Can a piece of classical music be performed “incorrectly”?

How do you play a piano piece by Beethoven or a modern percussion piece in the right way? Does the pianist or percussionist function as a mediator, artist, translator or something else? And how do you transform the composer’s intentions from dead notes to sounding music?

Three lecturers from the Academy have investigated these questions in a larger research project, “The Art of Interpretation”, where they have also tested a number of new approaches to the concept of interpretation. The results will be presented at an open event for all interested parties on Tuesday 18 June at 15.30-17.30 in the Chamber Music Hall, Musikhuset Aarhus.

Dead notes – living music

When classical musicians interpret a work based on scores written by a (typically deceased) composer, it is often unclear what is actually going on. Can a performance be faithful to the composer’s original intentions, or is the interpretation always subjective? Can a work be performed incorrectly? Can the general audience relate to an interpretation in a qualified manner, or is it only for specialists? And what is the sounding work really at the moment of performance: the composer’s creation, the musician’s performance or the audience’s experience?

In the course of the project, a wide range of approaches to interpretation have been investigated in more detail in order to uncover the many open questions, to create greater awareness around interpretation and to test new ways of performing works.

For example, the project group has held concerts with “multi-interpretation”, where the same musician performs radically different interpretations of the same piece of music. Or “cross-aesthetically inspired interpretation”, where the interpretation includes experiences from other art forms, for example from acting and scenography. Or “superimposed interpretation”, where you play a work from one style period based on the traditions of another style period; eg Schubert played as if it were Chopin; Bach played as we often play modern music; modern compositional music inspired by today’s techo; etc.

Blind spots and untapped potential

The many studies and experiments reveal blind spots and unexploited potentials in the interpretation practice of performing classical musicians. One of the blind spots is about not making a sufficiently conscious distinction between a live performance and a recording of a work. Though we are talking about two radically different forms of interpretation. The lack of awareness means that concerts are often thought of and performed as if they were recordings, and conversely that recordings are systematically produced as if they were live concerts, with the listener in the best-placed chair in the concert hall.

Precisely in relation to concert contra recording, the unexploited potentials act i.a. that at a concert interpretation is experienced as a combination of the visual and the auditory. You can therefore very easily change the experience by, for example, processing the musician’s way of appearing, for example through a more personal rather than a more anonymous dress; or by using elements of staging, for example in the way one arrives on stage.

On the other hand, in a recording, you can present the work in a utopian version, which is not possible in a concert hall, but which on the other hand allows the listener, for example, to take up completely new positions – for example experienced from the piano bench – where the sub-elements of the music can be experienced with a new rhythmic and spatial independence.

Supported by the Ministry of Culture

“The Art of Interpretation” is a so-called KUV project at the Academy. The project has received funds from the Ministry of Culture’s KUV pool, which supports Artistic Development Activities (KUV) in the artistic education programs under the ministry. The project is part of the statutory research and development activities that the Academy carries out in parallel with education and concert activities.

Behind the project are associate Professor in music theory Lasse Laursen, associate Professor in percussion Henrik Knarborg and associate Professor in piano Søren Rastogi, all from the Academy.

In addition to the primary project participants, the students Albin Axelsson, Liese-Lotte Bekeart and Zsofi Persanyi participated as participants and sparring partners. Collaborators have also been Århus Sinfonietta, flutist Charlotte Norholt, violinist Signe Madsen, associate professor at the Danish School of Performing Arts Marion Reuter, principal at Designskolen, Professor Lene Tanggaard and from the Academy associate Professor Lena Gregersen, associate Professor Juliana Hodkinson and lecturer Merlyn Perez-Silva.

More about the project here: interpretation.dk

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