Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An interesting balance

Happy holidays, people! I'm back home in Las Vegas. For the first morning in seemingly ages, my eyes opened to the sun shining in my face, and I feel a true motivation to practice before 11 o'clock, instilled by mom and my kitty Ayu, who I've missed for so long.

It feels like a dream that I'm already here for winter break, done with the first semester of my second year. For the past three mornings, I have forgotten what city I'm in. It's hard to believe it was just a few days ago that I was walking the streets of Toronto, hearing the endless flow of Christmas music and passing that elderly gentleman ritualistically holding up a sign which read "THE END IS NEAR! REPENT!". For the hundredth time, I had wondered why was it that people like him are so eager to remind the rest of us of our (supposedly) fast-approaching demise, especially during the holiday season. I had a brief flashback to the Winter Solstice of 2012 when the Mayans managed to troll everyone from their graves. Humanity, by nature, has an unbridled fascination with the end of the world. People like the man with the sign are in love with this idea, for they believe there's a much better place for them to go if such a thing were to actually happen. It's also an excuse to keep salivating over their fantasy of sitting high up on a cloud, looking down, and yelling a resounding "Suck it!" at the people they don't like down below.

Yet again, I severely digress. Onward...

So I spent all of this morning practicing assorted Liszt for upcoming concerts, without an ounce of my usual sleepiness at that hour. Perhaps as a result of being so happy, I was able to make a musical discovery. It's always satisfying to finally see the light and find a way to prevent any "dead fish" passages from showing up in the music. By "dead fish", I mean a section of a piece in which the music seems to stagnate - not entirely fulfilling my vision of what it should sound like. "Dead fish" passages usually require the simplest tweaks which are the hardest to find: sometimes, a simple switch of mindset, or acknowledgment of an overarching idea, which lead to the biggest improvements. I chose such a metaphor because the result of a passage not fulfilling your artistic vision is an obstinate, unfruitful section which threatens to make the entire piece stink - much like a, you know...dead fish.

"Dead fish" does not care if you are adhering to the composer's intentions or not. You could be playing a section to textbook perfection and still be caught in the clutches of this phenomenon. The piece then sounds like the product of a dogmatic score-adherent, devoid of the self, not betraying a single scrap of the interpreter's mind. 

But sometimes, the problem is not "dead fish". Sometimes, there is absolutely nothing the performer can do to help the music. Sometimes - and I dare the most sanctimonious of you to shoot me after I say this - the music is just plain fucking boring. No matter how much feeling the performer puts into these pieces, and no matter how much they genuinely mean to him/her, they still fail to make a greater, lasting impact. In short, the performer may not feel like he/she is suffering from "dead fish" at all, but the audience does. 

Now I understand this is all very subjective - the pieces in question might be different for each listener depending on their tastes, so it's definitely not the composer's fault that some people fail to be moved by a particular piece. For example, at this point in my life, I absolutely can't appreciate Schubert's B-flat major piano sonata (D.960) with adequate concentration and . It simply does not move me enough, seemingly lacking the heart-on-fire harmonic and melodic qualities provided by Liszt and Rachmaninov. Obviously, this is not Schubert's fault at all - or mine, for that matter. I'm also a hundred percent positive that another pianist would feel entirely differently about that piece than I do. 

The "interest level" of a piece is worth delving into. What makes any music truly interesting? By "interesting", I don't mean "good" - both of those qualities are mutually exclusive. By interesting, I mean thought-provoking, intriguing, and mentally stimulating. "Interesting" music not necessarily "good", and "good" music is not necessarily "interesting".

As far as my findings go, the interest level of a piece relies on the amount of musical conflict it contains. Conflict, in this context, refers to the variety of many factors: rhythm, harmony, melody, or the explication of a story behind a work, which leads to mental stimulation, or interest. The Germans used to call it Sturm und Drang. Looking to the music of today for some scope, Rihanna's music seems to contain a lot of musical conflict in terms of themes, tonal centers, and variety of rhythms, (which consequently makes it interesting to listen to), while Taylor Swift's does not - relying on repetitive, conservative harmonies and structures. 

The idea of conflict itself is still, by nature, rather subjective, and varies in level of tolerance among people, and just because a piece may be "interesting" does not mean it's easy listening. For some, the tonal, tuneful, and simple melodies of a Clementi sonatina contain just enough musical conflict for them to be satisfied, while some cherish the convoluted strains of Xenakis' works. In terms of pure content, both are "good" compositions, but differ in their level of interest and intricacy of conflict. Most listeners seem to lie somewhere around the middle, and even that varies depending upon the mood of the moment. 

When it comes to piano music, one great composer seems to come to mind when thinking of monochrome music with - and I dare you to get a second bullet ready - Mozart. Sure, some of his works are sublime, such as his deathly beautiful A major piano concerto, A minor sonata (k.310), and countless others I have neglected to mention. But let's face it - it sometimes feels as if he wrote the same work a gazillion times over. For example, if someone without perfect pitch were to listen to a Mozart piano marathon, fall asleep somewhere in between, then wake up an hour later, they would think that they're still listening to the same piece, and the fact of the matter is that musically, they really wouldn't have missed a damn thing. "But no," someone once told me, "Mozart's genius is a complex endeavor to understand!". Transcendent, undoubtedly, but complex?!? The floor of the barn called, it would like its bullshit back.

In order to show you what I mean, I have listened to his C major piano sonata (k.330). Do click on the red words to listen to it and make up your own opinion about the conflict it contains. Here's my take:

1st movement: The piece starts with an optimistic, sunny melody in the right hand, not unlike the smile of a Miss America contestant. Then there's two staccato arpeggios, which are repeated for some reason or another. Suddenly, the F's are sharpened. The expected modulation to the dominant key, G major, happens quicker than ever, and at this point you can almost picture Mozart with an inexplicably bored expression on his face, just having begun this piece yet already totally over this "composing a sonata" shit. After more repetitions which completely betray his apathy, BOOM! Deceptive cadence, which is so unashamedly overdone that it has me talking like the Doge meme from some months ago. Wow. Such depth. Much impressive.

The extremely short middle section, or the so-called "Development" hardly develops anything besides a listener's impatience, unless you consider "developing" to be the act of transposing the same trill to three closely-related keys in close succession before sheepishly repeating the opening melody to signal the recap. But wait - the recap is SO much different! He added a WHOLE EXTRA NOTE at the top of each staccato arpeggio! And the second time, it's not an exact repetition but ASCENDING C MAJOR SCALES!! Oof. How avant-garde. Such variety. Oh Wolfgang, you dirty little rebel.

After these little trinkets of "genius", everything from the exposition is repeated in C major, before an ending section that seems to say in a douchey tone, "Look guys, I know you had to put up with that entire exposition again, but hey, at least I'm here now! I'm such a badass - check this out - a flat sixth
Just like Beethoven! Yup, you heard that right!"

Mozart was so ahead of his time - did you know he came through a time-machine and found that Philip Glass would make millions by fooling around with C major many years later? He then did the same, and like Glass had many a fruitful product from that love affair. Ah, C major! The minimalist's muse!

2nd movement: The deceptive cadence again! Much wow! The slow F major tune repeats, then attempts to flirt with a minor key as a means of emotional variety. Knock it off, Wolfgang, seduction is by no means your strong suit - leave that to Liszt. The true emotional variety, however, is in the F minor middle section, which resolves to A-flat major. This part truly warms my cold heart for a bit, but then the effect gets old hat very quickly when the Mozart-Glass union comes slowly seeping through the cracks, hoping ardently that I wouldn't notice. There honestly isn't much to say after that. In the words of my piano teacher John Perry, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". In that line of thought, I say if it ain't different, don't dwell on it.

3rd movement: Marked "Allegretto" - that one controversial tempo along with "Allegro ma non troppo" that has everyone arguing. Some say, "but exactly how much is too much?" while others insist "Not quite allegro! It says not too much!". I wonder what motivated Mozart to choose that tempo because in this case, it seems wholly unnecessary to be so vague. But as I mentioned before, he did have a time machine, didn't he? Maybe seeing the future tempo arguments pleased him. How evil.

After a brief and assertive melody, triplets show up. These notes in the right hand go all Edward Cullen on that shit and start to sparkle as the sunlight oh-so-predictably beams out of the sixteenth notes. This continues until the next repetition, where it gets to continue all over again. The piece ends with a brief pause, then Mozart hastily remembers to resolve the piece, so as not to incur the wrath of his theory teacher/father, and sticks three chords in there for finality's sake. Applause!

Okay, okay, it's not that I don't like Mozart. Overrated as he may be, I actually need Mozart, for several reasons. Even though we don't realize it, it's extremely hard to create art devoid of conflict - especially instrumental music. Music like his speaks for itself, with honest clarity and simplicity, unburdened by the myriad psychological horrors of the mind, free from the twist of the knife that keeps me (and countless others) constantly compelled. Though conflict seems to be a prerequisite for great art, it is not always necessary in life. Per mortal need, genius lies in simplicity as much as complexity, as Mozart so wonderfully and refreshingly demonstrates. Many a time have I put on the C major piano concerto after practicing my conflict-heavy repertoire in order to detox my busy mind. The feeling is unique and calming - similar to sipping warm camomile tea after a night of drinking. We need this sort of music in the world to keep our mental equilibrium, our very sanity
. We are by nature volatile, and risk inflicting suffering on ourselves and those around us if our expectations of these extremes are not met. As I write this, I realize how dependent upon extremes I am in different ways: needing to play Liszt, listen to Mozart, and write about their music in order to survive sanely...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Let's Face It: Most Historical Figures Were Probably Jerks

It's September, and I'm back in my shoebox apartment in Toronto, practicing. It's already the third week into school, and there are notes upon notes to work on until they get absorbed into my very being. In the words of Robert Frost, I have miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. But as usual, I can't resist but write about a paradox that has provoked my thoughts in the past few days. So at the expense of the Hammerklavier fugue, here I go.

In 20th century music history class a couple weeks back, we discussed the role the character of an artist plays when forming opinions about his/her work. How do you treat beautiful music written by a composer with horrible views? Obviously, the topic of Wagner made its way into this discussion before anything else could. His anti-Semitic and generally racist views tainted his music so much that some feel uneasy when they listen to it, even today. In the documentary Wagner & Me, in which Stephen Fry rationalizes being a Jew with being an ardent fan of Wagner's music, he describes Wagner's life as a "beautifully woven tapestry blemished with a single, ugly, unfortunate stain".

After discussing Wagner and a few other long-gone artists at length, the class discussion came to a head at this question: "Have any of you ever had to deal with the conflict of loving the art but hating the artist?"

To answer that for you right now: yes. Most of the time. And not only when it comes to music. Through familiarizing myself to a certain degree with several other art forms - the visual arts, fashion, literature, etc. - as well as learning the histories of these art forms along with geographical histories, I've learned that there's no one, no matter what good they did in their field, worth idolizing. And through this learning process, I've learned to give up paying attention to whether I admire the artist at all and simply stick to whether I admire his/her work or not.

When I was a lot younger, Shakespeare took up a considerable part of my existence. I had read almost all his major plays by the time I was eight or nine - not out of parent/teacher force, but with full willingness, because for some reason I got connected with his fanciful and sometimes morbid stories. I, understandably, never had a reason to care about "Shakespeare the man" at that point, as his personality was irrelevant to the splendor of his literary artistry. But then I grew a little older, and read two plays that betray his opinions regarding all the horrible qualities of society during his time: The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice.

For those unfamiliar, The Taming of the Shrew chronicles the slow demoralization of the headstrong Katherine Minola by her husband Petruchio, who tortures her in every way in order to turn her into a good 17th-century wife who never raises her voice and cleans up her husband's drunken messes. The Merchant of Venice, on the other hand, showcases Shylock the Jewish moneylender, who is outright shamed by the Christian Antonio, and by the end of the play is forced to convert to Christianity to keep his very life. Though I was incredibly angered while reading and understanding these works, and - not gonna lie - had an initial reaction along the lines of "William! How could you?", the outright celebration of misogyny in the former and the blatant anti-Semitism of latter did not surprise me one single bit. Here's why: I understood that Shakespeare, like most people during that time, was simply another douchebag who was afraid of women and people who didn't resemble himself in terms of appearance and religion, and craved to see these individuals under his control. The only way in which Shakespeare was different than everyone else during his time was that, while the dirty old men of his time discussed their depraved fantasies for hopelessly obedient women in the confinement of taverns, he decided to describe these fantasies in ways they would live forever. While the common Christian supremacist of the time spat on a Jew in the street and called him a "cutthroat dog", Shakespeare looked on, snickered, and wrote about it.

Just because Shakespeare was a literary genius doesn't mean he was also a forward-thinking genius, and neither should one expect him to be. His talent did not in any way exempt him from being a part of his era, unless it was proven otherwise. This goes for all artists from the days of yore.

Coming back to the "art vs. artist" topic, here's why the Wagner issue confuses me. I completely agree that he was a deplorable man and should be remembered as one. But why was his anti-Semitism - which most likely stemmed from jealousy toward his Jewish peers and not from simply hating the Jewish race - singled out as a distinctive trait? Besides, Wagner even came from a Jewish family! 
Brahms, on the other hand, was a known misogynist whose whorehouse gigs and generally limited life experiences with women led to some very twisted views. Countless others were definitely racists, living during the period of institutional racism and slave-shipping. It's logical to assume they agreed with that exploitation and believed it was for the better, even though they didn't explicitly write about it. Why not dole out the same tainted opinions towards these composers as we do to Wagner? Why did Barenboim have to cancel his Wagner concert in Israel, while I'm sure it wouldn't be controversial if Brahms was played for a V-Day fundraising event?

The answer understandably lies in the obviously blunt evidence left by Wagner himself, such as his unfortunate article Jewishness in Music and many other blunders during his life, but it also lies in how society, and later the media, views discrimination. For example: even though slavery in America lasted centuries longer than the Holocaust and gave rise to ramifications far harder to remove even in this day and age, it's still the Holocaust that is remembered more vividly and thought of as more atrocious. In Europe, it's illegal to deny that the Holocaust happened, but it's far from illegal to deny that slavery happened in America. Some go as far to (legally) insist that that the Civil War was nothing to do with slavery, and prefer to call it "the war between the states". Hell, there are still people who make sick, blood-boiling jokes about it, both in public and private. Of course, anti-Semitism was always lurking around throughout history and its horrific culmination should be acknowledged as it is now. But why don't people seem to show the same acknowledgement of the sheer detriment of slavery as they do for the effects of anti-Semitism?

I ascribe this somewhat myopic view to the simmering frog analogy, which I'm sure everyone has heard of. Drop a frog in scalding hot water, and it will jump out instantly. It will also remember what a bad few seconds it spent in that horrible water for the rest of its life, and, if it's a particularly smart frog, not hesitate to remind its whole community time and time again of its ordeal. But give the frog a nice cool pool to play in, heat it up over a period of several hours, convince it that everything is fine, and you would have frogs' legs for dinner. You would also have a completely clueless next generation of frogs that would not care to remember the sufferings of those before them. Some may deny this happening altogether, or even go as far to twist the scenario in order to prove that the boiled frog died for the better of the frog race, somehow.

Another point to keep in mind when wondering how to reconcile art with an artist's nature is: how would you even know what views someone holds unless he/she goes out of the way to express them? For example, how would we have known of Vassily Petrenko's outdated position on women conductors and performers if he hadn't gone and blurted out an inarticulate mix of words in an interview? Similarly, how could we know if long-gone artists - such as Bach and Beethoven - harbored toxic views like Petrenko's, as they didn't write anything down and there was no heavy media coverage? From the facts we know about their time, however, we can guess that they probably did.

There is a difference, however, in the way Petrenko's misogyny should be treated and the way a centuries-old composer's should be treated. Unlike said composer, Petrenko exists during a time in which discrimination simply can't be tolerated anymore. 
The human race has come way too far way too slowly for any of that bullshit to haunt us any longer. It is now our duty as evolved human beings to strike down the bigots, racists, and misogynists of today who are holding us back. In today's world, boycotting the work of idiots who coexist with us is a rational and reasonable position. But when it comes to the views of those from the past, we can't possibly condemn them by holding them up to the much improved standards of today, and neither can we pretend that they understood these standards just because they had one extra talent than everyone else during their time. Just like the sheeple of today don't "believe" in evolution or global warming, the sheeple of yesterday didn't "believe" in human equality. In short: there is nothing to be done. Boycotting the work of a long-dead person out of righteousness is akin to protesting Hitler's regime today. 

Humanity's greatest disadvantage is amnesia. The majority of us forget (or choose to forget) truths so easily - especially inconvenient ones. This weakness has been, and still is, exploited by conniving people time and time again in order to advance their own position or political agenda, which undoubtably sets the human race back a few steps. When it comes to the legacies of people, historical figures need to be remembered for who they really were. No sugar-coating, no pretending. Take Mother Teresa. Though famous as the ultimate saint who helped the poor while leading a thoroughly selfless life, and once the subject of one of my joking replies ("What do you expect me to do? Just donate my stuff instead of selling it? I'm not Mother Teresa!"), scholars now agree, as Christopher Hitchens eloquently points out in his article, that she was anything but the woman we all remember her as.

The bottom line is: we need to refrain from putting historical artists - rather, all historical figures in general - on pedestals they don't belong on, and understand that they all had flaws. Sometimes, they were just downright assholes despite all their good work. At the same time, we also need to understand that assholery was part and parcel of their time period, and instead of boycotting their unquestioningly beautiful work out of outrage, direct pity at them. Feel sorry for those poor, misguided, souls that existed during times we wish never to return to, and above all, remember them accurately. Instead of saying "Oh, I'm NEVER playing Wagner because he was a racist!", say "Oh, that poor pathetic Reek-Hard. Sigh, what a spoilt little brat who took to dissing people and throwing tantrums when his life was going south. Didn't know any better, just like the rest of 'em. Shame. Kickass music, though.", and go about your merry life.

I'm a pianist. I'm also a girl. My repertoire is full of pieces written by old white men who probably believed that a woman had no place on the concert stage. Does this information make me mad? Yes. But will take my anger out on the music I love and stop playing it because of the supposedly misguided, deluded people who wrote it? No. I'll mock their irrelevant, obtuse opinions that stink of flea-infested powdered wigs and burnt cigars, click my high heels and fucking own that music onstage. At the end of the day, I'm the one that's alive. I'll have the last laugh - and the last note.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Skinned alive

What constitutes a fulfilled day? For some it's achieving one simple goal, like exercising a little bit every day. For others, it's achieving a multitude of simple goals. Some are consumed by their work, thinking about their goals even when they are not doing anything. Welcome to my world...

Cue the Obsessed Piano Girl, who lives to willingly sacrifice hours of her life over just minutes of precious music. Today, a couple weeks after giving concerts and having a slightly-above-sufficient break, she can be seen practicing with a (mostly) unwavering, expressionless concentration. There's a half-eaten cupcake on one side of the piano, a cup of coffee on the other, and all around a mess of miscellaneous papers, several to-do lists, and score notes that looks like a tiny ecological disaster - all the hallmarks of someone mentally absorbed.

I remember how an important realization dawned on me in the most obvious way when I was younger: a dead man is a living man's slave. This may sound silly at first, but think about it - a living man is free to paint whatever image he wishes of a dead man without any fear of rebuttal. For example, it became okay for Lady Hope to make it look like Charles Darwin "repented" at his deathbed in front of her, regretting the presentation of his theory of evolution and apologizing to God for being too science-y in general. Since Darwin was too dead to deny it, the fact that this didn't happen, let alone the fact that Darwin didn't really know Lady Hope, became just a tiny inconvenience that could be thrown right out the window. Fast-forward to today, Uncyclopedia has made dead-shaming a funny sport, claiming that Bartok flushed Debussy down the toilet (quite an impressive feat, even for someone like Bartok) and that both Berg and Webern would've killed to have a sizzling hot love affair with Schoenberg. Isn't it fun to regard facts as useless and just make life up? Hey, at least they have the humility to call themselves "the content-free encyclopedia" - people like Lady Hope didn't. 

Some people might suggest that a performer is a composer's slave, doomed to do his/her bidding, but I'd say just the opposite. As a performer, I'd say you become a de facto "dead man's master" when reproducing the works of composers. Sure, if the composer is still alive and you get to collaborate with him/her (a rare scenario), then fair idea exchange occurs (far from servitude), but in the absence of composers, you are automatically assuming authority over them, in terms of interpretation, style and thought. It's up to you whether to use this power for good or evil. The greatness of your interpretation depends on how informed you are of both the composer's ideas and your own, and the decisions you make to reconcile the two equally. This leads to a virtual Tom and Jerry-style relationship with the composer that lasts for weeks on end. Your move, Beethoven.

Recently, one of many personal experiences of this occurred for me, while working on the Hammerklavier sonata. In the first movement, there is an extremely creepy part that modulates to B major right before the recap. It's almost downright eerie if played in the right mood, especially because of the E minor parallel created through the flat sixth harmonies. For audio, click here and forward the video to 6:20...

 I played this piece for Mr. David Louie a couple months back, and he told me that Beethoven was deeply afraid of both B major and B minor and the B major part is an instance of the composer overcoming one of his biggest fears. This information gave me more insight into Beethoven's intent for that part and how much it meant to him, which inspired me to play it in such a way that it scares the hell out of people.

Here's a fact that only a music nerd would tell you: Radiohead's song Creep features the exact same B major/flat sixth exchange on the word "weirdo". Check it out hereI'm not surprised at all. Great musicians get weird alike...

From my experience, creepiness is a fringe emotion that somehow makes it into every composition, and usually requires more attention from the player in order to make the piece super-cool. Each composer displays it, albeit quite differently - one just has to look for it. Ligeti is a great example as a polar opposite to Beethoven. While Beethoven becomes soft, withdrawn, and plaintively scary, Ligeti gets loud, unabashed, and macabre. You could say that Beethoven's creepiness is like befriending a disturbingly shy weird kid out of pity, who later hugs you and softly whispers "I'm going to kill you in your sleep" into your ear, while Ligeti's is like a relentless, bloodthirsty axe murderer wearing noisy, spiked shoes pursuing you up a dark iron staircase leading to nowhere.

But I don't think that any work's creepiness could possibly surpass that of Omar Daniel's The Flaying of Marsyas. Click on the link to listen to it. Unfortunately, I left a copy of the score I had in Toronto and couldn't find it anywhere on the internet. This piece requires utmost dedication to the composer's vision, if a performer ever wants to play it. If Beethoven and Ligeti's creepiness makes you feel like running away as quickly as possible, this piece will make you want to down three fingers of whiskey in order to blot out the sheer force of (literally) head-over-heels bizarro, and then run away as quickly as possible.

So this piece is written for a violinist and a "suspended musician with live electronics" (Confused? Don't worry, I'll get to that in just a second). It is based on Titian's painting "The Flaying of Marsyas", depicting the legendary Greek flautist Marsyas who had challenged Apollo to a music contest. The condition of the contest was that the winner can do whatever he pleases to the loser. Marsyas won the first round, but in the second round Apollo tried to turn the tables and started to sing while playing his lyre. Marsyas lost his shit at this, and argued that this was totes unfair for an instrumental competition (a stance with which I completely concur), but Apollo somehow justified himself by likening his use of breath to make music with Marsyas' use of breath to play his flute (logic, right? Right?!). The Muses, who were judging the contest, viewed that as an adequate explanation and rewarded Apollo for his sneaky creativity, ultimately crowning him the winner. Now, he could have been content with making Marsyas pay him a couple hundred bucks like everyone else who loses a bet, but nooooo - he had to order him to be tied upside down to a tree and skinned alive, or flayed, as punishment for his pride. The Ancient Greeks actually thought his treatment was well deserved. Moral: it's perfectly okay to be a twisted psychopath as long as you're a god. 

Anyways, much to my surprise (and consequently yours), the "suspended musician" is literally meant to be suspended - stripped down to the waist and tied upside down, just like Marsyas, on a 
contraption resembling the monkey bars at a playground, which the composer named a "rack". He's also supposed to wear electromagnetic sensors on his wrists, and move them closer to the sensors on the rack to make a harsh, grating sound unlike anything I've ever heard. At certain points in the piece, it sounds like extremely long fingernails being raked down a slate chalkboard. As painful as they seem (sorry for making you imagine this), these sounds effectively convey the pain of Marsyas' cruel ordeal. While the "suspended musician" cavorts on the rack to create the sounds, the violinist (representing Apollo, perhaps?) stands and plays jarring, dissonant melodies while laughing maniacally, because how can you NOT laugh maniacally if you're playing the violin while watching someone writhe upside down and almost black out from too much blood to the brain?

Usually, for all music, the amount of physical fitness required to play a piece never surpasses the amount of musical skill required. For this piece, it's just the opposite. Practically anyone could operate the electronics, provided they are physically fit enough to remain upside down for the duration of the piece (about fifteen minutes). Even though the composer himself takes on the role of the "suspended musician" (phew), the most evil thing I can imagine is if two violinists were assigned this piece - how would they decide who plays which part? Most likely fight it out in another psychopathic music contest...

How far can someone go in order to explain a composer's vision? Unlike The Flaying of Marsyas, where what the composer wants to project is clearly delineated in form of theatrics, most compositions are rife with grey areas, sources for many arguments about interpretation. So far, my creed is to try my best to showcase the sentiments of the composers I play, without sweating the small stuff or losing my own vision. There are many deluded idolaters who vehemently insist that the performer should completely surrender to the demands of the composer, and subsequently give up their identity to take on the composer's image. They talk of a "universal vision", an idea that music isn't anything to do with the performer but an entity encompassing the world. The performer's role is nothing more to them than that of a mindless vessel in which the composer and his ideas should feed like a parasite.

These individuals can usually be identified a mile away: Cadillac-driving, uppity creatures who still reek of sherry drunk god knows how long ago at concert receptions, and whose ears lie to them constantly, assuring them that Cortot's Chopin etudes are perfectly clean and Lang Lang is a disgrace to music. How will performers bring something fresh to the table if they constantly feel the need to quash their signature ideas of interpretation, and play with the weight of the "universe" on their shoulders? The greats of the past would not have become so great if all they did was sit around scratching their heads finding ways to kill their own instincts of how pieces should be played in testament to the aphorism "honor thy composer". Though it is paramount to musically empathize with the composer's feelings and wishes as described on the score, it should not become a dogged chore. Much like my experience with the Hammerklavier, it should be a fun as well as enlightening experience to fuse composers' ideas with your own - not a Sisyphean state of permanent subservience leading to a kind of masochistic martyrdom.

Having written all this, I look around the room. There's still a mess to clean up, and pages upon pages of music to learn. I wonder what new musical conundrums I will face this coming year...