Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dressing to impress...ing

This week I attended two vastly different concerts. The first, "Solos, Duo and Trio," featured members of the NEC-based Callithumpian Consort in a concert of decidedly avant-garde works, all of which were written after 1975. The second featured up-and-coming virtuoso pianist Daniil Trifonov performing a solo recital, the program of which covered a range of music from romantic era etudes to 20th century masterworks. As varied as the performances and repertoire were, the most striking difference might have been the way the performers dressed. Each of the Callithumpian players was wearing an ensemble that might have been better suited (no pun intended) for a night out on the town; one woman in particular appeared as though she needed to return to her bar tending gig soon afterward, with her high heels and short skirt. Mr. Trifonov was the embodiment of formal, sporting a black tuxedo complete with tails and a bow tie. The attire of the performers was also reflected in the cost of admission: while the Callithumpian concert was free, Mr. Trifonov's recital featured an audience of well-to-do patrons, most of which have donated hundreds of dollars to the Celebrity Series of Boston.

The effect of seeing a professional performer who is dressed no better than yourself is disarming--especially for a concert program that at first glance appears foreboding. It becomes less a formal performance and more a friend welcoming you into their house and inviting you to listen to something they've been working on. Even in the rarefied air of avant-garde classical music, performed in such a cathedralesque space as Jordan Hall, the way the performers conducted themselves transformed the experience for me to an intimate, inclusive setting. In contrast, the Trifonov concert, while performed in a smaller, more intimate space, gave the impression of a much wider rift between performer and audience. It felt as though this rift was accomplished in part by the dress of the soloist--a physical representation of the hierarchy at work in the concert hall. I don't pretend to ignore the conventions of a solo piano recital (although this is the first one I have ever attended), but the effect of watching the pianist in his best clothes silently perform a carefully constructed program was that of alienation.

My questions for Dean Chin:

1. As a concert pianist, how do you prefer to present yourself to the audience? To what extent do you consider the clothes you wear, the demeanor you carry, and the way you respond to acknowledgement?

2. Do you see a dichotomy in the world of classical music between performers who simply play the work, and performers who actively engage the audience?

3. In your estimation, how far can one's appearance go in affecting the way one performs, or affecting the evaluation of the performance by others?

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