My husband and I recently went to a concert of music by Beethoven and Dvorak to which we were really looking forward. The orchestra, visiting from Russia, had been named Moscow’s finest in a Gramophone magazine poll of international music critics. The conductor, a man we’d heard of but had never seen, had a marvelous reputation. And the pianist had graduated from one of the most prestigious conservatories in the country and was the recipient of an international award reserved for only the most talented artists. In other words, the performers looked spectacular — on paper.
It was a busman’s holiday for me, so I sat back, ready to enjoy every note. Instead, I became so infuriated, I almost stood up and booed, something I’ve never considered doing before.
The conductor was like a windmill, flailing his arms for no reason and making such an ostentatious to-do, he looked as if he were leading Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” in the Hollywood Bowl. Fortunately, the orchestra, a truly fine ensemble, managed to sound excellent in spite of him.
The pianist, playing the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto (one of my favorites), never missed a note and had tremendous power. But she made not one bit of music, racing through the fast sections as if she were late for a plane. Technique to burn, she didn’t understand that there’s much more to making music than tearing up a keyboard.
Normally, this kind of fiery, flamboyant playing would have gotten a standing ovation. Instead, the audience seemed split. No doubt she inspired great passion: There were those who adored her and those, like me, who detested what she’d done.
Who was right?
There is no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to performance. Music criticism is based on experience and knowledge but it’s also extremely subjective.
So, the next time you read a review that makes you wonder if you and the critic attended the same performance, trust your instincts. And remember, it’s just one person’s opinion.
— June LeBell
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