Thursday, March 14, 2013

Are We Going to Let the Eyes Have It?

Everyone (well, not exactly everyone) wants to know who killed classical music.  Look at it this way: If it is written down it must be so.  If music is written down that must mean something.

Imagine you are a recording engineer.  When what you hear doesn't correspond to what is written down you will get high marks for erasing the parts of the sound that interfere with the clean and tidy written symbols.

I had the privilege many years ago of working with Richard Dyer-Bennet, the renowned balladeer who accompanied himself on the guitar with splendid complex textures almost too rich to imagine.  His first commercial recording, I believe on Columbia Records, so denatured his sound that he started his own record company so as to control every aspect of production.  That was long before the existence of the electronic processes that make such an enterprise so easy nowadays.  When he and I collaborated on his English language version of Schubert's Schoene Muellerin (The Lovely Milleress published by Schirmer) it was the first time he had worked with a pianist.  When we recorded it he was determined to use the same approach as when he had recorded his guitar work, i.e., to capture the whole sound with all its overtone complexity. 

Another true story from many years ago:  I first heard Yo-yo Ma play at a special presentation at the old Mannes College of Music auditorium, a wood-paneled room on Manhattan's east side.  The informal program consisted of selected movements from the Bach Suites for unaccompanied cello.  It was a truly amazing experience, which I recall vividly to this day.

My young daughter, having devoured an old Folkways recording of the cello-like Indian serengi, would, I was sure, love hearing such playing.  So I bought the CD set, gave it to her for first listening, and was shocked when, a half-hour later, she handed me the discs, saying, "You can have it."  Astonished, I gave the CDs a listen.  She was right.  Not an overtone to be heard.  All gone.

Where?  Why?