“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”
Plato

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Piano as Sport: Is Competition Really Necessary?

     A FaceBook page I came across offered a comparison of sixteen celebrated pianists playing in succession the famous octave passage in Tchaikovsky's first concerto. The participants in
the discussion opined on which was best, meaning who played them the fastest. This reminded me of being at the horse races, where the winner received a prize and those who bet correctly came away with cash.
     Each of these performances was accurate, dramatic and musically appropriate. How fast does it need to be in order to make the musical point? I
have to wonder why some folks want to turn art into sport. In music, it seems to me, faster is not necessarily more effective musically. I heard a very distinguished pianist with a justifiably legendary technique play the Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto so fast I was left wondering where all the great moments had gone. There's a Sufi saying that goes something like this: The man was in such a hurry to get to heaven that he ran right past it.
      Since concert fees are negotiated in advance, why not just enjoy the music on its own terms? There will be no prize money and the audience hasn't placed any bets. We can compare and admire pianists for their artistry without making a competition out of it. Jody Foster does a funny take in the film Maverick when she asks, "Do you want to see the fastest gun in the west?" Then immediately without moving at all says, "Do you want to see it again?"

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