Friday, 12 October 2012

2012: A MUSICAL SPACE ODYSSEY Day 4 by JEREMY SIEPMANN / The Joy of Music Festival

Part 4: Interpretation
JEREMY SIEPMANN, Speaker & Presenter
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Thursday (11 October 2012)

It all started with those Breakfast Meetings of The Chopin Society of Hong Kong, held in the mornings of each festival at a meeting room of the YMCA Salisbury. For the editions in 2008 and 2011, the veteran British writer-broadcaster and musical historian Jeremy Siepmann, also a member in the jury of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition, was invited to give talks on various aspects of music. Subjects included a secret history of the piano and that enigma called “From Sigh To Scream”. These proved so popular that Siepmann was invited back this year (a non-competition year) to helm a series of lectures on the elements of music, interpretation and criticism over the course of five days. Those people who attended all five sessions would be awarded with a certificate personally signed by the master himself.

Having arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, I could only attend the last two lectures. The first was on Interpretation, and why performances of a same piece of music by different performers could sound so different. He suggested that all musical phrases were rhythmic phenomena comprised three rhythmic states: the upbeat, the beat and the afterbeat. It is the mastery of the afterbeat that defines interpretation. This is a very interesting concept indeed, which he referred to as the Holy Trinity of musical expression. He also regularly referred to the way one pronounces the word tortilla: tor-TEE-yah, with the emphasis on the middle syllable. And also its variation with a cadence, tortilla now: tor-TEE-yah NOW

He declaimed the disadvantages of being a trained and professional musician, where formal education often stultifies the way one naturally perceives of music. One becomes more conscious of the notion of music rather than experiencing it organically, a case of being more concerned with the context rather than the content. Music is infinitely greater than being it being a symptom of its time. Therefore musicologists and authenticists are guilty of mummifying the spirit of music in certain ways.

He showed some musical examples, like the first phrase of Schubert’s Sixth Moment Musical, which is often better sung than played on the keyboard. He elaborated at length the first four measures of Bach’s Prelude in C minor (from WTC Book 1) and demonstrated how the Fugue in D major (WTC Book 1 again) could be interpreted in different ways based on variations of tempi – like a sewing machine, a Busonian chorale or musical box. A score is merely a blueprint, for which a performer begins to build his interpretation and gives life to a work. It is otherwise as boring as an architect’s blueprint when compared with the final product, a building.

He asserts that all performance is a merely a cross-section of the myriad possibilities that exist of any given piece. So why do artists persist is playing in the same way? Is there not the possibility of variation, such as playing the exposition repeat of a sonata movement differently the second time around? Nothing should be considered definitive, otherwise it would just be boring and extremely wasteful.

Even Van Gogh’s art gets a look-in, his thick gobs of paint making a piece look 3-dimensional when light is being reflected from its surface. He also quoted from some Russian, “We learn in order to forget”, to which he adds a corollary, “Until we forget, we have not learnt”.  By now, Siepmann no longer comes across like some instructor or teacher, but a fount of erudition who opens our eyes and ears, and illuminates a path through the morass of musicalese, technical jargon and information overload. 

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