How Not To Play the Lute, pt. 1

3

January
2011

This past Fall I attended a concert of New Music at a local art gallery. There were several composers involved who contributed works to complement the exhibition on display at the time. The program explicitly invited all attendees to walk around and view the art during the performance, which I gladly did.

I can recall most of the pieces that were played, of varying quality and interest, but the one that sticks with me the most is the one I found offensive. It wasn’t the composition itself but the way the instrument, a period instrument, was being played.

The overall effect was ugly and actually stood in the way of a good performance.

Granted, it wasn’t the performer’s primary instrument, but he was clearly experienced and had very good control.

If he was trying to expand its possibilities, colors, or characters (etc.), the effort was totally lost on me. I didn’t get it. Now, if he was approaching his secondary instrument with the same technique as he does his first love, which was my impression, that’s were I draw the line.

Using period instruments to play new, pop, country, traditional, or folk music is nothing new. It can be a wonderful thing to hear and experience.

But when the natural tendencies of any old instrument—the qualities that make it speak most clearly, in an idiomatic way—are outright ignored, the product is normally unsuccessful, in spite of the popular appeal it might have.

Continue: How Not To Play The Lute, pt. 2

(A Baroque lute; photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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