I am in awe of anyone who can perfectly reproduce a performance.
I’m not just talking about concert pianists or ballet dancers. Marching bands fascinate me. E spent her high school years playing clarinet in a marching band, and it just blows my mind that she not only had to reproduce intricate music with her breath and fingers, but also hit the mark on choreography at the same time.
A famous anecdote of mine is that when I auditioned for an was cast in my first play, Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest, I thought that you didn’t have to learn your exact lines in theatre. I thought you learned the general semblance of them and then just sort of did some improv from there.
I’ve spent my fair amount of time on stage since that first time, but always in plays or in rock bands. I’ve repeated performances of many monologues and songs, but I’ve never been under the illusion that I am performing a note-for-note, beat-for-beat replica of an original. It’s not in my nature as a performer. Even at my most controlled I introduce many tiny deviations into every moment, both intentional and unintentional.
(This, I think, is part of my fascination with the process of film acting – not that two of your takes will ever been seen played on top of each other, but that you must be consistent enough for the performance and energy of any of your takes to match up with another one.)
I think that fascination with perfect reproduction has a lot to do with what I enjoy classical piano recordings so much. Orchestral music is beautiful, but it’s the product of dozens of people working together to create something greater. Intellectually I know each player is a highly-trained perfectionist, but the pessimist in me insists that there could be many tiny variations their performances could be masked by several others.
That’s not the case when you watch a single person seated at a piano. They are performing a high wire act with no net on an unforgiving instrument with no slurs or bends. The piano is both dynamic and impractically linear. Despite the potential for massive polyphony, you only have ten fingers and two feet to control it – and you can transform yourself in a 12-piece orchestra where each one of those appendages does its own distinct work.
I first heard Ravel’s “Une barque sur l’ocean” just a few weeks ago, in the trailer to Call Me By Your Name. I watched it because I had heard so much about the indelible performances in the film, but for the first half of it I couldn’t concentrate on the people. All I could hear was the music.
When I hear most piano music I can almost visualize the notation dancing and alive, the staffs rolling past with notes lighting up as they’re played. I couldn’t do that with “Une barque sur l’ocean.” I couldn’t picture individual notes or those twelve appendages. Even before I knew the name of the song, all I heard were great rolling waves of notes and a wash of blue green color.
Given my vivid reaction to hearing it, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the song was from the impressionist period of composing, nor didn’t come as a great surprise to learn that Ravel was a contemporary of Debussy (who I love). Yet, it wasn’t enough just to know the song and the composure. I had to see it played. How could two hands, ten fingers, and two feet create that rich, roiling sound? [Read more…] about Song of the Day: Ravel’s “Une Barque sur l’Ocean”