Can You Hear the Difference? (Moving, Part II)

I’ve received some interesting comments on my “To Move Or Not to Move” post (just below). Obviously there are many of us who move more when playing solo than when in an orchestra.

I know one young string quartet which despite being off to a great start, having won a major competition, getting plenty of concerts, and having a fairly well-paid residency at a big graduate school, broke up. One of the main reasons was that the first violinist was a mover in extremis. (I’m just guessing that’s the Latin for “in the extreme.”) I loved this guy’s playing, but I can understand how it might drive the other players nuts–he’d be half-standing at times. It may be that he was self-induldgent in other ways, too, that made it frustrating to work with him.

The quartet had other challenges. One memeber hated travelling and used to say to my then-wife and I, “I just want to be able to stay home and cook spaghetti in my own kitchen.” Of course, we would have happily traded our envied kitchen and all our pasta to be in such a seemingly successful group.

Back to the writhing violinist of the quartet. It didn’t bother me. Lots of people complain about the way the great pianist Menahem Pressler (of the Beauz Arts Trio) moves about and makes faces. So what? Just shut your eyes if you don’t like looking at the guy.

Which brings me to another point. A reader asks the question: if you shut your eyes, can you tell the difference between someone who moves a lot and someone who doesn’t?

I don’t think so. Now that it’s going on twenty years since Jascha Heifetz passed away, some students (not serious violin students so much as less serious violin students and those playing other instruments) know that he was famous for his stoic appearance and lack of visible expression while playing. Listen to his recordings, and you hear an extraordinary passion, excitement, imagination, and range of feeling. The kids who haven’t heard of him before are surprised to hear he was once criticized for supposedly cold, unfeeling performances. How can anyone playing with such red-hot intensity not have moved?

Lynn Harrell, about whom I wrote in my previous post, doesn’t move much and there’s tremendous passion, imagination and feeling which comes through in his playing. (His Dvorak moved my 17-year-old son to tears. That’s my boy!) Jacqueline DuPre moved all over the place, and that incredible emotional identification comes through in recordings.

I read an article a long time ago (I don’t remember where) in which a prominent orchestral musician said that when he sees someone moving around a lot in an orchestra audition, he’d close his eyes and see if he could hear the emotion. Usually he couldn’t.

That’s an important point. Writhing around can be a (poor) substitute for putting the feeling in the music.

I’ll stick by one of my main points in the last post. Some of us are movers and some aren’t. Could DuPre have produced the same musical effect had she forced herself to adopt a Heifetzian reserve? Could Yo Yo? I doubt it. As a matter of fact, I’m convinced they couldn’t.

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