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November 2014

When a classical music concert stops feeling like one: Review of Ray Chen in concert in Melbourne.

November 22, 2014 23:03

This can also be read here at my personal blog.

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the penultimate concert of Ray Chen's national recital tour of Australia with Timothy Young (Piano) in partnership with Musica Viva Australia. The warm wooden interior of the acoustically superb Elizabeth Murdoch Hall (Melbourne Recital Centre) provided an ideal setting for the two hour feast of repertoire to follow. (No literally, Ray described in concert how he sees concert programming like a multi-course meal).

Ray ChenAs someone who has attended many classical music concerts, and performed in many, the air of anticipation prior to this concert was like something I have never experienced before. The energy in the room before Chen and Young walked onto stage was palpable, the audience obviously eager to get proceedings underway.

The two walked onto stage to hearty applause before launching into the evening's entree (the leafy green salad as it were) of Mozart's Violin Sonata No.22 in A Major (K305). Whilst a very palatable opening, something about the choice of repertoire didn't seem to sit that well with me personally. There were many nice moments throughout, and both performers clearly seemed to enjoy themselves but despite this I was left a little wanting after it was through.

Luckily, the main course for this evening (Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No.2) proved to be a fully satisfying choice. This in my opinion is where Chen really came into his own. (This was made more interesting by the fact that I am also learning this sonata currently). The playing was diverse, exciting and had much variety of colour, musical idea and emotion. So much so I had to control my urge to clap after the first movement was over. The rest of the sonata proceeded in this fashion, and you could feel the entire audience along for the ride with the performers. The sonata concluded to thunderous applause bringing the pair back onto stage 3 times to bow before interval. In actual fact, I felt quite relieved at he end of this portion of the recital, realising only after this was because I pretty much held my breath throughout the entire sonata.

The after interval palette cleanser was Bach's Partita No.3 in E Major. This provided an opportunity for Chen to show of his sound and his Strad, and this did not disappoint. From the very opening of the Prelude, the audience was clearly taken by his warm and rich sound, which reverberated stunningly around the hall. Whilst his interpretation again did not quite do it for me personally; to sit and bask in his wonderful sound whilst watching his flawless string crossing and intonation was none-the-less very enjoyable. Again, this was rewarded by heavy applause and cheering.

Finally onto the dessert for the evening, a trio of Sarasate; including two of his Spanish Dances (Habnera and Playera) followed by the famous Zigeunerweisen. From the word go, it became evident that Chen and Young's virtuosic flair, combined with the repertoire choice would produce a very tasty dessert. Indeed none of the pieces left anything to be desired, with wonderful extroversion and risk taking combined with strong ensemble and technique. The applause became progressively louder as each piece concluded, with the cheering and applauding becoming a standing ovation at the conclusion of the revealed program. Upon conclusion of the third bow, Chen grabbed the mic to announce an encore; "if you can stand more Sarasate...". The audience went wild and the pair launched into Introduction and Tarantella. This was the first of what would be three encores for the evening (the other two being Meditation and Theme from Schindler's List). I'm fairly sure the audience would have kept spurring them on to play more if they had been able to, but sadly after the three encores were through, it seemed like our concert was officially over.

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to applaud the wonderful work of the pianist Timothy Young who proved a worthy partner for Chen, matching him in his virtuosity, flair and technical security. His playing had the perfect amount of sensitivity and the two clearly have a wonderful partnership (both onstage and off-stage). This was further evidenced in the post concert Q&A which was well attended.

There are a few other things well worth noting. Firstly, it is clear how effective Chen has been in galvanizing a younger audience to see classical music live. The audience was significantly younger than I'm used to seeing at other similar concerts and Chen was mobbed after the Q&A for photos and signatures (myself included). The second, is how charismatic he is both on and off stage. Whilst his playing clearly connected with everyone in the audience, the portions of the recital where he interacted and bantered with the audience removed any sense of pretense or snobbishness. With the audience's cheering and thunderous applause at the end, begging for more encores, I no longer felt like I was at a classical music concert. Everyone felt free to enjoy themselves, the music, his awkward humour and the incredible atmosphere at the end. It was thoroughly refreshing.

I greatly admire what Ray Chen is doing for classical music in making it more accessible for people. Not only does his playing deliver in a major way, but so does everything else about his personality and off-stage efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed this concert and will jump at any future opportunity to see him live again!

Chen and Young answer questions post concert.

1 reply

Taking Compliments

November 13, 2014 06:03

This can also be read here at my personal blog.

Ok this isn't really a lesson on taking compliments, nor can I profess to knowing very much about it, but what I do know is that in the past, I have struggled greatly with simply accepting them.

There comes a point in your violin (or other passion related) pursuit whereby you realise that you're never truly going to be happy with anything you produce. A performance will always have a technical flaw that you worked for weeks to fix only to have it fall apart in performance. Or a phrase that didn't speak musically the way you want it. Or perhaps a passage where intonation was that tiny bit doggier than it usually is. However, at the end of the day, we still put our work out there in the hope that it may mean something to the people who come to experience it, and that they may enjoy it.

The problem arises when your standard of expectation clashes with those of your audience members. Often you are playing to a largely uneducated group of people (in comparison to yourself) who have no idea about the true intricacies of what you are presenting. In reality, I actually find this quite liberating. I don't mean so in the sense of lowering the standard of what you present, or not trying as hard. Rather, it is liberating because they are there to enjoy themselves. People who try to enjoy themselves don't come searching for flaws, and mistakes. Even when you are playing to an educated audience (as I often have to in university), they don't always know that you've struggled with trying to relax your shoulder, or tension in the thumb. So in reality, if the left shoulder gets tight does get tight in the performance, they are certainly not going to magnify it as a problem in the same way you do.

The thing is, at the end of it all, often people will pay you compliments, many of which you may not feel were warranted. As a performer, I feel like this all the time.

"How could they possibly enjoy themselves if my bow arm was as tense as it was."

When put like that, it does seem quite ridiculous and hyperbolic in nature (and I have exaggerated here) , but in reality, it is a thought process I used to go through all the time. How could these people possibly know what good playing sounds like. Who are they to determine if they enjoyed something or not?

I've over time learned to take compliments graciously without feeling guilty about it and not to be so quick to add my own personal thoughts and perspective to the discussion. Because the more I think about it, the more I believe that it's rude to disagree with someone complimenting you. It says, 'you can't possibly understand this enough to make a sound judgement,' it says 'you don't know what you're talking about,' and most alarmingly it says, 'my opinion of this is more valid than yours.'

That's not to say you're not allowed to express disappointment in yourself or have a strong sense of self evaluation later. However, a compliment means that you have actually achieved what you have set out to achieve even if you don't feel like you have. It means someone enjoyed what you offered up. It means they were moved. It means the music you played, or the work you created spoke to them. Isn't that what we as musicians want? Isn't that what we do this for (beyond intrinsic benefit and enjoyment)?

After all, we are our own worst critics, and as such, terrible judges of how the music we presented affected others.

After all, these people have made the effort to tell us about it.

After all, they were able to enjoy your performance, despite your bow not being straight. They probably didn't even notice.

Compliments are the best opportunity we have to connect with our audiences and the people who support us. It doesn't help if we stop listening.

6 replies

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