Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Talent Club

Last week I attended Daniil Trifonov in concert as part of the celebrity series at the Longy school of music.  The concert was sold out well in advance; not even the Longy students were given complimentary tickets.  However, a viewing room was set up where the concert was broadcasted live on a screen.  At the time of the concert I was overflowing with enthusiasm (even viewing it from a screen).  After all the acclaim that he received, I expected something amazing:

Daniil Trifonov has won Grand Prix, First prize and a Gold Medal in the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (2011). Daniil also won the Audience Choice Award and the Award for the Best Performance of a Mozart Concerto.
A few weeks earlier winning the Tchaikovsky Competition, Daniil Trifonov was awarded the First Prize and Gold Medal at the 13th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, which took place in Tel Aviv (2011). In addition, he also won the prize for the best chamber music performance, the Pnina Salzman Prize for the best performance of a Chopin piece and the Audience Favorite prize.
Daniil Trifonov – winner III prize in the 16th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (2010), awarded also special prize of the Polish Radio for the best performance of mazurkas.

The performance was full of life, direction, emotion, and fire.  There was no doubt that Trifonov had plenty to express through music and infinite potential to enrich the musical community. However, I did disagree a number of his tempos.  Of course, he is the "celebrity." Therefore, it is probable that his choice of tempos would be most justifiable... at least, more correct than mine. 

The week prior I had spoken to my teacher about Mr. Trifonov.  I was impressed with him when I heard that she knew of him.  She told me, "He is certainly a talent...but he still has a lot of room to grow." The word talent stayed with me all week.  I have been studying music for eighteen years.  I am almost twenty-four years old and yet I don't believe I have ever been told of my talent.  Trifonov, on the other hand, is twenty-one years old, has been studying music for sixteen years, and has been bestowed with the social title talented by more than one person on more than one occasion within more than one publication.  It took well over a week for the implications of this distinction to sink in: What does it mean to have talent? Is it possible that it means simply having the prestige and authority that goes with being called talented by someone already considered talented? Is talent some kind exclusive club?

Continuing with this line of thought, let's take into consideration the sheer volume of individuals perusing a performance career, the sheer number of tempos that are not accepted because those choosing them are not in the club.  Classical music has a lot to offer in the realm of human expression.  There is a lot to be said through any facet of humanity, through any voice, with any words. Yet, the only words deemed worthy of being spoken are those which most resemble a Few Great Men.  Most of these men are long dead along with most of the composers in the Classical canon.  There are some, like young Daniil that have been welcomed into the canon of great performers by critics, managers, respected teachers, and audiences who tend to parrot the reviewers.

I got in touch a few of my colleagues who have recently graduated from music school, in order to see what opportunities they had been given to express their uniqueness within the Classical field.  One of these colleagues began working at the pre-college level and spoke to me about her experience.  "I like most of my students, I have a nice room to teach out of and I get to be called faculty but they pay me less than I made privately while I was pursuing my Bachelors degree." She continued, "Once a year a get to play one recital without pay.  Yet...I know I am doing better than most of my colleagues. I know it is difficult trying to find a place in the music world, but it doesn't get any better" She, as well as every other working musician I know, still attend recitals by these Few Great Men. In addition, she continues to have lessons from a great teacher in the art of being non-original.  Neither she, nor I, nor the majority of musicians who have made the sacrifices of time, money, and often the only chance of an education which could lead to a stable career, in order to express ourselves through music, have been given the opportunity to express freely nor to live up to our potential as individuals. Graduates of music programs are often told to accept mediocrity because they are not talented, they are not great.  But yet, they passed the harmony and solfege proficiencies, they spent years feverishly studying every marking within a single score in order to deliver a reception to a sad handful of audience members.  Do these students not have something to share? Are we so pretentious as an industry that we only allow the top (less than) 1% of professionally trained, willing, music-loving music makers through to be heard by the rest of the world?

The culture of the classical music industry is that of romantic humility, and endless, fruit-less labor.  It is unacceptable in twenty-first century America that an individual with a Masters degree from a prestigious school shall perform only once or twice a year, for free, or worse yet, for a price! Many of these graduated are paying the venue! For most, the only possibility of survival is teaching children; a field with which I have no issue only that the field should be a choice.  Eighteen years of education should warrant professional choice and mobility.  Most of these graduates are capable of teaching pre-conservatory level students and they should be given the opportunity.  Likewise, all of these graduates have an immense repertoire of thoughts, feelings, ideas, expressions, creativity, and inspiration to share.  The starched, conservative regulations within the classical music industry have to change.  I am not declaring that pianists such as Daniil Trifonov are not great.  I am simply inviting my readers to expand their list of noteworthy adjectives: Daniil Trifonov is great but my recently-graduated colleague is refreshing, thoughtful, original and charmingly imperfect. I am not going as far as to say that every performer should be heralded by the world or that Daniil Trifonov is anything but worthy of his reception (In fact, I believe he is quite worthy), but why don't we let the audience decide rather than the reviewers, the critics, and the few, subjective, politically-minded competition judges? Musicians are pigeon-holed into their respective tiers of achievement soon after (if not immediately before) graduation! These people have fifty years of development ahead of them and yet the concert halls are opening their doors only once or twice per week, if that, and for only the top 1% of performers.  Why not open the doors to the top 10% (dare I say the top %50)?  Those performers who don't move their audiences will loose their audiences.  Let the people walk out.  Perhaps, we will all be surprised when one shocking, clumsy but bold interpretation of a sonata becomes an audience favorite!

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