.....and the soloist talked beautifully

The big question I ask myself before each recital these days is 'will the soloist talk to us?'

Mini-lectures from musicians is the big thing this year. At the recent Norwich Festival pianist Steven Osbourne talked like an angel (his Scottish accent helps), his playing was pretty good as well. Jaques Loussier improvised his nicely accented links almost as well as he improvised his Bach. Harpsichord virtuoso Carole Cerasi talked almost as good as she looked (and played), but violinist Alexander Balanescu's talking was a bit like his playing of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, rather more circumference than circle.
Harpsichordist Carole Cerasi, talks as well as she plays, as well as she looks....

The problem of talking musicians was well illustrated at a recent concert in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall . It was a tribute to the retiring Lindsays, but conductor Mark Elder's introductory words lasted almost as long as the piece he was introducing - Wagner's Siegfried Idyll (you thought I was going to type Wagner's Ring didn't you?)

The outlook isn't very bright. We are plagued with a new generation of continuity announcers on BBC Radio 3 who preface every item with interminably long links which sound like half-digested extracts from a children's music encyclopaedia. My conclusion is simple, and not very profound. If the soloist is a good raconteur and talks sparingly it can add to the evening. But if soloist lectures start to get out of hand they are going to become as big a nuisance in the concert hall as those digital wrist watches that bleep on the hour, every hour.

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Henry Holland said…
I agree that chattiness can get out of hand. But.....

we all know the terror that a brand new piece of music--or, say, even something Schoenberg wrote in 1909! :-) -- can be for 98% of the audience. I saw Zubin Mehta conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in some pieces of Messaien. He gave a short intro to each piece and then, best of all, had the orchestra play very short excerpts that highlighted the musical structure. It was very effective, because although I knew the pieces, the "musicalogical" explanations that Mr. Mehta gave really added to my enjoyment.

I'd really encourage conductors who are doing a "difficult" piece of music to do this "background + examples" thing; it would go a long way towards demystifying music that doesn't sound like Mozart or Beethoven.

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