The innocent ear
These compelling images come from a lost age of musical innocence. When Christopher Nupen made his film of Jacqueline du Pré in 1967 he saw his task as putting as little as possible between the musician and her audience. The result is one of the most powerful advocacies of classical music ever made; an advocacy that sold thousands of recordings of the Elgar Concerto and introduced millions to classical music.
Disintermediation was the promise of the digital age. It happened in retailing when Amazon.com cut out the intermediaries. A direct relationship was established between online buyer and seller, and the customer became king. But the reverse has happened with music. In classical music today the commentator is king, and more and more filters are being interposed between musicians and their audience. Celebrity presenters force their way into the frame, continuity announcers explain why we should appreciate a particular work, myths and madness mean more than the score, and matching music to context is a new artform. Classical music YouTubified is the hot thing, spin is now mightier than the baton, and bloggers (including this one) position themselves as the new arbiters of what is musically cool.
I don't think anyone can accuse An Overgrown Path of being luddite, but I do think the music is being lost in explanation. Isn't there something to be learnt from the lost age of musical innocence? Do we really need all these intermediaries? BBC Radio 3 used to broadcast a series called The Innocent Ear which was presented by that polymath, Robert Simpson. In his biography of Edmund Rubbra (whose First Symphony was performed on The Innocent Ear) Leo Black describes how the programme:
... identified its constituent works only after they had been heard, so freeing the listener's mind of preconceptions.The 'innocent ear' approach has also been used successfully in the concert hall, as was explained here last year by the composer Vanessa Lann, who co-founded the Newt Hinton Ensemble:
One of our practices was to hand out programme books/notes AFTER our concerts. That way the listeners would open their minds to the "experience" of a piece of music, without prejudging its merits because the composer happened to be male or female, young or old, living or deceased, famous or unknown, European or non-European, etc. It was amazing how the works on the programmes were appreciated for their intrinsic musical power, rather than for the biographical or historical contexts into which one otherwise might have placed them.Countless blog posts have been devoted to ways of reaching new audiences. But surely it's as simple as 'opening their minds to the "experience" of a piece of music, without prejudging its merits'. Minimalism discovered that less music is more. Doesn't the same apply to commentary?
* The 2nd Amsterdam Cello Biennial, which runs from 17 to 25 October, offers some exciting experiences for innocent ears. These include a performance of the Elgar Concerto in the same programme as the Elliott Carter Cello Concerto (Oct 22), and the first performance of Vanessa Lann's new Cello Concerto Divining Apollo, which is given by Hans Woudenberg and the Schoenberg Ensemble (Oct 23). As well as the Vanessa Lann work there are world premieres of works for cello by Arvo Pärt, Oene van Geel, Dobrinka Tabakova and for ensemble by Toek Numan. This style of advocacy certainly works; as I write several of the concerts in the Amsterdam Cello Biennial are already sold out.
* The header images are original screen-grabs by me from Christopher Nupen's film Jacqueline du Pré - a portrait. The images are used for review purposes and the copyright resides with Allegro Films. All of Christopher Nupen's classic films are available from the Allegro films website.
Disintermediation -> Indeterminacy
And no, the irony of a 700 word post saying 'less commentary is more' is not lost on me. But nice pictures of Jackie. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk