Being a performer of contemporary music, I am used to rendering a score very precisely. I like cultivating precision and complex structures, and not adjust the material for the purpose of making the listening experience easier or even out extremes. My position is close to the one described by Ian Pace when he writes about how performances of Lachenmann’s Serynade must avoid the simplistic opposition of modernist fragmentation and traditionalist homogenisation of details
(Such) Aesthetic issues are of great importance to performers of the work seeking an alternative to the false dichotomy often proffered in terms of performance practice: between a ‘modernistic’ approach on one hand (emphasising disjunction between all elements to the maximum, resisting all sense of line and above all, free from any stylistic baggage obtained from older practices) or a ‘musicianly’ approach on the other (foregrounding to the maximum all aspects of the music that resonate with earlier traditions, avoiding terrifyingly loud or ear-stretching soft dynamics, finding ways of creating continuity and some degree of seamlessness even when presented by violent oppositions between material types, thus containing the musical experience within manageable boundaries). These are caricatured positions, perhaps, but nonetheless seem to have a fair amount of truth in them.’ (Pace, 2005: 102)
Pace could be read as saying that extremes in (these uninformed!) interpretations can ‘suppress’ listeners’ reflections. By steering listeners towards extremes in interpretation lacking in nuances and subtlety, one reduces their opportunity to get involved in the work by their means and enable only a one-dimensional listening experience rather than one based on self-conscious reflection. Working on the Practische Beispiele, these ideas are with me as I deliberately search for extremes to recognise them in my playing.
I use the same approach to prepare Practische Beispiele as I did with Lyrical Pieces, i.e., by experimenting with degrees of freedom and deliberate changes of focus. I play with extreme rhythmic precision and from there move into a free landscape, and experiment with timbre, timing, tempo, and articulation. I approach the extremes of the dichotomy described by Pace and consider how to balance the interpretation of the music without being trapped at on end of this spectrum. Since I prepare the Reicha for a recording situation only and not for performance, I also try to be sensitive to the context in which it will be presented – or rather the context it will serve accompanying Hegdal’s concerto. How can I best manage events in the music, where should the dynamic balance go between Reicha and Hegdal? What should I say about Hegdal through Reicha and vice versa?
I know Hegdal’s music well having previously given several concerts featuring his music. I have been fascinated by his distinctive approach to aleatoric composition. 4 Rather than composing music, Hegdal says it ‘comes to him.' In his view
‘music doesn’t turn the composer into a typical creative artist, nor does the sound of the music make it expressive or personal. Hegdal seeks a kind of expression that is as unruly and as exuberant as life itself, and this put him in a particular position. Hegdal created the structure behind the works, and then lets the ‘fall of the dice’ decide the outcome: Chance procedures turn the composer, and the listeners too, into the recipient of the music.’ (Ugelvik, 2004, my translation)
Sitting at my computer writing words, the same applies here too. I begin with a preconception of what I am going to write, but then something else pops up in my mind that leads me in a new direction but without completely losing the sense of my previous intentions. Discipline and spontaneity interact in a kind of dance. It’s nice to think that way about playing as well. I enjoy practising - playing a piece or passage over and over again and sensing other things emerging, different from what I had initially set my mind to.
Ma non troppo
I take a few lessons with early music expert, Liv Glaser. I play on instruments from Reicha’s time, feel how sensitive they are to varieties of touch, how they have less body than a modern concert grand. I’m thinking about recording the Reicha pieces on an old instrument, but feel the relationship between Reicha and Hegdal would be clearer if I used the same instrument. Glaser shows me how to let phrases and passages in Reicha’s Adagio molto breathe by breaking chords and double dotting rhythms. She talks about rhetoric and gestures; we experiment with the rhythmic ambiguity of the opening: there are so many possibilities, is it best to divide the bars into four or six? Glaser is great – she encourages me to do what I think works, make alterations by allowing myself, for example, to drop repetitions in Allegro non troppo as the movement feels too long, at least for a CD recording.
I know from experience that choices made in a recording situation have to be even clearer than choices made in a concert setting so as to successfully negotiate the journey through the stereo setup. When listening to a recording, the visual impression of the pianist is missing, and listeners lack one of the parameters by which they receive and process the music.
I decide to play Adagio molto in a clear four-beat rhythm in the opening bar, but I try to mask the beat from there on by pulling my left hand back slightly in volume. The runs and adornments in the right hand fly and breathe, but I ‘stamp on the brakes’ because I want to mask any impression of ancient perfume; I minimise my playing to allow the listeners to shape the music for themselves; I want to activate my listeners through my playing. I emphasise small fragments, build brief phrases, explore dynamic spaces between ppp and mp. I want the first part to be pliable, but not overmuch.
After the first part, I want to create an extreme contrast; I slow the tempo down to accentuate a mumbling, increasingly insistent stamping, a section that forms in reverse, slowly, stone by stone. Then, attention turns to the quotation section, a replica inserted into Hegdal’s piano concerto. I pick my way towards the section, let myself get carried away, increase the intensity, accelerate, land, hammer these bars out. Fourteen minutes to go before the section is repeated in the piano concerto; I want listeners to remember this section!
Afterwards, I let my fingers run wild in the rapid passage foreshadowing my cadenza in the piano concerto, ending with an upward run in a dazzlingly fast tempo, an attempt to play as virtuoso as possible on a grand piano. I round off the Adagio molto by contrasting the seeking, scrutinising ambience with which the piano concerto opens the next track. I hammer, brake as hard as possible, open the floodgates: Here it comes!!!