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#590402 - 11/20/07 08:13 AM When a performance doesn't get through
calpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/08/07
Posts: 146
Loc: California
When a performance fails, whose fault is it? Is it the composer's fault for not displaying clearly enough the musical elements, the performer's fault for not being able to bring them out, or the listener's fault for not picking up the musical details?

I realize that specifics may be a little different in particular cases, but still this question has been boggling me for quite a while. I'd love to hear some thoughts.

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#590403 - 11/20/07 10:09 AM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18136
Loc: Victoria, BC
I'm not sure what you mean by saying "when a performance fails..."

First, it depends upon the work. If this is a known work from the standard repertoire then surely the fault of a "failed performance" rests squarely on the shoulders of the performer.

If a performance fails to capture the interest of an audience because it is new, unfamiliar and perhaps even unorthodox in its writing, then perhaps the blame can be laid at both the composer's and the performer's doorsteps.

The listener has a certain responsibility if s/he has chosen to listen to a work, but neither the performer and even less so the composer has any control over the listening environment or the unexpected distractions of the moment that might prevent the listener from "picking up the musical details."

Ask me about the reek of wild cherry bubble-gum that the person next to me was ardently chewing on throughout last Sunday afternoon's concert and tell me that it was my fault that I didn't pick up on all the performance details of the concert I was trying to enjoy!

I think, in order to answer this question that has been "boggling"(?) [1]you for some time, more specifics should be presented.

[1] to boggle - to overwhelm or bewilder with its magnitude or complexity,
- to bungle or botch

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
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Estonia 190

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#590404 - 11/20/07 01:17 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
Morodiene Offline
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Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12052
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
I think if a performance fails, it is most often not the listener's fault, and most ofoen the performer's fault. A good performer can make even a mediocre piece of music entertaining. This of course, is assuming that you are playing at a recital where the audience's attention is on the performer, and the person is there because they want to be and have some interest in either the piece, the performer, or the instrument.
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#590405 - 11/20/07 11:09 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
calpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/08/07
Posts: 146
Loc: California
I suppose that by a performance that fails I mean a performance that does not get all of the messages in the music across to the audience. I was really debating about the two sides of the coin: how clearly must the composer present the musical elements in order for the composition to be successful? What if there are so many elements, or even so many variations of the same element, that the listener can't pick up on the material fast enough? How astute of an ear should the listener have in order to be a good musically informed audience?

Of course there are particular cases where the situation might be little different, for example when the performer is incompetent, or when there are other distractions (but suppose that there are none). But I was wondering how much responsibility rests on the composer, on the performer, and on the listener in order for a successful performance to take place. Maybe it's not possible to specify, maybe that's why my mind is boggled by this question, but I do wonder.

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#590406 - 11/21/07 04:05 AM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
The question was asked as: "When a performance fails, whose fault is it?"

It would be kinder and more information gathering to assess "What about this performance proved to be less than enjoyable for me?"

Talking about the difficulty of the piece, characteristics of the composer's style, the quality of the piano and acoustics, the lack of an appreciative audience, the performer playing less well than expected according to his or her reputation, lots of things to "discuss".

Assigning blame is a heavy number no matter where it comes from - and probably the performer will be hardest on himself.

I think great live performances are very situational or conditional. It would have to be a synergistic combination of the composer, the music, the performer, the piano, the acoustics, the interest and comfort level of an appreciative audience.

Our favorite sports team don't always win the games over their rivals either. We have winning streaks and losing streaks. Overall, we must be sympathetic to the human condition in life.

I would be grateful for a fine performer giving a fine performance, but I would not be critical of the person if it went less than well. I would probably be interested in the pianist overall career and not single out this one performance as being the beginning of his professional demise. Perfection is not what I look for, it is participation in an arts event as a supporter that pleases me most. A live musical human event - a communication.

To demand perfection when excellance would be reward enough, and then to appreciate the performer as he is on this particular day at this particular time would be enough reward enough for me.

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#590407 - 11/21/07 10:25 AM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
sophial Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/05
Posts: 3475
Loc: US
Wonderful post, Betty!

I find it so much easier to enjoy an emotionally and musically communicative performance, even if there are some mistakes, than one that is technically secure but boring. I recently attended a concert in which an advanced piano student gave a very nice performance in terms of getting the notes right in a technically demanding piece, but it was tepid in dynamics, phrasing was less than incisive, and it just became a blur of notes rather than piece of music that communicated any idea or sense. I've heard too many performances like this to think this is just an isolated incident. I hope that our training of young pianists is not so oriented toward technical virtuosity that they are not learning musicality and communication of ideas through the music, which is the whole point.

Sophia

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#590408 - 11/21/07 12:42 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by sophial:
Wonderful post, Betty!

I find it so much easier to enjoy an emotionally and musically communicative performance, even if there are some mistakes, than one that is technically secure but boring. I recently attended a concert in which an advanced piano student gave a very nice performance in terms of getting the notes right in a technically demanding piece, but it was tepid in dynamics, phrasing was less than incisive, and it just became a blur of notes rather than piece of music that communicated any idea or sense. I've heard too many performances like this to think this is just an isolated incident. I hope that our training of young pianists is not so oriented toward technical virtuosity that they are not learning musicality and communication of ideas through the music, which is the whole point.

Sophia [/b]
I agree this is a great post. I too have gone to quite a number of technically perfect performances, but they were as musical as the chair I was sitting in. The performers went through these great gyrations as though they were putting emotion into the music, but nothing came out that way. For some reason thier playing didn't touch my soul.

After awhile I found myself day dreaming and counting the pieces left on the program.

John
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#590409 - 11/21/07 01:10 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12052
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
 Quote:
Originally posted by John Citron:
I agree this is a great post. I too have gone to quite a number of technically perfect performances, but they were as musical as the chair I was sitting in. The performers went through these great gyrations as though they were putting emotion into the music, but nothing came out that way. For some reason thier playing didn't touch my soul.

After awhile I found myself day dreaming and counting the pieces left on the program.

John [/b]
This is a very good observation. When/if I find myself spacing out, that is most often due to the fact that the performer is not communicating. This is an art, and you can hear it. One doesn't have to see someone making huge gestures to get it.
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Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#590410 - 11/21/07 01:23 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by Morodiene:
 Quote:
Originally posted by John Citron:
I agree this is a great post. I too have gone to quite a number of technically perfect performances, but they were as musical as the chair I was sitting in. The performers went through these great gyrations as though they were putting emotion into the music, but nothing came out that way. For some reason thier playing didn't touch my soul.

After awhile I found myself day dreaming and counting the pieces left on the program.

John [/b]
This is a very good observation. When/if I find myself spacing out, that is most often due to the fact that the performer is not communicating. This is an art, and you can hear it. One doesn't have to see someone making huge gestures to get it. [/b]
Exactly... I went to a recent recital and the performer did so well that she had the piano glowing with sound. She played the Schumann Fantasie, which left me tingling all over. :3hearts:

She didn't have to wave her arms and body all over the place to do it either.

John
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#590411 - 11/24/07 03:45 AM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
calpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/08/07
Posts: 146
Loc: California
 Quote:
Originally posted by Betty Patnude:
The question was asked as: "When a performance fails, whose fault is it?"

It would be kinder and more information gathering to assess "What about this performance proved to be less than enjoyable for me?"

Talking about the difficulty of the piece, characteristics of the composer's style, the quality of the piano and acoustics, the lack of an appreciative audience, the performer playing less well than expected according to his or her reputation, lots of things to "discuss".

Assigning blame is a heavy number no matter where it comes from - and probably the performer will be hardest on himself.

I think great live performances are very situational or conditional. It would have to be a synergistic combination of the composer, the music, the performer, the piano, the acoustics, the interest and comfort level of an appreciative audience.

Our favorite sports team don't always win the games over their rivals either. We have winning streaks and losing streaks. Overall, we must be sympathetic to the human condition in life.

I would be grateful for a fine performer giving a fine performance, but I would not be critical of the person if it went less than well. I would probably be interested in the pianist overall career and not single out this one performance as being the beginning of his professional demise. Perfection is not what I look for, it is participation in an arts event as a supporter that pleases me most. A live musical human event - a communication.

To demand perfection when excellance would be reward enough, and then to appreciate the performer as he is on this particular day at this particular time would be enough reward enough for me. [/b]
I completely agree with every point that you raised, and with the comments made by everyone else after that.

I haven't heard any thoughts on my second post in this topic though, I suppose it's what I get for asking an unanswerable question...

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#590412 - 11/24/07 10:30 AM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12052
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
 Quote:
Originally posted by calpiano:
I suppose that by a performance that fails I mean a performance that does not get all of the messages in the music across to the audience. I was really debating about the two sides of the coin: how clearly must the composer present the musical elements in order for the composition to be successful? What if there are so many elements, or even so many variations of the same element, that the listener can't pick up on the material fast enough? How astute of an ear should the listener have in order to be a good musically informed audience?

[/b]
I'll try to address your questions in regards to the audience. I think the only thing that is required of the audience is a desire to hear and be entertained. They need not know anything about music to appreciate it if it is good. And by good, I mean that both the composer and the performer are of high quality. We are all hard-wired the same way, so there's no need to "learn" more about music just to enjoy it. If that must happen, someone isn't doing their job. Since most often the composer is not available to play their own piece for the audience, the performer has the most responsibility here.
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MTNA member
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#590413 - 11/24/07 04:22 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
1RC Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/06
Posts: 502
Loc: Alberta
I would put it on the performer too, for practical reasons: there's not much good in concerning myself with things beyond my control (what the composer wrote, the state of the audience).

But then, there are things the performer can do to control those as well - we choose which pieces we play and we can try to create a good performing environment for the audience.

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#590414 - 11/24/07 04:58 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
 Quote:
Originally posted by John Citron:
She played the Schumann Fantasie, which left me tingling all over. She didn't have to wave her arms and body all over the place to do it either.
John, forgive me - this image popped into my head:


\:D That's about the only arm-waving that would cause a tingle to me! I also prefer performers without histrionics.

As has been said by others, there can be so many external factors. Concert-goers have to contend with weather, traffic, parking, before they even enter the hall. They may have work or family issues clouding their thoughts, making them less receptive to what the performer has to offer. I've played organ concerts where some of the audience members were 'dragged' there by friends.

In those situations, I feel an added responsibility to win over someone who may wish to be elsewhere.

I'm not sure this is done very often at piano recitals, but when I perform I like to talk to the audience - share some of my thoughts and observations about the music. Even if the audience doesn't care for the piece, the talk seems to engage them more than if I'd not said anything.
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#590415 - 11/24/07 05:21 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
Minaku Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/26/07
Posts: 1226
Loc: Atlanta
Agreed with Betty. Everything needs to be just right for things to click - mood, lighting, setting, experience, energy, charisma, everything! I attended a performance of Schumann's 2nd symphony and Beethoven's violin concerto just last week. The Schumann was tired and lacking in energy. I fell asleep during the third movement. I would attribute my poor reception to the conductor's lack of contagious energy and the fact that Schumann himself was ill when he wrote it.

The soloist for the Beethoven was quite good, and had she had a more energetic orchestra to back her up I would have enjoyed the concerto much more. Her rhythm was spot on, and she interpreted the Beethoven well. What fell through was the momentum of the orchestra - and that is the conductor's fault.

Likewise, I find that with pianists too much movement distracts me from the music, and tends to make me more critical. Piece choice and piece order is important as well, and attire while playing. Nothing mesmerizes an audience more than watching an older lady's underarms flapping as she rotates her wrists furiously through the third Chopin ballade...
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Pianist and teacher with a 5'8" Baldwin R and Clavi CLP-230 at home.

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#590416 - 11/27/07 10:13 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
calpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/08/07
Posts: 146
Loc: California
Maybe I wasn't very eloquent in trying to get my message through in my previous posts but what I'm getting at is this: take, for example, a composer who uses an extremely well-hidden form of a main theme as recapitulation, and the audience thinks that the piece doesn't hold together because they didn't perceive the return of the theme in its hidden form. Do you think that the problem would lie more with the composer for not making the musical statement more obvious, with the performer for not being able to bring out the hidden theme, or the audience for not being able to pick it up? Actually I would personally place less blame on the performer because no matter how well the performer tries to bring it out, hidden material gets to a point where it becomes too difficult to perceive and process, especially on a first listen.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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#590417 - 11/27/07 11:16 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18136
Loc: Victoria, BC
It appears to me that some composers think that their music is not sufficient in and of itself to express what the composer wants it to express.

When "new" music - i.e. music by living composers that seems to be conceived outside the bonds of traditional compositional techniques and traditional musical vocabulary - needs to be "explained" by the composer in a written or spoken preamble to the work, I am pre-disposed to have a negative reaction to the work. That doesn't mean that I can't be pleasantly surprised, but if a work of art cannot stand on its own, if the composer feels it needs explication: "What I was doing in this section ..." "What I was trying to convey with this texture ...", "I want the listener to understand that...", then it does not succeed as a work of art.

If the work does not, on its own, succeed as a work of art but needs to be "explained" by the composer, then it surely is the composer's fault if a performance of the work "doesn't get through" - to use the original expression.

Regards,
_________________________
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Estonia 190

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#590418 - 11/27/07 11:42 PM Re: When a performance doesn't get through
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by BruceD:
It appears to me that some composers think that their music is not sufficient in and of itself to express what the composer wants it to express.

When "new" music - i.e. music by living composers that seems to be conceived outside the bonds of traditional compositional techniques and traditional musical vocabulary - needs to be "explained" by the composer in a written or spoken preamble to the work, I am pre-disposed to have a negative reaction to the work. That doesn't mean that I can't be pleasantly surprised, but if a work of art cannot stand on its own, if the composer feels it needs explication: "What I was doing in this section ..." "What I was trying to convey with this texture ...", "I want the listener to understand that...", then it does not succeed as a work of art.

If the work does not, on its own, succeed as a work of art but needs to be "explained" by the composer, then it surely is the composer's fault if a performance of the work "doesn't get through" - to use the original expression.

Regards, [/b]
I feel the same way!

John
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