Reviewing the Muir Quartet.Boston Globe, September 14, 2009.
So I was reading this nice, brief review, when all of a sudden I remembered what Anthony Tommasini had mentioned in a lecture I saw some time ago. To paraphrase, he said that he is often at a loss for words when the concert content is so well-worn; that Beethoven and the other warhorses carry so much baggage that, well, what can you add to the conversation?
Would you agree with him?
Those are the times I usually get into the performance, how musicians do what they do and all that. If the piece is deserving, though, you can try to get people to consider a warhorse not as a warhorse, but as a damn good piece of music (I personally never fail to be impressed at what an elegant certainty “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” of all things, is.) Option no. 3—and Beethoven is fertile ground for this—is to explain how what everybody thinks about Great Masterpiece A is totally, totally wrong, and the better interpretation is one that's far more troubling/interesting/off-the-wall. (This approach is especially fun if pre-concert cocktails have been involved.)
I also have a weak spot for trivia and intellectual ephemera, so I have Sound-of-Music type confidence that you can always find something new to say about any piece of music, as long as you accept the fact that it most probably will be more quirky and goofy than profound. Whether you can get away with that sort of attitude as the head critic of the New York TImes, as opposed to a mere stringer, is something I wouldn't know, though.
And then, of course, if you're wearing pads, you can always tell the readers that their cherished warhorse is kind of lousy. Fun, but I imagine doing that every week would eventually turn you into Hunter Thompson.
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