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Jazz in the Garden Tonight

June 28, 2013

plus some thoughts on recording

I’m part of a largish group playing at tonight’s Jazz in the Garden, the summer concert series at Grace Episcopal Church. The other musicians come from the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs; the program features a few classic jazz tunes and a piece of mine, but is anchored by a trio of marvelous jazz-influenced classical pieces: Milhaud’s La création du monde, Martinů’s La Revue de Cuisine, and Stravinsky’s Ragtime for Eleven Instruments.

Monday’s rehearsal prompted some thoughts about recording. Overall, of course, it’s been a good thing. Our views of how Chopin or Liszt played piano must always contain a heaping dose of speculation; in contrast, we have some idea of how Busoni played, a very good idea of Rachmaninoff’s unique approach to interpretation, and for good or ill, Stravinsky’s own interpretations of nearly all his works. (For most of his life Stravinsky denied that interpretation was even necessary, but in his old age admitted – with a hint of despair – that he now heard some pieces differently than he had when he’d composed them.)

But recording has tangible downsides that we ignore at our peril, of which I’ll mention just three. First, recording changes the relationship between the listener and the performer: We rarely listen to a recording with the same level of concentration that we bring to a live performance, for the simple reason that, deep down, we know we don’t have to. We can always hear it again.

Second, recording has changed the way we play: An interpretation vivid enough to make a powerful impression the first time often sounds exaggerated on repeated hearings, with the result that interpretations have become smaller-scaled over the last century. This makes them less accessible to non-experts, contributing to the shrinking of the audience for classical music.

Third, and the point of this post, some pieces – such as Milhaud’s Creation du Monde – respond better to recording than others. Creation du Monde needs a crowd to come alive, even if it’s only the crowd of performers. The climaxes conjure images of a particularly raucous party – a party you might like to attend once in your life, or perhaps twice if you were fortunate enough to survive the first one; but definitely not a party you would want in your house. A recording of Creation du Monde fundamentally misrepresents the piece’s spirit.

Near the end of Creation du Monde is a brief drum break. In years of hearing recordings it had never jumped out as anything special, but at Monday’s rehearsal it had me laughing out loud. La Creation du Monde live is a wondrous thing, and I hope people avail themselves of this rare opportunity.

(By the way, if you find the piece occasionally reminding you of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, consider this Mind-Boggling Factoid: Creation du Monde was composed first.)

  • What: Jazz in the Garden, featuring musicians from The Chamber Orchestra of the Springs plus me
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday, June 28
  • Where: Grace Episcopal Church, 601 N. Tejon St. (Corner of N. Tejon and Monument), Colorado Springs 
  • Free – Picnics Welcome – Blankets and Lawn Chairs Encouraged – Beverages Available
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