August 29, 2012 at 4:30 PMThis is my favorite kind of controversy: a completely harmless one.
I'm speaking of the kerfuffle over the flamboyant Korean-born violinist Hahn-Bin, 25, changing his name to Amadeus Leopold.
You can hear him tell why, in this WQXR Blog article, but to sum it up: after waiting five years for his American citizenship, he chose this name in July, when he finally was granted citizenship.
The question is, is it a stunt? And if it is, is that bad?
I view a stunt as something cooked up, very often by someone's publicist or manager, to get attention. To me a "stunt" implies something phony. But I don't think anything about Hahn-Bin/Amadeus Leopold is a stunt -- I think it's completely and authentically him.
Certainly, the man wants attention. But when we bother to bring something to the stage, shouldn't we all?
In the interview below, he talks about his dismay over finding half the audiences sleeping through classical concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. "That's a very expensive nap," he notes. A graduate of Juilliard and former longtime student of Itzhak Perlman, he definitely seems to think this music deserves more attention than that.
He also says, "My exterior is only a reflection of my interior, everything on the outside stems from somewhere deep." And with a nod to Lady Gaga, "I was born this way."
"This way" is really, really out there. But if you can stand back and take it for what it is -- one person's way of taking all the chaos of the world and molding it into his own mode of expression -- it's quite unique and potent.
Not everyone will agree with or enjoy The-Artist-Formerly-Known-as-Hahn-Bin's way of expressing things, but I, for one, applaud his courage and would be open to seeing one of his unique performances.
As for taking the name Amadeus Leopold, why not?
Honestly, I don't have a great deal of respect for people who feel that they need to change their names to get a piece of the action. Korea has much to be proud of.
If half this guy's audience is falling asleep during a performance, I don't think that's because of an Asian name. He might better look elsewhere.
As for all the "born this way" nonsense, I'm pretty over it. No you were not. We were all born naked and crying, not wearing meat or eyeliner or calling ourselves Engelbert Hildegard...nurture also had x number of years to make you into what you currently are...sorry if that seems harsh.
But his name is an improvement over Hahn-Bin. He now has TWO names, for starters, not ONE hyphenated name. And there is less risk of him being confused with Hilary Hahn despite all his attempts to feminize his persona (costume, makeup, mannerisms). And when he is 60 there will be no "Has-Been" jokes.
Leopold channels more David Bowie than David Oistrakh to my aesthetic perception.
I think the way Mr. Leopold-Bin is perceived by someone is actually a good barometer of how much or how little a person actually knows about the violin and how learned a musician one is.
For me, there's a difference. A performer is an interpreter, right? That means they are a kind of vehicle, bringing their own heart and intelligence to bear on something another person wrote.
And, of course, to a lesser degree other artists use mannerisms, costuming, publicity to present themselves, and, (again, for me!) quite often that presentation detracts from the music they are purportedly interpreting.
Mozart doesn't NEED costuming, exaggerated gestures, or anything else. (I keep saying "Mozart" but he's just one of many, many names I could use).
I guess maybe its the difference between performance and performance art. Each has its place, but when they overlap, I'm not sure who wins...if anyone.
A performer interprets, as Marjory and other suggested, thus certain amount of respect of the original written texts is expected of each performer. But an artist does more than mere interpretation. Without contributing individual imagination and creativity, the interpreter becomes a machine, which is probably the hardest thing for a true artist to live up to.
Really interesting discussion so far and the different arguments are quite predictable, a lot to do with difference in taste. And unlike expressing different political and moral tastes, this is all shown in a completely harmless way, just as Laurie predicted.
I also thought it was interesting that he starts the video with the same piece that the girl violinist is playing in the recent "Karate Kid" movie, for her high-stakes audition into a big Chinese conservatory. The movie uses the piece as a kind of emblem of classical music on a pedestal: beautiful, achievement-oriented, "perfect" etc. And then it is used in contrast with her relationship with the protagonist (an American expat boy in dreadlocks played by Jaden Smith). Her parents don't want the girl to have anything to do with him, at first. They think he will mess up her chances of getting into the conservatory. It being a Hollywood movie, the parents eventually relent and the two characters develop a mutually supportive relationship where they both learn from each other. I'm wondering if Amadeus Leopold/Bin-Han is trying to get at a similar concept, of melding east and west.
It's a nice idea, and maybe he's still just working it out. He's quite young yet and has a lot of years ahead of him. But as I said, it's a little disappointing here. I don't really even see the depth of the karate kid in what he's doing.
He says in his youtube interview that he's performed in a variety of venues, for a variety of audiences: from children to elderly people. And he says that in his performances all of his audiences say that what he does serves the music.
If that's the case, what is there to argue about? He plays well, he's legitimate. If you take away all of the visual trappings, he's still both a good violinist and musician.
Considering how much everyone wants to pillory this guy, I doubt that this is some kind of calculated popularity move!
And Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Alice Cooper and-you-can-go-on-and-on....?
As is often said, "there's no such thing as bad press" - and here we are, talking about him. Thus, put me firmly in the "stunt" crowd with other respondents above.
I think this guy is a good musician with good musical instincts. He has good aesthetic sense musically. One can argue whether or not he has the best artistic sense visually, but to me, what he's doing with his dress and manner just doesn't really bother me.
Btw. I like Alice Cooper ;-)
Ignore his attire and just listen to him. Can he play? I say he can.
It's arguable that Hahn-Bin / Amadeus Leopold is distracting from his real playing, I think that's a reasonable possible position to take.
His dress is certainly unusual, but is it unusual just because we're not used to it? You have to dress up in some way. A tuxedo would be distracting if everyone was used to seeing people dress up as H-B/AL dresses. But apart from getting off of pianos to play, walking around a little bit, he's not doing that much that's distracting.
And the main thing to me is that he says in his youtube video all of his audiences (from young to old) say that what he's doing serves the music. If that's the case, what are we arguing about? His audiences love his playing, isn't that a good thing?
Above is a link of him playing Carmen Fantasy. I'm assuming that when they cut away from him during his tutti sections that he's not doing twirls or something, although I can't say for sure. I can't find a youtube clip that shows an entire performance of him playing some real music, like Bach, Brahms, Beethoven concerto. There is a link of him playing Sibelius (very well by the way) at 15 - before he started dressing the way he does. If he schlocks up Csardas, who cares in my opinion. Csardas deserves to be schlocked up.
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