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June 24, 2005

My Responses

Dear Doug,

First, I am writing in response to your entry titled, "Of East and West..."

As you say, the East/West distinction doesn’t mean too much any more. Alternatively, one could also say that we have finally realized that the world is not so easily categorized, and, in any case, that diversity is positive. Trying to neatly frame the world in terms of “East” and “West” is simply backward, ignorant, and too broad. There are many groups within ”East ” and ”West. ” Moreover, culture is a living thing that continuously evolves, mutates, and acquires new or different characteristics. When asked to define the differences between the Japanese and American children with whom I do extensive outreach work, I respond that because there are so many variances within each group, comparing them is impossible.

You had also asked me why I thought places like Hong Kong seemed surprisingly less culturally vibrant than Japan, for example, despite the fact that the Western presence had been established there for a long time. I think that this topic is much too complex to address in a few short sentences. Perhaps you would like to arrange for a separate blog on this very topic???

For now, I'm wondering if one of the keys to this question must lie in socio-political history, specifically the psychology of colonization. When ideas are enforced and controlled such as must be the case with colonies, their incorporation to the local culture must be restricted. As such, the locals often have limited access to what are considered the highest cultural forms by those in power. Could it be partly because of this that the cultural scene in a place like Hong Kong is, as you say, catching up?

Now, about the repertoire choices:

I always choose my repertoire for recitals with a few things in mind. The most important is to perform the works I want to play. While this is not a difficult criterion to adhere to, I make a point of saying this, because it's so fundamental, and I wish never to forget it. I do not play a piece because I think I should play it, but because I want to.

Beyond this and other requirements (such as program length), I like to have both contrast and coherence in the program as a whole. For example, in this current program, the Beethoven, a classic, flows nicely into the Franck Sonata--one of the most popular violin-piano works. After the intermission is Bach. The Franck was in A Major and the Bach is in A minor. Rautavaara, a living composer, comes immediately following Bach, the Father of Music. In addition, going from the regularity of the 16th notes in duple time in the last movement of the Bach, Dithyrambos entertains a jagged rhythm in 7/8. The middle section is a bit choral and hymn-like, which of course has a connection to Bach. Both the fire and passion in this three-minute piece can also be felt in the Franck. From the bombastic end of Dithyrambos, the flow continues to the mysterious opening of Szymanowski.

More contrast can be seen with the periods of the composers, which range from Baroque to the very contemporary; as well as the origins of the composers' births--from Germany, France, Finland, to Poland. In terms of textual difference, there is great variance as well, with harmonics, spiccatos, lieder-like legatos, etc.

While I explained above in very practical terms how this "Contrast and Coherence" works, my final decision is made based on how the pieces sound together. Most of the time, in trying to decide on the program, I try playing the end of each piece followed by the beginning of the next to see how they fit or contrast.

I don't usually choose repertoire specifically for the concert venue, because choosing the repertoire the way I do, there is always something for different tastes.

In terms of different audience reactions, I see this similarly to the way I spoke about cultural differences. I never know how the audiences will demonstrate their response. I could be playing the same work in the same city on consecutive nights, and the response could be like Night and Day. So, it would be safer to say that the reaction is demonstrated in various ways regardless of country.

One thing I always think about and wish for when I play a concert is that all the audience members can be in a psychological position to open their hearts fully to the music and be aware of their reactions to it. Anything that would help them to get to this point is worth trying.


Posted by at June 24, 2005 4:02 PM