Monday, March 16, 2009

Two Leaders and Three Followers?

I have used my site to provide a more "bread-and-butter" review of yesterday's recital by the Prazak String Quartet and Menahem Pressler at Herbst Theatre; but, beyond that bread and butter were some interesting aspects of the nature of the performance. In my studies of chamber music performance practices, I have found considerable discussion of the question of who is in charge. Is chamber music truly "communal;" or is some form of Giddens-like domination necessary for the integrity of the performance? In the Beaux Arts Trio it always seemed to me that Pressler was the dominant player, reinforced by not only the physical strength of his piano sound but also by the responsibility of his part for multiple voices in the composition. (Some of this came out to me in my reading of Nicholas Delbanco's book about the Trio.) On the other hand, while the compositions for string quartet that the Prazak performed did an excellent job of treating all four parts as equals, it seemed to me as if first violinist Vaclav Remes was asserting his "authority" through a variety of physical cues. These tended to detach him from his three colleagues, particularly when he would lose eye contact with them in favor of facing the audience.

What would happen when two individuals who had become accustomed to such domination would encounter each other? In this case the result was fascinating. The attention that Remes had given to the audience earlier in the program was now directed at Pressler. It was as if he was accepting Pressler's authority on the condition that he would then serve as the "medium" through which that authority was exercised over the entire quartet. As should be clear from the way in which I wrote my review, I did not feel as if the performance suffered from this "authoritarian" strategy; but it provided an interesting data point to support the argument that the performance of chamber music does not, of necessity, have to be a "democratic" process!

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