Does it have integrity and relevance?

Shortly after it was released I bought the young Finn Klaus Mäkelä's new complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies recorded for Decca. Sibelius symphonies are very well represented in my large CD collection, in fact I have more Sibelius symphony cycles than for any other composer. Yet I have returned to Mäkelä's interpretations a surprising number of times. No, they will not replace the accounts of Sanderling, Colin Davis, Barbirolli, and others. But they are not worse or better: because subjective dualist judgements of better or worse, like or dislike, good and bad, definitive or otherwise, etc etc no longer mean anything to me.

There is no concrete reality in a music performance, only what we individually perceive as reality. A performance is an endless flow of constantly changing conditions. The score is not the performance, and the performance is not the score. Between score and performance lie an infinite number of overlapping variables - tempi, dynamics, performance style, acoustics, temperature and humidity, etc.  

Differences in perception and physiognomy mean every listener - critics and others - hears a performance a different way. (One of many little-known reasons for this is that the shape of ears varies from person to person, and the shape of the ear affects what we hear. Another little-known reason is that audience members suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss; this does not just affect perceived loudness, it also affects frequency response.) And even if we heard the music the same way, which we don't, our judgement on the performance would be based on different values, conditioning and expectations. In simple terms, as I explained years ago my music is not your music. Or as I wrote only last month, there is no right reaction to great music.

I judge a performance on two personal criteria: does it have integrity and does it have relevance? And, for me but perhaps not for you, Klaus Mäkelä's Sibelius passes that test. So I was bemused about the recent brouhaha over Mäkelä's appointment as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Consideration of Mäkelä's integrity and relevance has been swamped by some pretty transparent personal agendas. When a blogger repeatedly lambasted a newly appointed Controller of BBC Radio 3 the word around was that one possible reason for this lambasting was that the blogger had failed to make the shortlist for the controller's job. Pure speculation probably. And surely a self-appointed cultural commentator could not also be a failed candidate for Chicago's music director vacancy and have had an application for Finnish citizenship refused?


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