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Jessica Duchen
Monday 14th December 2009
Any Answers...

Interesting exercise, my call for questions. Just two arrived, plus one message suggesting I shouldn't bother answering the first of them. Oh well, you are naturally free to send in questions whenever you like, and meanwhile here are some answers...

1. From "Agn". What makes Grigory Sokolov such a great pianist in you opinion?

It's relatively easy to break this down into components, but vital to remember that they add up to more than the sum of their parts. First: Sokolov's understanding, not just of the notes but of the spirit behind them, eg the worlds, literature and philosophy that informed the composers' creativity, is exceptionally profound. Next, his technique is second to none - and by technique I don't only mean fast fingers. Take the quality of the sound he draws from the piano at every level from pppp to ffff - it is always beautiful and never hurts the ears, but is filled with a range of colours that requires virtuosity not only in the hands but in the imagination. The scale of his musical conceptions tends to dwarf others: in his hands a work like the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie becomes a transcendental, epic poem and Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata turns into an abstract kind of War and Peace.He possesses access to inspiration, and it's an inspiration that can break apart the little boundaries to reveal profound and heartbursting truths.

Whether tackling that work, or the filigree delicacy of Couperin or Byrd, he puts that mighty ability and imagination utterly at the service of the composer. He has an individual approach, a distinct personality, but that is there to serve the music. The ego in such an artist is about achieving great art, not serving the self. So Sokolov lives a quiet home life, has knows all his necessary transport links inside out, and does not build himself up into a public figure who sells designer trainers on the side. If people find him 'difficult', it's because he concentrates his energy on what matters - the music - and has reached a stage of life where he can't be bothered with the pettiness that interferes with this by diverting energy away from it. I suspect that he is the last of the great Russians. We will not see his life again.

To Jonathan, who suggests that listening to a CD should be enough to answer that question: yes, it probably should; and yes, we should definitely form a group of some kind to bring Sokolov back to London.A sharp boxing to the ears of someone at the Home Office might help, too.

2. From Ejohn200: In the aftermath of the opening of Tosca at the Met, some critics have weighed in on the practice of booing at the end of an opera. At opening night at La Scala, the opera director was booed even though Daniel Barenboim defiently accopmanied the director on stage for a curtain call. If I pay the outrageous fortune to attend an opera and have a reasonable knowledge of a particular opera, does that give me the right to reign boos on an artist if I do not care for a particular interpretation, or even if the technical skills are poorly executed? Or instead of booing, should I just decline from applauding? Do you have an opinion?

I've never booed anyone, personally, no matter how much I've hated what they do. I'm not saying you don't have the right to boo, especially if you think you've not had value for money from a bad singer or frightful stage konzept after buying a terribly expensive opera seat - but I think it's not very nice and doesn't really help.

My personal antipathy to booing is that I trained as a musician, am married to one and spend a lot of time around opera houses, so I know just how much effort, slog, emotion and devotion goes into the creation of a single performance. We don't always know why something should go wrong, and it seems more civilised to give the performers the benefit of the doubt. I've often refrained from applauding if something's been truly awful. But the effect of that is gentler: the artist(s) will know, if the applause is lukewarm, that it means "could do better". Booing, though, is cruel and hurtful, and I am opposed to anything that is unnecessarily cruel and hurtful, no matter what. There's enough misery in the world already without adding to it! 



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Fabio P.Barbieri
December 24th, 2009
4:12 PM
There is a distant possibility that I may ever read something with which I will more deeply disagree, but it is distant. I pay a considerable amount to see live a piece of music I know and love. If a soloist butchers their part, or if, much worse, the conductor shows no understanding of the piece or the producer indulges in pornographic nonsense, to boo is not only my right but my duty. I owe it to the great dead musician who cannot speak for himself, and to all the interpreters of the past who have taken the trouble to do it right. The particular pestilence of the day is the rotten shower of producers who neither love nor understand what they produce, and who are out to get their own bloody stupid selves a reputation at the expense of Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini or Richard Strauss. Such creatures neither want nor expect to please the public; the only support they crave is that of the public-financed bodies that run the opera houses. The only defence against this host of artistic termites is the most aggressive, thunderous and repeated amount of booing; and it is no coincidence that Italy, where the tradition of booing goes back not just to Verdi but to Monteverdi, is still largely free of the plague. And long may it stay so. BOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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