story, I found that it was Chung's comeback after a ten-year hiatus, which is a musical event of no small significance. On reflection, I felt that although Chung handled it badly, I think she had a point. Although music can and should be reaching out to young audiences, this kind of event should be treated with real respect.
Had I experienced something similar at Milstein's last concerto performance in London, I would have been enraged. But it seems that music has become something of a buyer's market, and those occasions when the art is of high value are not being respected in the way they ought to be. Of course, no-one can help having a cough, and I think the Halls could help by having a money-back policy for parents who wisely decided to respect the enjoyment of others and apply for a refund on those grounds. Cough drops are good, too. The BBC report I read was faintly damning but turned out to be real yellow journalism when it commented at the end that 50 kids were asleep anyway (presumably because Chung was boring). Talk about hoist on your petard. If 50 kids were asleep, then that supports Chung's argument, in my opinion.
Tangent. So I taught one of my best lessons ever this morning. When this nice thing happens, I always try to figure out why. When playing Go, the greatest intellectual challenge in my life after the cat, one has to do things in the correct order or get slaughtered. Both teaching -and- practicing the violin are the same: you have to make real-time decisions about what to work on that is appropriate for that time and place and student. Get the wrong order, and the value of the lesson or practice diminishes significantly.
I hadn't planned on teaching, but I visited an ex-student of mine who is about to perform the second and third movements of the Bruch for her graduation recital from a private music college in Tokyo. I suggested she play them to me to improve her nerves, even though it was only 9 in the morning and she looked half asleep;) She played reasonably well, sort of looking at the music and messing up and stopping a couple of times. I have a good Japanese word for this, but I have trouble finding the same nuance in English. Sort of mostly there, but kind of half-arsed, perhaps. "Bimiyou... "
I could have left it there, but I accidently slipped into teaching mode (the family know I tend to do this, so it wasn't a problem) and asked her to play it again without the music. She had never done this and was aghast. I also asked the mother (my piano trio partner- very skilled musician) to play the score as she felt it ought to be, and not be so kind to her daughter. She thought that was funny.....
Anyway, it was wonderfully improved and brimming with confidence and life. She was quite shocked, actually. Then I asked her to spend the next few weeks making sure she uses more or less continuous vibrato, rather than hot and cold notes in the 2nd movement. A little work on sustaining the chords in the third movement where her bow speed was a little too fast and too far from the bridge. Finally some practice routines for 2 problem passages, and that was it. The point was, I had judged correctly (for a change) what needed to be done, and she improved tenfold. Had I followed my usual instinct of going for the technical passages and pulling them apart, she would have been perhaps a little discouraged and not got so much from the session. Finally, she saw that she could graduate well. That was what matters to her now.
I was so inspired by her progress I decided to look for some recording of the Bruch, and rather than the usual hooligans I chose Chung (You Tube 1974- Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra), not really expecting to be so blown away. The violin playing is so textbook in the use of the bow (except I don`t like the extended bowing finger- but that's a personal choice) , the left hand so flawless you could use it as a teaching model with any student and they would get so much from it. Incredibly sensitive phrasing and just electrifying intensity. Maybe this last thing puts a few people off, but I had sort of got to the stage in my life when I was not so interested in this concerto and the way she played it just made me fall in love with it all over again.
So, if you are going to see a genius like this, maybe it is better not to cough after all.
When I introduce my friends to different raw seafoods (sushi and sashimi), I assess where they are in the adventure before I suggest what they order. In most cases, their fears and misgivings are based on what they heard about the raw seafood and not based on experience. For those who are clearly skeptical, I start with tamago nigiri, which is simply a sweet cooked egg omelette on top of vinegary, sweetened rice. If they get this far and appear to appreciate it, then we advance to the California roll, then the smoked salmon (which is more deli food, than Japanese), grilled eel, and so on. If they continue enjoying the experience, I may move them up to the uni (sea urchin) and perhaps to the monk fish liver. Ultimately, I'll take them to the blowfish, which is considered by some to be the penultimate experience because of the slightly intoxicating effect of consuming an otherwise poisonous fish.
All the while, I know that the sushi chef who has been practicing and apprenticing in some cases for decades before they are actually permitted to prepare and serve their artistry. As an artist, the chef doesn't want to waste a piece that could go to someone who would truly enjoy it, so they keep an eye on the patrons.
On to music: I believe that classical music is not a commodity that one is entitled to simply because you can afford a ticket. Like the prize pieces of raw seafood, if you take it and aren't prepared to enjoy it, you are both dishonoring the chef who has spent decades preparing and sacrificing for the moment; you are stealing that precious experience from others who could have enjoyed it. Similarly, there is an entire concert hall of the paying public who is affected by the interruptions, not just the artist.
I find it absurd that people have piled on here and fallen into the trap of feeling sorry for people (children and adults) who were ill-prepared to fully appreciate the moment. If you have a cough, take cough medicine before you arrive at the concert ~ or take the evening off by donating your tickets to someone who can't afford tickets, but who is healthy. However, don't spoil the experience for the other concert goers and don't dishonor the artist. If you find yourself on the verge of coughing, feel free to leave the concert hall ~ which could take but ten seconds to exit ~ rather than remaining insufferable for the rest of us for the entire concert. Or, if you actually know the music, wait for a fortissississimo passage to clear your throat.
Back to sushi. There is a finite amount of fish in the ocean. If it is not a metaphysical experience between you and the sushi chef, then I suggest that opening a can of tuna would offer you just as much protein and a reduced chance of exposure to bacteria. Similarly, if sitting in a concert is simply entertainment, then watching a YouTube video should probably suffice and reduce the chances of being exposed to a flu bug.
Children AND adults need to be introduced to classical music. However, serving them the finest pieces before they are fully prepared to enjoy and appreciate the experience is likely to transform it into a bad experience for everyone involved. They will turn away from both classical music and sushi.
I was interested in you comment about the former pupil and how she should think about continuos vibrato. I would have totally agreed a little while back but I'm having second thoughts about that now. I notice that some wonderful players hit the note dead in tune and then add vibrato. OK - it's only a fraction of a second before they warm the note up. I suppose some like the cellist du Pre used to have more of a gap before the vibrato was appled which I always found less satisfatory.
I too was mightily impressed with K Wa Chung's Bruch - very committed playing and acurate. I have always liked her performances (but have not heard her in recent years). It's probably not PC to say this, but I think she was also stunningly beautiful too! Bergland was a fine conductor (I played for him many times) and the orchestra sounded better than ever. Altogether very outstanding.
Regarding teaching and the problems we all face with our daily(?) practise, I wonder if it is best to forget the clock and not have any idea how long you have worked on something for. I would in fact say that for me the best action plan is to think about the violin and all its problems for anything from 15 minutes up to three hours say, and then ignoring the clock, and applying all those things that have come into one's mind. It might be something like teasing out a problem with the left hand and a certain passage/movement which is breaking down, or causing fatigue. Thinking about holding the instrument, the thumb hand reationship, the application or not of vibrato, the bow pressure which might effect the left hand as well - all these little things. They add up and can cause a problem.
I find that this way I make little advances which over time add up to something worthwhile.
Just a few thoughts prompted by your blog.
In stark contrast to the reported response to coughing, a few years ago performer Lukáša Kmita was shown in a video as he handled a disturbance from the audience with grace and aplomb, and this resulted in good-natured applause and laughter from the audience. I suspect they would be pleased to attend a future performance by him, as would I.
That situation involved a cell phone disrupting his performance in Presov, Slovakia, not coughing. This electronic interference should be completely avoidable, coughing is never totally so for humans.
Kmita YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uub0z8wJfhU , perhaps already seen by the majority this audience as it now has over 7 million views.
One of many news articles http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2090264/Violinist-mimics-phone-ringtone-Lukas-Kmits-witty-response-interrupted.html , with more recent mention on March 6, 2014 in The Strad at http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/6-ways-to-avoid-an-angry-soloist/ .
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