Connect the Dots
As a classical musician, I have often been asked how it is that I come to the point of performance. I used to think this was an odd question, however, as I have evolved over nearly four decades of musical performance, I realize the honesty in this query. I remember a flight between Dallas and Albuquerque when my seatmate saw me working on scores trying to prepare for a rehearsal. Carefully figuring out fingerings, thinking through difficult passages, and the ways to most efficiently and artistically approach various passages. The fellow asked what I was doing and what all the dots on the page meant. I explained that I was a musician and the dots were the score to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I told him that I was preparing for rehearsal and a performance and that I needed to have all the scores ready. He asked what went into getting ready. I told him that I needed to know every movement and nuance of the entire score, but what did that mean.
Years later as I am writing this article, I reflect on the evolution of musical interpretation and the enormous responsibility we carry as professional musicians, particularly as conductors. Over the years as I transitioned from instrumentalist and singer to conductor, I realize the depth of the work we do. We have the opportunity and the responsibility of taking another human beings life, their art, their very voice, and recreating it with fidelity to their intent, their experience, their very life. We take them apart and put them back together considering every aspect of who they were, what they were thinking, the time of their writing, and the very environment in which they lived.
Early in my career, this involved spending hours in the library searching for information regarding the lives of composers, reading and directly analyzing the extant data, cross-checking errata and stylistic comparison of various editions of the works I was preparing. I would spend hours listening to as many recordings as possible, but new works required more time working out the nuances at the piano while deciding on bowings, fingerings, breath marks, and tempos.
Today I still do these same things, but with the advent of the Internet and the ability to quickly search almost any imaginable topic, I am able to do my work more efficiently and spend more time in the comfort of my home rather than the library. I am also able to carry with me enormous amounts of research that would have required a wheelbarrow. I often research in the hall on breaks and between rehearsals to clarify any areas that arise in the rehearsal process and answer questions that may arise beyond what I have initially prepared.
The interpretation of music is a complex task. It requires extensive understanding of music theory, style, and eccentricities of individual composers. It requires that one be two parts academician, one part composer / arranger, three parts pedagogue, two dashes of private detective, and a host of odd parts just plain crazy. But more than academic prowess and preparation, at the end of the process one has to possess the ability to feel the music at ones very core. Yes, I try to be accountable to the composer, but music is a language that is imprecise in many ways because there is no way to write every detail on a sheet of paper. In the end you have to learn to find silence from all of the details and simply hold space for the music. This is the difference between artistry and musicology. Yes, I honor and respect my musicologist colleagues, but when it comes to performance it does not matter how much you know if you cannot turn that knowledge into sound that touches those who come to listen to you. Interpretation of music is about having soul. It is the soul of the composer and those who have performed the work before, but most importantly, your own soul. It requires the ability to release all else but the music and to give it your life and make it yours. This is interpretation. It is a love affair like no other. It is our art, our love, our life. We could no more be without it than it can be without us.