Andras Schiff's Bach-apalooza
October 25, 2012 11:27 AM   Subscribe

[Andras] Schiff, 58, has lately been giving a lot of thought to each of the musical keys and the colors he associates with them as he embarks on the Bach Project, a large-scale tour of North America over the next year that will include all that composer’s major keyboard works, played from memory.

You can wet your beak with this performance of the Capriccio in B-flat.

You can also listen to his charming lectures on the Beethoven piano sonatas here.
posted by Egg Shen (13 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ah! If I'm not mistaken I saw him play Bach a few years back. He was very good, but actually left the stage for a few minutes because people were coughing (it was cold season).

We are naturally socially awkward up here in Seattle, so when he announced "the amount of coughing really is extraordinary" and left the stage, people clapped. And they clapped again when he came back on. But then he resumed where he'd left off, brilliantly, and in the end, no one cared.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:41 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

When the Seattle Symphony used to play in the Opera House, they'd set up large kiosks full of free Hall's cough drops. Assuming cough drops are good for anything, it was probably a better thing for the performers than for the audience, 'cause the persistent peripheral crinkling of cellophane is at least as annoying as cellphones, and probably more so. That never stopped me from filling my pockets, of course.

As for Schiff, there was a time that I'd've called his Goldbergs my favorite, although I think he used the pedal on it, whatever year it was.
posted by flechsig at 1:22 PM on October 25, 2012

If I lived in the NY metro area still, I'd be all over that. Jealous.
posted by immlass at 4:45 PM on October 25, 2012

"...the persistent peripheral crinkling of cellophane is at least as annoying as cellphones, and probably more so."

[Goes off to record the world's first crinkling cellophane ring tone]
posted by bz at 5:21 PM on October 25, 2012

I'm so glad there are wonderful performing artists giving us great live Bach. But seriously, devoting SO MUCH of your skill, intellect, and artistry to repertoire that is sooooo thoroughly explored really seems like big time beanplating after a certain point.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:47 PM on October 25, 2012

I would like to see this. I would also like to see Laibach's version of Kunst der Fugue, but I don't think I will.
posted by ovvl at 6:15 PM on October 25, 2012

Bit of a derail, but a couple of posters above have done this, and for years it's puzzled me: Why do folks say they went to "see" a musical performance? I go to hear music, to listen to it. Yes, if it's a live performance, you will incidentally see the performer, but is that really the point (limiting this to classical or jazz or other non-visual music presentations, and excluding, e.g., musicals, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Laurie Anderson, etc.) Is it just shorthand for "attended a live performance by musician X" to say "saw musician X?" I don't think its controversial to say that performing musicians consider the reason they are on stage as to be heard and listened to, not looked at. Any theories on this? (But as Ken Nordine famously said, "Can you show a sound? I don't see why not.")

(I also like Schiff playing Bach, but I really like Perahia for his brilliance, and I always go back to Gould as my emotional base in Bach keyboard performances. I'm also always happy to listen to whoever has a new version of any Bach keyboard work to throw out there; they are standards and I don't think they are going to be exhausted in my life.)
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:48 PM on October 25, 2012

Just to consummate your derail: I'm not sure why people say they've "seen" a concert -- perhaps by attraction to theater and cinema and opera and other popularer bourgie goings-out; perhaps because virtuosos and soloists tend to attract personality cults (as in, one would definitely go to "see" Martha Argerich) -- but keyboard performances, if your seat is good enough, can be quite visual in themselves, and not ONLY when you imagine that the left hand is Tom and the right hand is Jerry. The movement of fingers over keys and feet over pedals have a kind of dance-like quality, with all the crossing and the jumping and so on. A good view of the keyboard can even make Rachmaninoff tolerable...
posted by flechsig at 8:38 PM on October 25, 2012

Interesting points, but I think you still would agree the visual element is the inferior part of the musical experience; correct? If you had the best seat in the house at a keyboard performance, but were told you had to wear earplugs so you could only see and not hear the performer, would you do it (absent a crush on the performer)? Probably not, unless you were a performer yourself trying to learn some performance technique, maybe. On the other hand, if the earplugs were removed and you were blindfolded, would you want be willing to attend, and would you anticipate enjoying, that same performance? Probably the answer is yes, although you might want a discount on the ticket price. For most concert attendees, unless they are just there for hero worship or social reasons or because their spouse made them attend, they are there to listen to the music; yet so many insist despite all that on characterizing a pure musical experience (keyboard recital, symphony performance, etc.) as a visual experience that they went to "see." It's such a loose, peculiar, and unnecessary usage that despite my better self, it sometimes makes me question the sincerity of a self-described music lover who nevertheless goes to "see" music performances where the visuals are not the point of the performance, or even a major point of it.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 9:05 PM on October 25, 2012

Why do folks say they went to "see" a musical performance? I go to hear music, to listen to it. Yes, if it's a live performance, you will incidentally see the performer, but is that really the point

I for one would like to see some male pianists perform with their upper body musculature visible.
posted by homunculus at 11:28 PM on October 25, 2012

Spent some time in the live music industry, and here's the industry answer to your derail (not snarky or snobby - this really is the industry answer):

People "see" concerts because the word is being used as shorthand for, "I went to the concert to have a shared sociological experience of simultaneously loving, enjoying, and appreciating exactly the same thing as hundreds or even thousands of people around me at exactly the same time while (often) at the same time validating my unspoken, otherwise-unrequited emotional attachment to the artist."

Studio-recorded music for anything is 100x better than a live performance. The acoustics can be made flawless, the musician can play till they're satisfied, the engineer can repair problems, the mix can add and remove breath sounds, string rub, the murmurings of the band. Also, no coughs. No cough drops. No fear of failure in front of paying spectators.

No matter how much you tell yourself you're going to a live event to hear the music, you're not. I promise. It's been extensively explored by music venue operators. We can turn up the amplification until you can't even hear the actual music anymore - until it overwhelms your ability to hear at all. You'll still claim you were satisfied. It is not the music. The artist can get 16 bars in, get irate, and storm off the stage, and you'll still talk about the show tomorrow, and you won't ask for a refund. It's not the music.

You go to see Andras Schiff play Bach from memory because Bach's body of work is extraordinary. Because he signed his work, "For the greater Glory of God." Because when you are in the full presence of a brilliant pianist playing Bach's work and sharing in the tremendous risk he's taking playing some of the most difficult music ever written from memory, live, in front of hundreds, with no room for error, and doing it beautifully, for a moment, you actually share in an experience of the greater Glory of God with all those people.

And somewhere inside, in a place that seems to naturally live inside all of us, you remember that the performing arts are about curating the continuous survival of the context of what it is to be human and to be together with each other throughout the ages and the things that make being humans with a shared context really important, and right then, you share the experience of that reawakening with everyone in this small space intended to contain that experience.

And as it ends, you applaud the work of a man who died in 1750, because he made this moment just for you and the hundreds of your new friends who he would never know but who came together to receive it, and a musician spent his entire life preparing to deliver this gift to you. And then it's over. And it never comes again, the exact same experience of intimacy and humanity you all shared. It's uniquely yours, uniquely this time and this place with these people, and you leave changed for the better, having shared something truly great with so many other people who all loved, enjoyed, and appreciated the same performance at the same time. For a moment, you were all one being.

People don't go to concerts to hear them. They actually know intuitively that they don't do that; so, the word they use instead is "see." It doesn't matter whether it's Bach or Carly Rae Jepson. If you want to hear music, hit iTunes. If you want to experience the performing arts, you have to go, and you have to "see" them.
posted by kochbeck at 5:05 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I attended Mitsuko Uchida's performance of a Beethoven piano concerto, I brought binoculars.

The visuals were captivating. I believe there was some music as well.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:56 AM on October 26, 2012

kochbeck, thanks for that great explanation. Interestingly, a lot of what you were saying sort of tracks or even might have motivated the early decision by Gould to stop performing live and devote himself to studio recordings. I'd always just chalked that up to being one of Gould's many idiosyncratic (even eccentric) traits, statements, and behaviors; I would not have thought to generalize from his example or think that other musicians are feeling it (if not necessarily taking it to such an extreme), but I can see how that might be the case.

I also get your point about how recordings can avoid or correct various imperfections of live performance, but will note in response that although I have invested a lot of money in my home stereo (probably 10 times what most sane people would spend) -- and it sounds pretty good with the right recordings -- I'd never in a second mistake it for a live performance; I continue going to live concerts to fully experience the sound of the music because recordings don't fully satisfy me or provide an adequate substitute for the sound of live music.

I was married for a number of years to a professional classical flutist, and she was pretty clear that when she performed, other than being basically presentable in appearance, she was only thinking about (1) not screwing up the notes and (2) sounding really good. I also have a cousin who played sax in, of all things, Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer band for a long period of time, and he kind of had the same attitude, was pretty concerned about how he sounded, but forced to care more about the visuals than he might have liked (e.g., he didn't much care for having to sway back and forth and dance around while playing, but that was the look they were going for, and he'd done it before with some other Haitian bands he played in, so that's show biz). That's a small sample size, but it sort of supported my own prejudices about what live music performance is about; interesting to get some more perspective on that.

So, I'll continue attending live music performance and just listening, because that's how I do it (really, I never know what to do with my eyes; I just zone out like I do when riding the L, read the program notes five times, etc.). Maybe, however, I'll get some binocs and check out Uchida next time she plays in Chicago, just to see what I've been missing.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 5:16 PM on October 26, 2012

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