I went to hear the ACO and Julia Lezhneva last night. It was quite something. The performers left the stage after the fourth encore. Fair enough. They probably wanted to get home, or have a drink. The audience would happily have stayed to listen all night. I could gush about phrasing and timbre and poise and fiddly-fast notes but my post concert tweet says pretty much all I want to say.
I was however interested in a note in the program.
For these performances, the Orchestra will play on gut strings. We like the rawness, roughness and soft hue of the sound these strings produce. And the wind players will perform on copies of instruments from the time.
The pitch is compromised at 415 vibrations per second, which may have been used by some performers in the 18th century. We have little to no idea what the composers intended their music to sound like, so hereby offer you one notion of how it could sound today.
Roughly translated, “Don’t you dare pull the historically-informed-performance card on us. If you do, we won’t hesitate to ask to see your time machine”.
It’s an interesting point. Australian Chamber Orchestra has never staked its reputation on authenticity, whatever that might be, and Richard Tognetti has never claimed to be making scholarly editions when he arranges late Beethoven quartets for string ensemble. Or Janacek, or Grieg, or Alice in Chains for that matter.
This is in sharp contrast to many other ensembles touting for business these days, where historically informed performance is a key part of the brand. Paris in the 1780s. Vienna in the 1830s. London in the 1690s. You name it, the niches are endless.
None of which I, personally, have a problem with, until it becomes a battleground. When musicians start waving baroque bows threateningly, and start muttering about someone else’s misplaced vibrato or pitch, it starts to get silly. The whole point of the HIPster movement is, surely, to seek meaning, and meaning comes in many flavours, whether it’s how a musician might have played a particular phrase in 1816, as compared to 2016, or what they might have been thinking about at the time. Frankly, if it finds some meaning which I can use in the here and now, I’m pretty happy. As the program writer of the ACO says, the main thing is ‘how it could sound today.’ Because until we get that tardis working, today’s all we got.
(And seriously, do go and hear this one if you can. There’s another performance in Melbourne on Saturday 15 October and the last night in Sydney next Tuesday. Details here.)