Is there such thing as a definitive performance?

Posted on: February 9, 2010

“When the Vienna Philharmonic visited Carnegie Hall recently, it brought three programs that largely avoided the orchestra’s usual mandate,” writes Allan Kozinn in Sunday’s (2/7) New York Times. “Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim, who shared the conducting, offered four substantial works by Arnold Schoenberg … and music by Anton Webern, one of Schoenberg’s most renowned students. … the two conductors took interpretive approaches to Schoenberg that were poles apart: Mr. Boulez’s readings prized delicacy and transparency; Mr. Barenboim’s, raw power and heft. Both were highly personalized approaches, though you could argue that Mr. Boulez, by clarifying Schoenberg’s scoring details and structure, was offering something close to a literalist view, and that Mr. Barenboim, by magnifying the vigor he found in the music, was bending the music more overtly to his will. … When we hear radically different interpretations of contemporary music, many of us naturally wonder which approach comes closest to what the composer had in mind. … Most experienced listeners know that thinking in terms of definitive performances is as meaningless for new music as it is for any other kind. … Music is as much a performer’s art as a composer’s, and for the listener there should be as much (or nearly as much) excitement in a performer’s insights about a work as in the work itself.”

Posted February 9, 2010