I know that I promised mirror neurons in the next post, but we have the following from someone who has not only won a major international competition but has also served as a member of the jury at an international competition. Paavali Jumppanen is an internationally-known Finnish pianist, winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 2001. He sent the following in response to the first “listening or watching” post.
Paavali: Very interesting post. I was just doing a Beethoven Piano Sonatas workshop with students at the Sibelius-Academy in Helsinki this week. In addition to one-on-one session with the participants and their sonatas we organized public discussions dealing among other things with the relationship between Beethoven-performance tradition and the personality of the single performer. The students very thoughtfully noted that these days what often seems to be taken as proof of strong personality and artistic originality is rather in fact flamboyance.
Then again, bouncing off the previous comment about Liszt, I wouldn’t personally go as far as to value a performance according to any single parameter: physical appearance of the performer, body movements, or even sound. Sometimes a performance seems to be able to “touch” the listener even if a lot of it goes wrong, a performance may somehow work itself in to the mind of the listener in a way that the listener is simply persuaded to like it against all odds.
Lois: Glenn Gould was certainly a case in point. Not that things went wrong in his performances – but his mannerisms (and his singing) could be tremendously off-putting; yet when he played Bach, you were compelled to listen and you don’t forget his performances. And read this review, by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, to see how a performer who mangled some octaves and got his fingers tangled, still seemed to have far more to communicate about the music than the performer who played with more virtuosic dazzle.
Paavali: The jury question is interesting, and I was actually present once at Chia-Jung Tsay’s lectures and participated in a test listening she conducted. Her findings are important but there’s an aspect of jury-work that I feel should be added to the general discussion. Having recently served as a jury member at an international competition, I couldn’t fail to notice that the individual jury members came into quite different conclusions about the contestants, each one had their favorites and the end result was a mathematical summary of those results. So, in the end, there was a great deal of chance in who actually won the competition. I believe that just as competitors declare different musical values, the jury members do too. I would therefore be careful in making the conclusion that certain type of playing would “fool” the juries, which, I admit, is not what Dr. Tsay is specifically saying, but which interpretation still hovers around the question.
Lois: Differing musical values would also be a factor in the study, which I think makes Dr. Tsay’s research even more interesting. I don’t think she is suggesting that certain types of playing may “fool” a jury, The results of her studies were the same whether the participants were novices, or were professional musicians who had been jury members or competition winners themselves. I may not have made it clear in previous posts, but she suggests that there may be something about the way the brain processes vision vs. sound that gives vision precedence in our decision making, but this is not at a conscious level. This, no doubt, has ramifications for all kinds of decision making in our lives. Lot’s to continue thinking about.
The first CD in Paavali’s complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas cycle has recently been released to great reviews on the Ondine label. We look forward to future releases!