Showing your talent: perform difficult pieces with errors or easy ones perfectly?
So, I was watching the other day a TV show that was about kids playing classical music at "high?" levels. One of the kids was a violinist and played a piece that was "hard" for violin (Vivaldi) but he played it with errors and intonation problems here and there. His tone and performance was barely OK.
Nevertheless, all the critics said it was amazing that a kid could play that piece, and the judge completely ignored all these errors and only repeated the same thing "it's incredible you can play/face this piece at your age". It looks that the mere act of trying to play a hard piece being a kid is enough to permit and accept all kind of errors, even by musicians that are judging your performance.
This reminds me a poster here that claimed "I'm playing it faster than most soloists", using that sentence to cover and ignore all the errors in intonation, tempo and everything.
Since when you could shield in your age or your speed to ignore and cover all the flaws and errors? Why so many musicians accept that, instead of recommending easier pieces that can be performed almost perfect?
If you play something not very good, and you tell me "yeah but it's really difficult", then I don't know if you can commit those errors in easier pieces or not.
What do you think will be better to present yourself as a good musician, playing a Paganini Caprice with noticeable errors and intonations problems or playing an easier Bach piece but with a great tone and almost no errors?
I'd think the second, hands down, but there seem to be quite a lot of musicians that would say, regardless of the quality of the performance, "yeah but the Caprice is very hard".
Response eliminated - it was written for a different thread that has disappeared.
I think it's incredibly important for students to do both.
That's out of the question, they do both, I mean, they practice both. I'm just talking about performing it in front of an audience. I, as a musician but also as audience, don't like at all when someone performs something clearly above their level to "wow the public" and if anyone has any problem with the performance quality, he will say "yeah but it's a difficult piece".
I can only talk from my personal experience.
It depends on what the people putting on the show and the performers intend. If it's all about cute kids playing music at whatever level, then there's no reason to hold anyone to a high standard and it's perfectly fine (more than fine, IMO) to praise the kids who've gotten up and performed. Maybe you aren't the right audience for this particular TV show?
First of all I'd say that the notion of a "perfect" performance, even of a technically straightforward piece, is a chimera unless you happen to be a very fine player. Intonation, tone and elimination of errors are of course important, but by no means the whole musical package; what about phrasing, flair and emotional involvement? Secondly, as Scott implies, you should take into account the sophistication or otherwise of your audience; is it your talent they've come to admire or the music? Would they actually enjoy hearing you battle through a virtuoso work, or might they prefer something "easy" that you can perform to a more professional and musically involving standard?
There is a great difference between "accidents" and not being prepared.
I think the cuteness of playing high-level stuff poorly goes away somewhere around age 13. Perfection is one thing -- no student is going to play
I think a certain point needs to be clearly defined here, as it seems to be somewhat ambiguous.
It would be helpful if we knew the TV show Tim was referring to. Otherwise we're all commenting on imaginary performances. How many and how bad were the violinist's errors? It was "barely OK" as compared to what? It's not like Tim was watching the Menuhin Competition. Who were the judges? What were the criteria?
On the whole I think everyone agrees that for an important event you need to play something easier well rather than something difficult adequately. The latter never impresses really since each error is logged by the listener as a flaw in the player, not the piece.
Tim, who is the audience? Teacher, parents, music class mates,... mistakes are ok because it shows you are striving.
This is something both of my kids have struggled with over the years. I firmly believe the answer is BOTH.
It seemed to me, 30 and more years ago, when I was involved as CM, board member and (for a time) manager and president of corp. of the local community orchestra that auditing our aspiring youth soloists I could pretty well tell what I was going to hear just by the way they tuned their instruments; their bowing, the nuances of the sound from their open strings. If they "noodled" a bit I would pretty much know for sure.
I think nobody should get a free pass for their age. When I hear kids play real bad, I don't say "wow, that was so good!", because I'd be talking right out my ***. Instead, I say something like "good work! Keep it up and you'll be fantastic."
Given that Vivaldi routinely played by kids (A minor concerto in Suzuki book 4, G minor concerto in Suzuki book 5, sometimes an under-tempo Spring or Summer from the Four Seasons) is not at all technically difficult, in this case I'd vote for "kid not ready" and "actually not impressive even if played well". You want to see impressive, see the 7-year-old playing Paganini 1:
To the OPs question, I'd say it depends on the audience. One could appreciate Twinkie Little Star played at a virtuosic level, while for others it is just a kid song, whom couldn't care less about phrasing, intonation, nuances etc. as long as the kid can play it fast...
It might depend on the context too. I tend to think orchestras give plenty of opportunities to learn and perform music that is a stretch for the player's abilities, with a little bit of safety in numbers. I relied almost entirely on orchestras to propel myself all the way from upper-beginner to advanced level. For solo rep, I feel it's more important to be able to master it.
There is a difference between making music and impressing judges.
Young children face difficulties that adults do not. Concentration problems, problems not knowing and having the capabilty to practise well aso. Therefore children have a high barrier to play well than teens and adults. And therefore I think you really cannot have the same standard for good playing than a teen (age 13 or over).
"Young children face difficulties that adults do not. Concentration problems, problems not knowing and having the capabilty to practise well aso. Therefore children have a high barrier to play well than teens and adults."
If we are strictly speaking about children here, I think they need measured encouragement all along the way augmented by critique designed to get the point across without sounding terse.
Lydia, Good points on the subject.
Lydia - oh wow, isn't this the truth?! --Someone performing in a student recital is doing it as a learning experience. There, the expectation is mostly "get through this without being traumatized for life".-- That made me laugh out loud. I actually had a good time at my recital (flaws and all), at the end of January after much suffering prior to the event. I played a stretch piece and a comfortably within my wheelhouse piece. And I did not perform from memory, even though I could have -and did so in sessions and the dress rehearsal with the pianist!- because I did not want to spend 75% of my mental energy trying not to freak out about forgetting what to play. (Made the whole recital performance much stiffer than it otherwise would have been - the compromises we make to save ourselves from being traumatized!) Needless to say, I'm thrilled I was not traumatized nor embarrassed myself (or my teachers) sharing what I'd been working on with friends and family.
Which is more Correct? Playing an easier thing perfectly. Which is more fun? Stretching yourself! Of course I say this as an amateur... Actual pros, or people auditioning on a path to become one, should be playing far below their stretch level technically and musically. That's how pros mostly achieve consistent strong performances.
I've found that the top soloists are basically perfect in their live performances, too. Indeed, a lot of excellent students seem to be consistently technically perfect, as well. Undoubtedly they have bobbles every now and then, but I don't think that their recordings give an unrealistic viewpoint of what they do every night. Indeed, look at YouTube and you'll find that perfection in the random videos, too.
I find playing simple music with sensitivity, taste, and expression to be the hardest. I imagine I'm not alone in that. Let's ignore for a moment the fact that there is an entire world of music that is so virtuosic to be beyond my grasp at this point.
According to Lydia "perfection" in violin performance is all around us. Unfortunately I think she may be right, in the sense that most of today's performers offer a standardized, homogenized, sterilized commodity in which originality, flair and emotional involvement (not to say sensitivity, taste and expression - thank you Mary!) are sacrificed to mechanical efficiency
One of my "party pieces" is Schindler's List,which I can possibly play fairly decently.
I guess too, it can depend on how you handle the errors while they are happening.
I had the worst audition experience of my life in college because I still believed at the time that playing a hard piece with some noticeable errors was preferable to and/or more impressive than playing an easier piece with more mastery.
I don't think that mechanical efficiency is hampering the interpretive abilities of today's performers. If anything, sheer technical skill allows players to do anything they want to on the instrument. Rather, the quest for fidelity to the "composer's intent" means that lots of people end up with similar interpretations. There's the notion that you can have a right or wrong notion of intent -- and in general, you can choose only the right intent. You have to be either brave or particularly well-established to violate that. Clearly some performers manage that. And there's some room for personal expression within that framework. But nobody would play like the previous era's most-personal players.
Wow! Great comments everybody.
I disagree there's only one way to fulfill the composer's intentions, especially as we do not have those composers around to inform who is "playing it right" (and often living or recently departed composers change/d the score according to what their performers do/did.) Though I DO agree technical perfection is in no way an obstacle to musicianship and individuality-as aforementioned, it frees up the performer to do whatever he/she wishes with the music, be it being "individualistic" or "homogeneous".
It is unquestionable that the technical playing level of the average pre-professional student through professional violinist is hugely higher than it was 100 years ago, and for that matter, the level has significantly risen in just the last 20 years. We simply know more about how to teach the violin now, and the average young student is getting instruction from a much more technically-adept teacher than before. The typical
Regarding the issue of the "composer's intent"... unless the composer is alive, we will never actually know their intent. Because my long-standing background is fine art, you can read, for example, fine artist essays/commentary on their own work and what they were trying to accomplish/communicate and compare that with a critic's commentary (or another person's interpretation of what the artist-in-question's work was intending). You will wind up with (sometimes radically) different takes on the same piece of artwork. This was never more apparent than in art school where studio critiques occurred - as the artist was present, received the classroom critique, and was able to give their response to the critique and offer their own interpretation if desired.