Spira mirabilis is an extraordinary new project drawing together some of Europe’s finest young players. Mostly in their 20s, practising and performing without a conductor, these musicians break down the traditional barriers between performer and audience, using the concert experience as a way to engage listeners in the process of making music.
In the lead-up to Spira mirabilis’ concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday 5 November, Southbank Centre invited members of the National Youth Orchestra to interview some of Spira’s dynamic young players. Seventeen-year-olds Natasha Michael (a viola player from Chesham) and Ed Spencer (a horn player from Surrey) posed the following questions:
Natasha: Do you find it a more liberating experience working without a conductor?
Marco Toro, trumpet, Italy: I think that liberating is not the right adjective. Playing with a great conductor can also be a liberating experience. The main difference is that playing without a conductor makes the single
musicians more responsible and makes them participate in the musical growth of the piece we’re going to study.
Natasha: The view that involvement in classical music is uncool is very common amongst young people and many young people have a negative attitude to classical music. Why do you think this is? How do you think orchestras/musicians can combat this view?
Michal Duris, violin, Slovakia: Well, from my experience, young people don’t like or they can’t appreciate the beauty and deepness of classical music mainly because they don’t understand it. Each part in the history of classical music has its own language and expressions, and it is a language they don’t speak. It is a language where you need to make an effort to learn, to understand. Otherwise, the only thing you can understand and you expect from classical music is beauty. And that’s a big mistake… Classical music has much more to say to those who are ready to listen to it.
Actually, it is not really strange that not all young people like classical music. Concert programmes are mostly made up of compositions from composers who died 60 to 260 years ago. How can this be cool for a modern person?
Anyway, we think the old masters still have something to say to us. We musicians, especially at the beginning of the 21st century, have a huge responsibility for what we are proposing to our new, young public. Let’s make an example. Imagine an average Mongolian cook in France, who decides to open a Hungarian restaurant. Even though he has the best ingredients, he knows just a very little about Hungarian food and he can’t cook so well. He probably wouldn’t have any success if he didn’t have a nice interior or drinks for free. Here we have the problem of incompetence and quality, and that is also my answer on the second question. This is how it sometimes looks in the musical world also. We musicians don’t understand what are we playing and we propose it to the public, which doesn’t understand the language. What comes out is that we are just acting to each other! We are pretending to know what we are doing, and the public is pretending to understand what we, the musicians, are doing. So we are fifty-fifty, even. Everybody is fine. Because the music is so nice…
The problem is that nobody is sincere.
What we musicians can do is to do our job the best possible way – the way where we can have a clear conscience that we did everything to understand what we are doing. Then we can propose it to the people in the audience, whom we help understand what we understood. We should never ever sell half-products. We should never ever feel OK while performing just on 70 per cent of what we are able to. This could be a good beginning.
Natasha: Do you think classical music has become too formal (eg. sitting in silence in performances; players don’t look as if they are enjoying the music; only appreciating the music at the end of a piece rather reservedly)?
Giacomo Tesini, violin, Italy: The matter is perhaps a bit misunderstood. If going to a concert with strange clothes that you would never wear and sitting in the audience that poses in a too formal and mannered way makes you feel uncomfortable, you are certainly right. People sometimes go to concerts to see other people and be seen rather than to listen to the pieces, and this certainly has nothing to do with music. But we can maybe say something different about the clothes of the musicians. Did you never go to listen to an orchestra rehearsal, where the musicians dress normally with many different colors? It happened recently that I heard a general rehearsal of a big famous orchestra, and they were of course dressed with normal clothes. Well, I don’t know if it happened for that reason but I somehow couldn’t concentrate on the music; those different colours diverted my attention. I think that it is important that the musicians on stage wear more or less the same clothes… perhaps it even helps the music. At the time of Haydn and Mozart, not all the music written by composers was listened to sitting in silence. Often the audience was speaking, eating and drinking during the performances of serenades, divertimenti, symphonies and operas. Often the audience laughed loudly listening to the music – sometimes because the composers used to write real musical jokes (like a sudden and strong beat in the middle of a very soft piece or some spots played by a funny instrument) but more often because they were very involved in the adventures of the characters of an opera (the count who betrays the countess and is discovered, the clever barber who solves all the complex situations). We have today lost most of this.
It would nowadays be unthinkable to make noise during performances in a concert hall or in a theatre – times changed and now this music is mainly made to be listened to, and we need silence to listen. Some musicians are also annoyed by the applause between movements. Well, if musicians play in a really convinced way, the audience will hardly applaud after a slow and breathtaking movement. On the other hand I find very unnatural and artificial not to applaud, for example, after Tchaikovsky’s overwhelming and passionate Pathétique symphony’s third movement. It is of course just matter of feeling and getting what the real meaning of the composition is, of being transported by the sentiments the composer had in his mind.
Ed: I see that you have performed many of Beethoven’s symphonies in the past. Do you think that Eroica is his most pivotal symphony?
Michele Fattori, bassoon, Italy: The Eroica symphony is for sure one of the most important works of Beethoven and of the history of music. If you compare it with his previous symphonies and with works of the other classical composers, you can easily find the differences. There’s no slow introduction; there are no longer the two themes of contrasting character in the first movement, but something like seven themes. Also, the way he uses the rhythm is something very unusual: the big concentration of accents all around the symphony gives to it a very definite identity, which makes this work incredibly strong.
Together with his Ninth Symphony, I think Eroica was Beethoven’s symphony which most inspired other composers and strongly influenced the development of the musical language.
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