For me the written word and live music are separate animals. Even when purposely brought together as in song or opera they act as dueling parties, circling each other and waiting for the opportunity to pounce and steal focus. For this reason (mainly) I am vehemently opposed to concert programs and their perennial notes on the music. Aside from its minor role as a musical checklist for those who must always know what is coming next in life, today's classical concert program actually exists to raise advertising revenue, promote future events having nothing to do with the concert at hand, and to back-pat the venue’s illustrious contributors. The program notes, in the guise of helpful context, lurk threateningly in the corner of this plump publication, daring you to approach: “Pssst…Hey you! Yeah you, the one who never paid attention in Music Appreciation 101? You’ve got ten minutes to read this and summarize in front of the class. Otherwise…well, there’s no chance you’ll ever be able to grasp the complexities to come.” Often, these notes are not even written by the artist, but by a more suitable expert-for-hire. I find it hard to understand what bearing historical facts or interesting anecdotes can have on the living, breathing music to follow. Sometimes this information will be at complete odds to the actual performance and only serve to confuse matters; while innocently leafing through the program backstage before a recent concert (always a tragic mistake) I was perplexed to learn that the “Presto” movement of the work I was just about to play–presto–was actually marked “Andante” in a recently discovered manuscript. Touché!
Can you imagine entering a concert hall and not being bombarded with this hopelessly distracting interface? No fascinating pre-concert talk about Beethoven’s state of mind in 1803, no fund-raising curtain speech, no off-putting egg-headed notes? Just someone walking out and making music, warts and all? You would–gasp!–be allowed to experience the performance without any preparation or preconception beyond what life has given you so far. Sort of like how we go to see film, popular music, theater, dance and most visual art, wouldn’t you say?
I try to craft my playing to directly meet the minds and hearts of a blissfully unprepared and uneducated audience, no matter what the repertoire. If I can’t do that without first forcing the Castor oil of scholarship down their throats, then it is doomed to fail from the start. Yes, I will at times coax my listeners to meet me in the middle; this should never be about pandering or sugar-coating (with a largely 20th century repertoire I am hardly in danger of that). Rather, my goal is to play in a way that Greg Sandow so brilliantly describes as “vividly": in a palpably alive and sense-driven way that strives to make an intensely clear impression on any listener. In the end, it’s MY job to be smart about the music. It’s the audience’s job to show up, get excited, learn from the experience and hopefully come back for more.