Friday, January 30, 2009

Classical Piano and the Importance of Good Grooming

Last night i caught Leif Ove Andsnes, the norwegian pianist, at disney hall. (here he is, right, after, presumably, chopping an entire nordic forest.) he played a set of janacek, brahms, mozart and schubert, with violinist christian tetzlaff. (a fine story on the celebrated duo here.)

great concert, by the way. while the ballade in the janacek was nearly heart-stopping, my favorite was the brahms sonata no. 3. (a wonderful unfashionable composer, a true genius of melody and delicate small scale pieces, on whom more another time.)

but the appearance reminded me (chin-stroking music please) of classical music's image problem. as someone who grew up with rock n roll and later the very photogenic era of mid-century jazz, i was amazed as i started to get into chamber music in the mid-90s just how dowdy a bunch classical players tended to be.  and then things started to change a bit: leif ove spoke to me for this piece in the LATimes from a few years back. every time i see a picture of that hedgehog james levine i think of it. 

could it be that classical music is more "deep" than pop music, which has become enslaved to youth and  image? dont forget, these days, even philosophers have style. what do my esteemed readers think?

Photo credit: Flickr user 13 


Milton said...

That's odd, Scott ...

I'm always taken by how much hipper chamber groups seem than pop groups. Check out the sites for the the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Avery Ensemble or Hilary Hahn, just for starters.

I see a dozen or so chamber ensembles each year, and they are uniformly are youthful and attractive and have personal style. They don't have mandatory uniform (the hat, the bling, the flannel shirt, the boots ... it varies from whatever pose the band is assuming).

Aside from the overall lameness of the John Williams piece at the inaugural (talk about a buzz-killer), having Perlman string-sync instead of Hahn was just plain dumb. I thought Obama was about the future ...

Once upon a time, the cliche of a first chair violinist was an overweight middle European man of 60 with hair growing out of his ears. Now the cliche is a Korean babe. A few years ago, the Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä (she played at the Nobel concerts this year) performed her in CT and she's 6-foot supermodel with chops.

My friend, Karen, who goes to most of the chamber music with me has her own set of heart-throbs whom we see regularly.

Maybe they seem youthful and cool because they're younger than I am, but I don't see the appearance problem.

Now the funereal presentation and dead-guys repertoire, that's another issue all together ...

Scott Timberg said...

you make a good point -- i think i misspoke re describing chamber musicians as the offenders... the best young chamber group in LA, the calder quartet, is quite sharp... so it may be that things are coming around.
as for pop groups, i would suggest that the slovenly, tails-untucked, vintage sweater indie-rock style is its own "style" even tho it appears not to be.