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Is it important to for a performance to be exciting?


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There are three basic considerations when one is a student working on a classical piece. The intentions of the performer, the composer and the audience. This was explained to me when I was eleven by a celebrity and then repeated or implied ( some opaque teaching styles ) by many great teachers over the years. Thinking or discussing the three, at least when working, offers a starting point.

This applies less to those truly gifted and artists of a variety of backgrounds and visions.

As one grows older and grant writing and professional decision making and management might add a fourth or fifth consideration. But to keep it simple, I mostly argue the three with a triple espresso at 11pm. 

I recently started watching a few David Hurwitz Utube videos. Friends like him. His work is informative and digestible. I find him watchable because he is like the person sitting in the orchestra section during closed rehearsals. He discusses recordings but the information is relevant to musicians. I am not promoting Hurwitz but he is informative and more fun than academic books.

Hurwitz just posted a video about Neeme Järvi and it is an interesting overview and analysis of the business and artistic choices. Jarvi’s approach is valid in my mind as I like it and Hurwitz's analysis makes sense. When I presented Järvi's Chandos recording of the Tchaik symphonies to my conducting teacher 30 years ago, he gave it a B+. I was excited about the recording but my teacher had studied with Szell and had then been working with Solti. Hmmm. I better understand how he listened to Jarvi’s recording.

I do understand how music can be exciting to listeners. To players too, but like watching athletes win ( the recent Olympics ) some gold medal winners regardless of their words appear to be expressing relief. It is possible to understand that relief, not having crashed, to have done the most at that moment, and won! can be difficult to process.

When a student feels that they can come to me with a request, I am grateful. When they mention Mozart or Beethoven or Bach, I put them off immediately as the word "commitment" is used in the reply. So many kids think they can "skate by" because these works are accessible....   

Search: Neemi Jarvi's ten best recordings previewed, or, How to be great without Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.      

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I agree with your 3 basic considerations.

I am uncertain as to what your questions seeks?  Exciting to whom?

From a teacher's/student perspective, I see many students not so excited to learn pieces like the Accolay violin concerto in A minor or Viotti 23 as their introduction to Mozart.  I too remember not liking these pieces.  In that sense, I played them accurately and competently, but I was not satisfied.  The applause from my recitals was standard obligatory applause.  On the other hand, I remember watching a violin solo competition once where one student played the second mvt of the Tchaik Cto and another played the third.  The one who played the second mvt played in tune, accurately, and performed well, but sounded very much like any other student version.  The student who played the third mvt was not as in tune, made several mistakes, but he/she exuded excitement and enthusiasm.  That student won a chance to perform.

From an audience member's perspective, I still get chills watching Bernstein conduct the Brahms Academic Overture, but not so much with other conductor's versions.  Is it the quirky dancing that Bernstein did?  Is it the physical aspect of excited animation?  I don't really know.  When a violinist ends a fast third mvt of a concerto and releases his/her bow in a dramatic and flashy manner, does that excite me?  Well, ashamedly yes.  I guess I am a bit shallow like that.

As to your comment about students requesting to play/learn Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach, I guess that really depends on the student's age, skill level, and stage in learning.  I like challenging my students with big flashy composers and pieces, while knowing that they may not play them perfectly.  I also know that they are pre-college and if they want to major in music, they will relearn these pieces.  But you say "commitment"....perhaps a student who gets excited about being handed a Mozart or Bach piece might commit simply because it is now exciting?  

I am not disagreeing with your statements, I am just not entirely sure where you are going with this and what "excitement" is supposed to mean.  In the meantime, I will search up those videos that you mention to get some insight as to what you are asking/proposing.

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I'm also not sure what the question is, exactly, but I do think it is important to *involve* the listener. Maybe "excitement" isn't always the right word, but we do want them to feel something: to reminisce, to feel love or loved, to bring about any number of emotions. And, while perhaps there are performers who outwardly exude emotion and perhaps are cold and calculating on the inside, I think the majority of great performers definitely feel something as they are playing or conducting. 

I saw a master class once where the teacher asked the student: "where were you just now? It looked like you left the room, and the music sounded like it, too". To stay "there", focused, in the present moment, and feeling/delivering the emotion is what music is all about in the end. 

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41 minutes ago, Zeissica said:

I'm also not sure what the question is, exactly, but I do think it is important to *involve* the listener. Maybe "excitement" isn't always the right word, but we do want them to feel something: to reminisce, to feel love or loved, to bring about any number of emotions. And, while perhaps there are performers who outwardly exude emotion and perhaps are cold and calculating on the inside, I think the majority of great performers definitely feel something as they are playing or conducting. 

Heifetz.  Exciting to listen to nothing to look at.  In fact, his facial expressions seemed "cold and calculating."  To me, "exciting" does not necessarily mean physical expression, but I can always appreciate someone like Maxim Vengerov.

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I was purposefully being vague. And apologize, but how does music or performance excite you? I think it helps to consider this. Does it mean thrilling, does it mean something that triggers emotion, hormones?

violinnewb's first reply included the Accolay and Viotti works. I would also like to include Seitz among others. We often teach these pieces to beginners so they better understand flair in phrasing, and better bow technique. How does one better play two octave arpeggios across strings and play triple- stops? This might be best when teacher assisted, but certainly we can learn on our own, based on how these composers presented them.

I felt something as a 6 year old in the rising theme of the in the closing of the "A" part of Handel, Suzuki book two. It made some sense to me but could not define it in words. I shredded that little Suzuki book record. Kept lifting the needle and replaying the section. My parents never complained about this obsessive behaviour. It was likely something I experienced at the group lesson but when I played it myself, the thrill was not all that great, but kept examining what I thought was heard.

As a player, during an Opera run, so much is driven by the audience. Opening and Closing nights have the audience driven thrill, 2nd casts and understudies offer new experiences. Getting audience response, like laughters and gasps reinforce that the are experiencing something.

Some excitement is technical, or intellectual? When I hear something different that is accomplished with expertise, that is exciting. Giving the audience the surprise or the anticipation is exciting. Repin and Vengarov had the same teacher. Different result. Cool listening to both for me, but for other listeners and musicians the playing might be polarizing.  

Musical, choices are the riskiest. Does one deviate from what is written? How accurate are Beethoven's tempos basd upon his quartz Seiko metronome? I will never attain some tempo markings without sacrificing clarity. Working with groups, I believe Hurwitz's observation that Jarvi allowed the orchestra musical independence, that Jarvi was not a micro-manager, was a very good one. 

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17 hours ago, GoPractice said:

I was purposefully being vague. And apologize, but how does music or performance excite you? I think it helps to consider this. Does it mean thrilling, does it mean something that triggers emotion, hormones?

All of the above plus more.

On an intellectual level, conductors and musicians do nuanced things in a piece that make the piece stand out. I guess this goes to "musical choice" as well.  For example, tempo.  Heifetz is my gold standard.  But that doesn't mean he is my favorite.  Aside from the talk about how his tempo was fast on most people for purposes of fitting works onto a 33 rpm record, he played pieces like Lalo Symphony Espagnole way fast...BUT, his faster tempo version of the Beethoven brings a different flair to the piece that Vengerov's ultra slow version does not (at least for me).  Heifetz was also a master of the subtle glissando.  He places glissandos in places no other artist does.  Again, I refer to Beethoven's vln Cto as an example.

On the emotional level, I think of it this way...a midi recording of Mahler's 1st symphony might be okay to listen to, but not like listening to Simon Rattle and the Berliner symphony orch.  Even if a midi recording can mimic dynamics, it cannot necessarily mimic musical color, at least not through the midi technology I am aware of.

Lastly, excitement can be somewhat personal.  I absolutely love Midori's early recordings of Sarasate's Zapateado.  It excites me.  There is a YouTube of her playing this piece and the audience starts clapping when she plays the left hand pizz part lol!  On the other hand, I do not get very excited listening to Midori's Bartok Roumanian Folk Dances.  To me, her "musical choices"/interpretation does very little for me.

Art is so very subjective.  What may excite some people may not excite others.  I don't necessarily think that this is a bad thing, but if art does not somewhat excite an audience in some aspect or another, does that mean it is mundane?  Although I tend not to enjoy ambiguous and vague conversation, your "purposefully vague" original question is thought provoking. 

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Slow Beethoven: Hilary Hahn. On a Vuillaume? Remarkable playing. Control... 

There is the traditional performance, sometimes stodgy. Does the audience want this? We sometimes pay high prices for this. To be sure, many traditional performances are exciting. But sometimes, that standard is no longer fun or an experience. Though Karajan had three Beethoven cycles... and each one is considered more traditional.

When purchasing an instrument, traditional or exciting? Dumb to ask, but many of us have been there. As an investment, traditional is often the consideration. Excitement can wear off, but I know quite a few people who experience joy and thrills almost every time they play their instruments. Even in practice.  

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As a European who's used English as my main day-to-day language for ~25 years while living in France, the UK and the US, I think of exciting as an attribute implying praiseworthiness as something distinctly American. Why would exciting be good? I don't want to be excited, highly energized, hopped-up and screaming all the time. The experience of art (producing or perceiving it) can be deeply moving, transporting, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, riveting... and at the same time very calm, even quiet (definitely not exiting!). 

So no, I don't need exciting, even if I want it to be hitting more deeply than just a job well executed.

(Except of course if people use exciting as the opposite of boring. Then it's a truism that exiting is desirable - because who wants boring.) 

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7 hours ago, pyrola_asarifolia said:

As a European who's used English as my main day-to-day language for ~25 years while living in France, the UK and the US, I think of exciting as an attribute implying praiseworthiness as something distinctly American. Why would exciting be good? I don't want to be excited, highly energized, hopped-up and screaming all the time. The experience of art (producing or perceiving it) can be deeply moving, transporting, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, riveting... and at the same time very calm, even quiet (definitely not exiting!). 

So no, I don't need exciting, even if I want it to be hitting more deeply than just a job well executed.

(Except of course if people use exciting as the opposite of boring. Then it's a truism that exiting is desirable - because who wants boring.) 

I love being excited by music, whether playing or listening. I'd say it's one of the chief things that makes music worth listening (there are others) and life worth living, but I agree you wouldn't want to be that way all the time. "Thrilled" might be a better word. Heartbroken? I don't think so. We listen to tragic music to obtain enjoyment, not misery.

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13 hours ago, pyrola_asarifolia said:

As a European who's used English as my main day-to-day language for ~25 years while living in France, the UK and the US, I think of exciting as an attribute implying praiseworthiness as something distinctly American. Why would exciting be good? I don't want to be excited, highly energized, hopped-up and screaming all the time. The experience of art (producing or perceiving it) can be deeply moving, transporting, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, riveting... and at the same time very calm, even quiet (definitely not exiting!). 

So no, I don't need exciting, even if I want it to be hitting more deeply than just a job well executed.

(Except of course if people use exciting as the opposite of boring. Then it's a truism that exiting is desirable - because who wants boring.) 

A superb post, if I may say so.

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13 hours ago, pyrola_asarifolia said:

As a European who's used English as my main day-to-day language for ~25 years while living in France, the UK and the US, I think of exciting as an attribute implying praiseworthiness as something distinctly American.

Interesting... are you sure?

For example, an English movie review wouldn't refer to a good action movie as exciting?

An English sports writer wouldn't refer to a football match as exciting?

I think you're wrong.  Looking at both the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries...  Exciting is, generally, in English, a positive attribute.  Obviously, negative things can be excited (hatred or anger, for example), but in English, when people say something like "War is exciting," it's usually qualified somehow or that statement is reacted to negatively by an audience.  We don't use "exciting" very often for negative things and when we do it's often for a literary purpose.

That being said, in general, we view our English friends as being a bit more buttoned up, a bit drier humor, perhaps more attuned to subtlety, and, a self-criticism often heard in America is that we've become desensitized to action/excitement, but I'm not sure that generalization extends into art music.  I consider Europe to be much more radical than the U.S. in terms of, for example, opera.

 

This is a great topic.  I think the answer is at the heart of conservative vs. radical taste.

Personally, I think most of the excitement in our art comes from the friction between structure and interpretation. I think only people highly trained and deeply steeped in the tradition can effectively rebel against it.  If you can't give an exciting performance without adding your own excitement, you're less of a master, I think.

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28 minutes ago, Stephen Fine said:

Interesting... are you sure?

For example, an English movie review wouldn't refer to a good action movie as exciting?

An English sports writer wouldn't refer to a football match as exciting?

I think you're wrong.  Looking at both the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries...  Exciting is, generally, in English, a positive attribute.

I didn't mean to imply that exciting can't be a positive attribute. Of course it can be! And I also didn't mean to imply that if something is exciting, it isn't more often than not a positive attribute. I see it a bit like brilliant (in the literal sense, not the sense that's a synonym for excellent) or vivid or radiant - pieces of art (or design) can be good by being vividly colored in a pleasing way. 

What I was objecting to - and that's what's in the title - is the converse: the idea that a positive judgment would imply the attribute exciting. Things can be great because they're exciting. They can also be great without being exciting. 

(And I guess I'm objecting to the overuse. I often overhear parents ask children, first thing after picking them up from school, if their day was exciting. And I wonder why they would place such a high value on this particular attribute, over interesting, or pleasant, or enjoyable.) 

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7 hours ago, matesic said:

Heartbroken? I don't think so. We listen to tragic music to obtain enjoyment, not misery.

 

1 hour ago, Carl Stross said:

Who's "we" ?  :)   Lots and lots and lots of very fine musicians are attracted to tragic

I sure can't take it very often if a piece of music or literature or visual art reduces me to a quivering puddle of sobs. But the few times it has happened it was a memorable experience, and spoke for the power of the art. 

In general, yes, I too like tragic for the catharsis, not in order to end up in misery.

(Thanks for the compliment.) 

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1 hour ago, Carl Stross said:

Who's "we" ?  :)   Lots and lots and lots of very fine musicians are attracted to tragic

That's exactly what I mean. In art, drama and music "tragedy" is an ersatz experience that attracts us and leaves us feeling emotionally enriched. In life we hope never to experience it.

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2 minutes ago, matesic said:

That's exactly what I mean. In art, drama and music "tragedy" is an ersatz experience that attracts us and leaves us feeling in some way enhanced. In life we hope never to experience it.

I agree, in general. But, we should keep at the back of our minds the idea that music can elicit emotions not to be found anywhere else. 

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3 hours ago, pyrola_asarifolia said:

I didn't mean to imply that exciting can't be a positive attribute. Of course it can be! And I also didn't mean to imply that if something is exciting, it isn't more often than not a positive attribute. I see it a bit like brilliant (in the literal sense, not the sense that's a synonym for excellent) or vivid or radiant - pieces of art (or design) can be good by being vividly colored in a pleasing way. 

Indeed.  I'd say maybe we should be more specific in music... a good performance excites something, right?  Even if it's not heart-quickening?

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We talk a great deal about the role of emotions in music but physical excitement is another thing. Surely excitement due to the build-up and release of harmonic tension resides at the core of western classical music, abundantly illustrated in symphonies, chamber music and sonatas by composers dating from Haydn to Walton and beyond. As the harmony shifts through less and more startling modulations one feels successive waves of adrenaline, culminating in the exhilarating release of endorphins on regaining the home key.  It's a powerful drug and I'm totally addicted.

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  • 2 months later...
On 2/25/2022 at 10:56 AM, pyrola_asarifolia said:

 ( ... )

What I was objecting to - and that's what's in the title - is the converse: the idea that a positive judgment would imply the attribute exciting. Things can be great because they're exciting. They can also be great without being exciting. 

 ( ... )

I am involved with potential programming with a few ensembles, all of no consequence, as friends will run their choices by me. They have chosen; I know the ensemble. Many decisions are, of course, Boardroom driven while on occasion player's hope from the ensemble wanting to play something. I have no influence but offer thoughts in minor things like program order and possible supplemental content, anything to possibly make the evening better. Open bar...

In the critique of the use of the word "exciting," what other can be used? I never use the word exciting to describe instruments unless forced to play something unfamiliar or new in a performance. Kudos to my Pianistic sisters and brothers.

My students hate food metaphors, especially if they are diet restricted or vegan, but when we introduce new dishes to other people what do we do? Most of my programming to the public starts with a short, yes short, talk about the Composer and the life and the impact of the particular piece being performed, to give the audience some context. If I put something in front of you to eat and do not say anything, maybe offer some program notes that you might hurriedly read in dim light, would that be appetizing? "It could be exciting!" just try a bite.

Grateful of your post. I am trying to get more, butts into chairs. I am looking for new audiences or old audiences returning. I have started proposing activity ( art ) tables outside the hall for impatient children ( onsite "day care" ) but the Halls hate the idea. Makes them look low- rent. Better to have a closed Hall, rather than open? Sure, possibly a liability. I have consulted with an Attorney and an Insurance agent. 

I have yet to perform at public libraries, nothing against that... a whole new thread. Hearing people complain, complain, of what they did not like. Critiques, ok. Discussions, great. An experience, right? Most stay the full hour. "Horrible food! and such small portions..." 

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On 2/21/2022 at 3:19 PM, GoPractice said:

Is it important to for a performance to be exciting?      

That all depends.  For instance, I'd advise keeping spectacular dramatics to a minimum while performing at a funeral.   :ph34r:  :lol:

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