rational vs. instinctive


Through these venue-specific experiments, and in the context of my background research, I found that rationally modifying a performance before the event is sometimes be unpractical, as performance is primarily an instinctive process. That being said, these conscious modifications seem to be one way of really improving one's performances. Most musicians prepare one version of an interpretation and then adjust it according a variety of factors, including the limitations and affordances of a venue, by making small instinctive changes on the spot. This study however shows that rationally arriving at a clear interpretive plan designed specifically for a given venue, before the performance event itself, can have both positive and negative consequences.


Concert halls are the venues to which classical musicians are most accustomed. After having meticulously planned my concert hall interpretation however, I felt quite lost during the performance. The rational decisions I had made in advance, in anticipation of the variety of factors presented by that space, seemed to block my more instinctive and habitual way of performing. Even if some passages sounded beautiful or communicated with the audience and brought them closer to my artistic intention, I couldn't seem to maintain concentration and, as a result, the performance lost integrity. I suspect that this is due to overthinking the interpretation in advance: instead of instinctively searching for solutions in the moment of performance as I would normally do, I stuck to my rational plan which, in the end, made my performance more rigid—not less. This of course is the opposite of what I intended to achieve with these experiments.


Understanding is, on the other hand, crucial for artistic development. From understanding the principles of adapting an interpretation for specific venue, there inevitably come some rational artistic decisions. This study shows that these decisions can indeed make a performance better suited to its environment, allowing the performer to take advantage of opportunities and compensate for shortcomings.


A hypothetical solution to this collision between the rational and instinctive is the internalization of this process through practice and experience. Such means are very familiar to musicians, since most of our profession is based on internalization of rational decisions, so that they become part of our instinctive nature. The performer should not just understand, but master the means of adapting their performances: just as they try to master parameters such a technique and expression.


flexibility of interpretation


True music lovers often attend a variety of venues, in order to experience different modes of listening to music. Similarly, performers too can enjoy how their musical responses to various venues enrich their interpretations and understanding of the music they play. Throughout this research project I became very aware of our modern obsession with perfection and reproducibility as I developed three very different interpretations of such a well-known piece of music. This flexibility and multiplicity of interpretation and understanding is in stark contrast with musicians' training. I am more convinced than ever that copying an interpretation and pasting it to any venue or social setting really does not take into account the complexity of musical language and its connection with the sociological role of music.


It is arguably dangerous however, to prioritize external factors when making artistic decisions. When preparing for the empirical part of this research, I sometimes felt as if I was masking my personal vision of the work with a set of rules that I had set for myself beforehand. Does such an approach cause the musician to lose his or her artistic integrity? While this is a question I am still wondering about, by performing the Chaconne in three very different ways I came to see the act of interpretation as much more flexible than I had before. By allowing these external factors to lead my interpretations down a variety of paths to their logical conclusions, I indeed arrived a better, more personal, understanding of the piece.


This led me to think that as musicians we tend to become stuck in a single vision of a given piece, and we ignore any aesthetic or practical qualities that are not compatible with that original conception. We think we react reflexively and flexibly in the moment of performance, but in reality, these tiny adjustments are just a small fraction of the multitude of interpretive possibilities at our disposal. By forcing myself to abandon this restraint, I was able to discover many more of these possibilities, and to be bolder when it came time to reveal them to my audiences. It deepened my understanding of the music, and with practice, I think it could give me better control of the musical flow of a performance. Even in this first attempt at creating three different venue-specific experimental performances however, there were sections that I managed to play in three completely different ways, while enjoying each version by highlighting the specific aesthetic qualities that had the best chance of being communicated in the venue in question. This too could be said to be a very in-the-moment mode of performance.


preparation for performance


When practicing a new piece, classical musicians usually spend quite a long time with it, closed off and alone in a practicing room. We try to understand, memorize and technically master the piece: a procedure that, while being directed at the ultimate goal of performance, doesn't really take into account the variables presented by a given performance event. After this preparation period, the piece begins its life onstage: here it is quite common to hear classical musicians talking about how some pieces 'work' onstage while others don't. In contrast to opera or theatre works, instrumental classical pieces usually get performed each time in different venue, which adds yet another parameter to this equation. 


From all of this it is possible to deduct that there is another step necessary in the process of becoming ready to step onstage and perform: one that is just as important as mastering the notes. By better preparing for the parameters presented by a specific performance event, perhaps musicians can open themselves up to a new world of possibilities. With this research project, I have tried to propose one model for how to anticipate, prepare, and create performances that are uniquely adapted to the challenges and opportunities presented by a given venue.  For example, when performing a soft passage in a noisy environment, our immediate response is to play louder, even though that may disrupt the character we seek. When faced with a similar situation however, I had planned out exactly what I would do in such a scenario, and practiced a solution that overcame the acoustical challenges of a noisy performance space while maintaining and even enhancing the character I wanted.


This study shows that it is extremely useful to mindfully prepare for the act and space of performance, even though not everything I planned was fully successful. I would like to keep exploring this process and incorporate it into my everyday practice however, in order to find the most effective means of predicting and handling venue-specific interpretive modifications. 


perceptiveness for circumstances of performance


Through this research project I also found that I became much more aware and perceptive of the external factors that can influence my performances. It is impossible to react to one's circumstances if we cannot identify them. I have found that noticing little details about a given venue, far beyond the quality of the instrument awaiting us onstage, can be crucial for making successful interpretative choices: something I'm much better at after having gone through the experience of forcing myself to consciously plan for and react to the stimuli and obstacles presented by various venues.


Perhaps however, one can be too aware of these external factors. During my experimental performances I often became preoccupied with noticing the situation around me, from lighting and aural feedback, to proximity to the audience and seat placement. Sometimes these circumstances were not what I had expected, or they changed during the course of my performance: like in the music club, for example. This means however that it may also be important to expect and prepare for different scenarios within a specific venue, or in other words, to practice many different versions of an interpretation for one type of venue as well as for many different types of venues. If we work at cultivating this kind of flexibility, in time we should be able to react to any venue-specific scenario quickly and effortlessly. Ultimately however, this too seems like an exercise that will stimulate and enrich our imaginations and experiences.