Saturday, December 19, 2009

When I hear students play, whether young or advanced, I am listening for the quality of their engagement with the music. If they are responding to the sounds I have no resistance to their playing, even if it is otherwise flawed.

I recently heard a fine student orchestra perform two rarely programmed symphonies, neither of which I had heard before. One was a youthful symphony by a composer writing within traditional idioms but using recognizable American sounds. The playing was convincing as well as technically fine.

Then followed an intricate, unfamiliar large-scale symphony. I couldn't help but notice the detachment of the majority of string players. (I couldn't see the winds and brass from where I was sitting, but as their parts are much more exposed I doubt they would have conveyed similar cool.) The music is profoundly disquieting, which may explain why the work is not more often programmed. The performance was technically excellent but deeply troubling.

What is achieved by giving excellent young players such difficult material without giving them the means to absorb it at a meaningful level?