The closest approach to the live performance
Being present at a concert, as either a performer or as a member of an audience, is a different experience from that of listening to a recording. The presence and the relevance of a moment simply cannot be captured in any more than a superficial way, even with the finest audio and video equipment. The presence and relevance of a moment can be enhanced by technology, but the experience, in that case, is being controlled by a director, a producer, an audio engineer, and/or camera operators. The resulting object can be terrific, but it can never be more than an object.Those wise words come from composer and violinist Elaine Fine. They were just some of those written in response to my post If classical music is not live it is dead and the consensus was that classical music needs to get back to selling the live performance experience. Since 1936 leading hi-fi manufacturer Quad has summed up its design philosophy with the words 'The closest approach to the original sound'. Similar thinking provides a very powerful acid test for any form of reproduced classical music - how close is it to the live performance experience?
Audience engagement is the current mantra. Yet in the haste to turn art into entertainment in the pursuit of accessibility, the first law of classical music has been forgotten. That law is - 'The further the reproduced music is from the live performance experience, the less likely it is to engage with the listener'. How close to a live performance is a single movement of a Sibelius symphony played on a breakfast time radio programme and bookended by the presenter reading out banal text messages from listeners? How close to a live performance is a Mahler ringtone?
Yes, of course classical music needs marketing. But the current obsession with accessiblity has allowed the centre of gravity to move too far away from the live performance experience and too far towards the virtual world. Marvin Minsky, one of the great pioneers of artificial intelligence, was once asked when would we be living in an entirely virtual world? His answer was that this would never happen as long as we looked up after two hours at a computer keyboard, saw a tree, and marvelled at its beauty. Trees, concert halls and symphony orchestras are today both things of beauty and threatened species. To protect them classical music needs to do a much better job of communicating the beauty and power of the live performance experience.
Some readers have pointed out, quite rightly, that domestic listening to recordings on a good quality audio system can bring the listener gratifyingly close to the live performance experience. Confirmation for this view comes from a new CD of Johann Kuhnau's Musicalische Vorstellung einiger biblischer Historien. On this disc organist Richard Apperley plays the Flentrop organ that was relocated in 2008 from Holland to St Paul's Lutheran Church in Wellington, New Zealand and which is seen in the header photo. The two manual Flentrop instrument is particularly suited to the music that accompanies the Lutheran liturgy and which has Bach, Buxtehude and contemporaneous composers at its centre. Listen to a very illuminating Radio New Zealand podcast about the history of the instrument here.
Kuhnau is an important and sadly neglected composer who preceeded Johann Sebastain Bach as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. The Musicalische Vorstellung einiger biblischer Historien (Musical representation of several Biblical stories) is simple, elegant but profoundly spiritual music. It is played with total conviction by Richard Apperley, and engineer Reuben Moore and producer Kyle Macdonald capture his interpretation in commendably lifelike sound.
If there is a live performance of Kuhnau's Musicalische Vorstellung einiger biblischer Historien near you this Easter do not hesitate to attend. If there is not, and if you have an audio system with very good quality speakers, this new CD will take you very close to the live performance experience. But it is a sign of the times that this disc, released on Richard Apperley's own Organism label, is much easier to find as an MP3 download than in the CD version which I auditioned - for a taster of both follow this link. Johann Kuhnau featured in one of the very first overgrown path posts, and in a beautiful piece of synchronicity it tells how he published an early satirical novel titled Der musicalische Quack-salber - The Musical Quack. Perhaps I'll rename this blog?
Also on Facebook and Twitter. The CD of Kuhnau's Musicalische Vorstellung einiger biblischer Historien was provided as a requested review sample. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk