About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Schubert, Winterreise, and a boisterously good time?

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
If I were in New York, I would definitely go see the show "Three Pianos." It is described as being difficult to describe. Anything that uses Franz Schubert's "Winterreise," usually described as a bleak song cycle about lost love, to create a rollicking, wacky event would be difficult to describe. The New York Times published both an article and a review of the show, which gives an idea of what the evening would be like. There are three pianists, who play both modern characters as well as Schubert and friends. They do indeed perform the whole song cycle, though not always in the original. It has been called a kind of Schubertiade, the name Schubert's friends gave to the evenings they played and sang Schubert with Schubert. All audience members get a glass of wine and refills. There is apparently an accordion in the performance.

I was thinking about why the idea appeals to me. As performers, we are creative in our interpretation of composers' musical creations. I love listening to different interpretations and working out my own interpretation of a piece. A creation like "Three Pianos" goes in a different direction, interpreting, but also changing and adding things to the original.If it's successful it can add to the audience's experience of a piece or help them take a fresh look at something familiar.

Jeremy Denk, concert pianist, wrote a blogpost about program notes in which he said, "I’ve never been a big fan of the 'imagine how revolutionary this piece was when it was written' school of inspiration. For my money, it should be revolutionary now. (And it is.) Whatever else the composer might have intended, he or she didn’t want you to think “boy that must have been cool back then.” The most basic compositional intent, the absolute ur-intent, is that you play it NOW, you make it happen NOW." I agree, and, having sat through many sleepy performances of famous works, I know it doesn't always happen. The times when that NOW happens are magical, electric. They are the concerts you remember forever.

But, I also like the reinvention of familiar pieces through alteration. No, it doesn't always work. No, not everyone is going to like it. But it makes people think and feel. Three Pianos is apparently closing in a few days. Since I'm in Chicago, I won't be seeing it.

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