Video of that magical Faun

A video of the Debussy performance I raved about is now online, right here.  This was Afternoon of a Faun, danced by student musicians from the University of Maryland, while they play the music from memory.

What moved me especially, as I watched the video, was the music. I should apologize for what I wrote in my earlier post. The playing, on the video, comes across far more touchingly than I said it did, even though I praised it. And the moments of not-quite-together playing I thought I heard near the start — where are they? Now I don’t hear them at all. And there are moments, more than a few, that seem breathtakingly beautiful. The students’ dancing seems to give them special commitment, and gives their phrasing special grace. And it all gets more poignant, more radiant, as it goes along.

The movement? Maybe the closeups make what happens on stage look less magical than it did onstage. It’s a standard problem of dance videos. How do you show closeups, and still keep the flow and shape of the choreography, which depends so much on seeing all the stage at once? There are gorgeous, flowing, haunting moments, but the achievement here might have come across better when I saw it onstage.

I’d be curious to know what others think. Watch the video, and post a comment. How did the performance come across to you?

So many thanks to Sue Heineman, who posted a comment, telling us the video was online, and giving the link.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. Janet Bordeaux says

    This is a very intriguing concept. It offers more to keep the audience from getting distracted, and I’m sure fits in our society of ever-shortening attention spans. As theater, I love it. As dance, it’s a bit lacking, mostly walking around and sitting/standing. As music…well the piece itself is haunting and lovely, but I think the constant motion, placing the musicians into fractured mental it’s not just tone, tempo, technique, dynamics, pitch, blend with your section, but as musician you now must remember all your cues, and the choreography. The music is a bit ragged and less focused.

    I definitely see a place for this in performing arts! And would love to see more. I would pay for a seat to be a part of this experience. But I would not want this to replace the standard of concerts.

    A word about the filming, since you mention the camera movement. Two words: STOP IT!!! Close-ups are nice, but they totally destroy the experience. Sit that camera I one spot and let me enjoy the whole experience as if I were in the audience. If you feel a need for close-up focus, then make a static box in the corner and put your close-ups there. I often feel this way with dance videos..they are so busy changing camera angles that the poor viewer never gets a good idea of what the dance looks like!

    • says

      Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is often choreographed for professional (or at least trained) dancers. It was first choreographed in 1912 by Nijinsky. And I think that’s the way it works best for me.

      As for having a student orchestra play and dance the piece (moving around in groups combined with physical movements) there could easily be some value in the musician’s exploring how movement affects their response to the music. And judging from watching this video of the performance, it seems that the students really had a wonderful experience doing this. (I’d have to check, but didn’t Scriabin actually incorporate musicians dancing — in costumes, light show and fragrances — for some of his big exotic orchestral pieces (Poem of Ecstasy, Prometheus)? And of course we shouldn’t forget Harry Partch, for whom the musician’s movements and their costumes were as important as their actual performance on his wildly one-of-a-kind instruments? So the concept isn’t at all new, really.

      If a professional orchestra wanted to try this out, I might go to watch/listen out of curiosity if ticket prices weren’t too high. But if I wanted a deep visual/aural experience of the music, count me as one who’d like to see it done with trained dancers doing what they do best and trained orchestra musicians doing what they do best.

  2. KarsteinD says

    Wow! Beautiful and very interesting.The choreography suits the music very well. And the musicians look so comfortable and at ease. One detail I like is where the celli have one “choreographed” pizzicato.

    • says

      I agree — some of the closeups are marvelous. Overall, I think they did the best they could, making the video. What you’d need, to do the best job, would be a top-class professional filmmaker, who understood dance, and was an artist herself. That way, she could make a film incorporating closeups, but still catching the overall flow of the choreography, even if she couldn’t literally show it. I keep thinking of Jonathan Demme’s “Heart of Gold,” his film of a Neil Young concert. He catches the flow of the music wonderfully, often by _not_ showing the musicians who happen to be playing at any moment. Certainly he shows how orchestras should be filmed, though that’s a different conversation.

      Thanks for linking the Faun rehearsal footage. I’d noticed it on YouTube, but haven’t had time to watch. Looks like it might convey some of the shape of the choreography, though the distance of the camera makes it hard to really get into watching. Liz is quite a marvelous choreographer, and I can only say again that, seen onstage, the performance had a deep dance-integrity that doesn’t (can’t) come across in the video.

  3. carlos fischer says

    Well…this is a heterodox performance of a haunting masterpiece. If we compare this performance – in terms of visual effects only – to orthodox performances ( you can watch in Youtube an old performance, Stokowski’s with LSO… you’ll have fun while comparing!) , this one has many advantages. First of all, there’s only young performers expressing themselves musically and physically. I am not quite sure whether i liked or not this particular music choreography , i had an overall sense of “movement in excess” and there were some distracting moments- and funny also- like the one when some of the orchestra players make little jumps and the blond girl runs in circles; or when double bass players lift up their big instruments and walk ; anyway, the lesson this performance teaches me is that Classical music performers should seriously care about body expression in music performance. As a concert goer , I’m tired to see orchestra performers playing like they don’t like the music …it seems sometimes that they don’t know how to play the score very well because their playing is so unexpressive in terms of face expression, body expression; they play adagios, allegros with the “same sameness” ; always seated , no discernible physical motions .Orchestra performers should stand up and move more while playing solo parts or to stress on a particular music sum, they should add more dynamism and physical artistry to their playing.

  4. says

    I connected to this performance far more than I normally do to classical music. Part of it has to be they’ve memorized the music, which means they can really get into playing expressively, and then all the movement and facial expressions just magnify that, both for them and the audience. Having the instruments moving around so that the spatial mix was always changing must have been very refreshing to the ear to those in the audience. Thanks very much for posting.

  5. says

    This was really great. It immediately made me wonder why professional orchestras don’t memorize the music that they play. These students found time to memorize a 15 minute piece of music AND the choreography for it, why not professionals? Longer pieces can’t be impossible either. Opera singers memorize hours upon hours of music but the orchestras always have their sheets in front of them. This is the only genre of music I can think of where sheet music is relied on so heavily in live performance. Jazz bands might use lead sheets but they’re not really reading from them, they’re just using them as cues occasionally. Of course, rock bands couldn’t use sheet music even if they wanted to.

    The possibilities that open up, like what this orchestra did, when musicians aren’t tied to a sheet of paper seem to far outweigh the potential for a missed note. It could even lead to the players listening and feeling the music more instead of just reading it (not that I know how often musicians zone out and just start reading, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me this is a common occurence).

  6. says

    That was a fascinating performance. Thanks for sharing it! Unfortunately, watching the video, I found myself distracted by the closeups (as everyone has already remarked). I imagine being there seeing the whole panorama and choosing myself what to let my attention be drawn to would be much more effective.

    I am happy to see experiments of this kind, trying to restore a connection between music and the movement that underlies it.

  7. says

    I love Debussy’s music, and love this piece in particular, but this performance really blew me away. It brought a whole new level to engaging with the music, and I found myself listening even more carefully for each instrument and the harmonic textures, and then trying to follow who was playing, moving, what they were doing. Riveting! Thank you. I wish orchestras would do this sort of thing much more, but I know it’s not about to happen. But there are certain composers and compositions that would work well with it. Thanks for bringing this video and these young musicians to wider attention. And to the person who posted the link to the *Wind Sync Story,* thank you too.