ain't baroque! :||
Don't Fix It

The machines will never replace us (not on my watch)

In the concert hall, how do you tell the seasoned sophisticates from the plebes? Easy! It’s all about knowing when to clap. Everyone knows that you hold your applause to the very end of the piece; that’s just how it’s done.

Last week I attended the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s concert featuring NADJA-SALERNO SONNENBERG, in which she played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. She received a standing ovation.

After the first movement.

And no one minded, because she bloody well brought the house down, with her swaying and her stomping and her passionate frenzy of notes, but also with her smiles and winks and a playful spirit, just her and her buddy Piotr knocking out a few bars for the joy of it. She got a second, full-audience standing ovation after the third and final movement, because she’s NADJA SALERNO-SONNENBERG and don’t you forget it.

But she’s by no means the only big-name concert violinist out there. I would even wager she’s not among THE most famous. A big deal, certainly, but somewhat less educated people might think first of, say, Pinchas Zuckerman, or for your more modern sensibilities, Hilary Hahn.

Hmmm. That’s odd. I’ve been to live performances by both, and on neither occasion were there multiple, spontaneous standing ovations.(This is the part of the post where I start to duck and move. I’m looking at you, CMcGo, aka Mr. Hahn.)

I talked about this with my mother the other day, and she pointed out that both Hahn and Zuckerman are considered classicists, concerned with perfection and purity of form and note. To which I say: BOOOOOOORING. If you want perfection, program it into a computer. Who decided classical music has to be clean enough for surgery? And who decided that the only acceptable facial expressions are those of intensity or in some cases anger? Why can’t a soloist hunker down into the music and really ENJOY it? And, like, y’know, grin and stuff?

The BSO followed NADJA with a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and again I say: it was too clean. This is music for pagan ritual; is it wrong to expect some rawness? I want a Rite that bleeds at the edges, but it seemed a study of caution as the watchword. No thank you. Bring back NADJA. Bring back classical music with some individual personality.

So! I now invite your rebuttal. Do you think my acknowledged hero-worship of NADJA colors my opinion of her performance? Do you think Hilary Hahn is a goddess (CMcGo) and intend to murder me for my sins against her? Do you think perfection should be the goal after all? And if you do, answer me this: then why SHOULDN’T we just program our music into a computer and call it a day?

About Jenn

Despite being the former digital marketing intern at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jenn German does not like Mozart. Beethoven could've totally beaten him up. Also she has an arts management graduate degree from American University, but this changes nothing.


5 thoughts on “The machines will never replace us (not on my watch)

  1. Hey Jenn!
    First of all, thanks again for the shoutouts (and that shouldn’t contribute to your opinion of me either)
    and on the big point here, no, I don’t think it does color opinion of performance.

    With all of my hero worship of Hilary’s, I notice that even she’s not always right on, she has had less-than-wonderful moments here and there. Hilary’s imperfections, however, are what make her awesome. Nadia Salerno is interesting because I saw in her documentary that they were trying to get her not to move around so much earlier in her career, and they couldn’t, so, she ended up playing the way that she does it, and why change that? Hilary moves almost like it’s clockwork, but it’s obvious to me that she’s doing that with the music mentally in front of her eyes. It’s a zone that only she knows and knows how to control, and when people have that down to a science, it’s hard not to love that and let that be a huge nuance for the music. So, no! šŸ™‚ BTW, I would love to see Nadia Salerno live one of these days!

    Posted by Chris McGovern | June 19, 2012, 9:00 am
  2. And BTW, clapping should be allowed BETWEEN MOVEMENTS! Not interrupting the piece, but between movements it should not be a problem–It doesn’t bother me at all, and I don’t want to be a snob and say that it does. I wish we could end snobbery in classical music already, btw.

    Posted by Chris McGovern | June 19, 2012, 9:04 am
  3. I’m glad you posted this, Jenn.
    You probably know by now that this is a big part of my quest – not only letting audiences enjoy themselves during a concert, but to also encourage the performers to ‘let loose’ a little and get rid of that stoic pretense. One of the most inspiring concerts I ever helped present was as I was conducting a small freelance orchestra in Surrey, UK, to whom I said at one point in the rehearsal: “Is that it? Is that REALLY how you want to play that?” After that, it was pure [meaty] joy. And the audience noticed it, too – a standing ov for Dvorak’s Carnival Ov!

    Posted by Stephen P Brown (@Stephen_P_Brown) | June 19, 2012, 9:26 am
  4. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^love that you said “pure meaty joy” while referencing classical music.

    Posted by Classical Music Broadcast | July 24, 2012, 6:18 pm


  1. Pingback: Robotic opera | If it ain't Baroque... - July 8, 2013

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