There are so many notes in a sonata or a concerto. Should we expect them all to be played correctly? Or is the occasional wrong note acceptable in the context of a performance of wonderful musicality?
It never ceases to amaze me that concert pianists can play such amazingly difficult music without ever hitting a wrong note. As an amateur pianist myself, I really do admire this almost incredible skill. I say 'almost incredible' because I understand how people such as these practise anything from six to ten hours a day, and sometimes even more. Practice clearly does make perfect.
So it was quite a surprise to hear virtuoso pianist Lang Lang hit a wrong note in a section of Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, in the Diamond Jubilee concert of June 2012. And here it is...
You could say that it could happen to anyone. Well it could happen to me, it could perhaps happen to you. But this is Lang Lang. I don't actually know why this happened, but I can guess. My first feeling is that there was a little edginess in general among some of the early performers in the concert. Perhaps the monitoring wasn't quite right. Maybe there was some kerfuffle going on that viewers and spectators were not otherwise aware of. Perhaps Lang Lang hadn't prepared to his normal concert standard.
Perhaps we have come to expect too much of our performers. In an earlier era of musical performance, wrong notes were commonplace, even among the very best pianists. Listen to recordings by Schnabel, Cortot, Horowitz - their performances are unimpeachable in terms of musicality, expressiveness and communication with the audience. And the occasion slip, in those days, didn't seem to matter.
But then recording took over from concert performance as the primary output for performers' talents. And although a few slips during a live performance matter little, no-one wants to hear the same wrong note over and over on repeated listening. Since the late 1940s it has been easily possible to edit several takes together into a 'perfect' performance. Indeed, even in the days of tape a typical classical recording would very likely have one or two edits in every minute of audio.
So perhaps we have become too fussy over fine details and we are forgetting about musicality. Lang Lang's trademark in performance is his exuberance, and anyone hearing him play comes away from the concert a happier person. For that, I'll forgive the odd note that went wrong, in favor of the many thousands that he plays so wonderfully right!
Publication date: Tuesday June 12, 2012
Author: David Mellor
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