Saturday, December 02, 2006

rethinking Frankenstein!!

I'm a little ashamed to have written so dismissively of the Gruber piece earlier in the week - after rehearsing it for a few more days, and performing the piece this evening, I think it's much more than just squeaky toys and nonsense poetry. I would probably need a lot more study and listening to understand the piece completely, but I think its intent is something quite profound. It's trying to create this whole world of child-like impressions, naivety, and wonder, and at the same time express a lot of dark and unsettling emotions. There are moments when it's really uncomfortable to listen to these bizarre sounds, grumbling and shrieking and all kinds of human noises which we're not accustomed to hearing in the concert hall. And so the audience has to laugh or react, to relieve some of this tension. As simple and fun as the piece first appears, it has this incredible way of calculating the audience's emotions, and pushing them just so far that they have to squirm, and then laugh.

After the performance I got to speak with Kevin Hall, who writes Hidden City, and a friend who writes sex and the beach (I think she may be semi-anonymous). It was very cool to see some familiar faces in the audience, and feel a part of this little cultural scene in Miami - I think part of my decision to suspend blogging for a while was the feeling of sliding into irrelevance. It now seems to me kind of a self-fulfilling notion: once you think you have nothing significant to say, it becomes the truth. But really, concerts like this make me feel music is very meaningful, and as a performer I'm right in the thick of all that meaningfulness. So the challenge is to find the sense of the music for myself, and then to make sure that the audience can find it as well.

If that's my goal, probably the first thing I should do is to admit that I'm confused and lost a lot of the time too. (Not in the sense of losing my place on the page, which I can usually find, but losing the larger message). When I first open a new score, there's all this unfamiliar notation, strange instructions, a weird title - the superficial stuff which the audience also struggles with. I try and cling to the things I can easily read, the pitches and rhythms, and at least have these organized for the first rehearsal. A piece like Gruber's Frankenstein!!, there is simply so much going on, I can barely keep up with the part on my stand, and a few important signals and cues which will help me keep my place.

But as the rehearsal period goes on, I gain some familiarity, as I start to remember and look forward to certain moments - a strange chord, a rhythm that makes me feel like dancing. I'm still not sure I understand what the piece is about, at least not enough that I could stand up and give a lecture about it. Somehow though, in the process of learning its gestures, blending myself into its sonorities and harmonic language, I think I do reach some unconscious grasp of its meaning. I feel like my body contains something essential about the piece, even if my brain can't distill it into words. At least I tell myself this, so that I can feel ready to perform it!

Often, like tonight, the composer has something fascinating to say about the piece right before the performance. Gruber said that this piece, as silly as it may sound, has some very serious purposes, and made it clear that he wasn't merely showing off toy sounds. Speeches like this are for the benefit of the audience, but of course he knows the orchestra is listening too - I wonder sometimes if the conductor has planned it this way, saving those words until the moment right before we play so that they will be foremost in the minds of the musicians as well as the audience.

And so I try and play with as much understanding as possible - tonight I thought some lovely things happened, as well as some strange and not completely expected things. Even in new music, we can quickly form a set idea of how things must go, and it can be unnerving when the performance strays a bit, as it always will. Gruber was fun to perform with, because he seemed genuinely open to whatever strange new features might appear in his piece - he kept referring to our run-throughs as "versions". So no single version can be complete and authoritative, I suppose, which makes both the hearing and the performing an adventure. I can't say I completely "got" the piece Frankenstein!!, but after performing tonight's version for a very appreciative audience, I at least got an experience of it.


Santiago said...

My friend Larry has posted you in your commentary about the sextet of Martinu:

I'd like to invite you Martinu admirers to my free yahoo group devoted to Martinu!


Manola Blablablanik said...

Hi HF! Yes that was me ... so great to meet you! Please keep writing ... you write as beautifully as you play.