The Energy Of The Live Concert

Two days ago, I was here in Salzburg for a chamber music concert where Joshua Bell was playing. For those who do not know this violinist yet, he is the same one who played on the New York subway a few years ago as part of a sociological and musical experiment. He was playing for about an hour, and people passed by him, many without realizing that he was not just any street musician.

The concert took place in the large hall of the Mozarteum Foundation, with a capacity of 800 people. I got an entry in the second row and very focused. In this way, he had the interpreters only five meters away. At first, I thought: wow, what bad luck! Maybe the acoustics are not going to be as good as if I’m a little further back. Although the balance between the instruments was not optimal, it was a most interesting experience.

The program began with the full trio, followed by two duets: cello and piano/violin and piano. It ended again with the original formation. In this way, it was very striking to experience different sensations depending on who was playing at that time. Of course, the hallmark of Joshua Bell was his energy. Beyond the music, the notes, the sound that his violin produced, it was the “performance” that captivated: the energy it gave off and transmitted. Being in the second row, these sensations were amplified, and the difference in energy according to the formation became more evident. I could feel their breaths, their expressions, their looks, little priceless gestures from a distance…

During the concert, I was mulling over the entry that I wrote recently about the extinction of the concert, as we know it. I was wondering if the problem would not be the gigantic rooms we have created for 2000 or more people in some cases. There are a few places out of those 2000, from which the experience of a concert is very good: centered, not too far from the performers, with good visibility, etc. Others, however, almost reduce the concert to the sound experience due to the remoteness or bad situation. In this way, a very important part of what the live experience can offer is lost.

Praxis … Auditory?

I also wondered if, since the importance of “interpretive praxis” is often spoken of, it would not be necessary to also create a term for “auditory praxis.” Beyond the music that sounds, the question is: how does it reach the public? A lot of chamber music is played in giant auditoriums; why? This is certainly not the context in which much music from the 18th and 19th centuries was created.

From a historical perspective, we can say that this was a “lesser evil” for a long time. When these auditoriums began to be created from approximately 1870, there was not even the possibility of recording music. In this way, going to a concert was the only possibility to listen to music, and such large rooms made this possibility easier for more people, without forgetting the financial aspect. Nowadays, however, with immediate access to music and videos at the click of a button, it leaves the “distant” experience in many of those seats in the concert hall in a delicate situation. From them, there is no “energetic” experience, with the interpreters’ hundreds of meters away.

This reminds me of another concert I attended some time ago. I went to hear Janine Jansen at Britten’s concert at the National Auditorium. The performance was magnificent. However, my site was far behind, so the experience after watching the next video and going with certain expectations was quite “blurred.”