Joining the dots…

Rehearsing Elgar in the Rolston Hall @ The Banff Centre, Canada

Rehearsing Elgar in the Rolston Hall @ The Banff Centre, Canada

As performers we spend hours worrying about?perfecting the notes & rhythms, clarifying articulation and refining dynamic shading, diligently slaving away our practice hours in the hope of improving our capacity to realise the dots and symbols representing the composer’s elusive intentions. ?Teachers spend hours on techniques to improve?sound quality, rhythm,?articulation, balance, and so on, all in the name of accuracy, technical prowess and the potential to use said skills to support musical expression. Pupils in turn, slave away in pursuit of greater facility, urged on by the satisfaction of mastering a difficult passage or piece. ?Undoubtably this is an essential part of musical training but I have become increasingly convinced that the most important ingredient of any score is not the notes themselves but the?connection?between the notes. ?Rather oddly, this connection is very rarely notated in any detail.

All good composers share a?mastery of notation that assumes and demands an equal understanding from the performer. It’s a skill that we attribute to all great artists; the ability to use an art form to make one?feel?the subject of the work, rather than simply perceive or experience it: Every playwrite needs a good director and cast to make each moment on stage telling, in the same way a good composer relies on the performer to understand the implicit meaning of the dots on the page and how they should fit together to maximise the emotional impact. This is I think, the most important part of our job as performers and it is also by far the hardest.

Tonight we are going on stage to play the Elgar Violin Sonata at The Banff Centre. It is the work we have performed the most, and it is probably the one piece that never fails to possess our souls each time we perform it. It is also interesting because Elgar is meticulous about his notation. Every note has a carefully crafted articulation & dynamic marking,?rubati are often indicated,?in the piano part the pedalling is notated with great care and the score is littered with markings of every?conceivable?meaning. Yet despite stretching the limits of traditional notation, Elgar falls short of explicitly stating where to place each chord in relation to each other, he does not clearly indicate how long each phrase should be, nor how to inflect a long note to prick the neck hairs of the audience and hopefully touch their hearts. That part is our job and I can only hope that each of our performances takes our understanding of just how to connect these dots to a new level.
I’ll let you know how it goes…

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