My University’s orchestra recently performed an “All Beethoven” concert with guest soloist Vadim Gluzman. Beethoven’s music is usually exalted (or bemoaned) as an exemplar of classical form and style. For this reason, I am often wary of attending such “All Beethoven” events. The closing off of potential surrounding this “faithful” performance practice can make the music dull at times. But I was forced to go to this particular performance and I was glad that I ended up being there.
Orchestra performances usually resist the contingency that is ever-present in the world (Panzner’s “Process that is the World”). The “guidelines” in the program are evidence of this. One is not supposed to make any sound or be otherwise distracted during a performance because this would somehow ruin the “musical work”. But no matter how hard the management tries, there will still be the little old lady who needs to open a cough drop wrapper, someone’s cell phone will go off, a child will cry, or someone will need to quickly exit the hall for some reason.
The orchestra, no matter how hard they try and how long they practice, could always do something unexpected in performance. No matter how many boundaries are imposed on a situation, there will always be an undercurrent of chaos. No matter how precise the notation or how many hours are spent “remaining faithful” to the score, things can always happen (and arguably will happen) that weren’t rehearsed. Panzner says that there is always the capacity for change pushing out from the codes of formality.
In the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major (which is at times a needlessly expansive work), Gluzman had written his own cadenzas. At least, I assume they were written by him because they were certainly not written by Beethoven. They emerged from the rigid formal structure and endless tonality of the score into virtuosic displays of microtonal flourishes. At one point, the violin section even joined the soloist in a trilled glissando spanning most of the finger-board. It was chaotic and amazing.
In these cadenzas, the chaos that was, until this moment, surging beneath the surface of Beethoven’s legendary form, was allowed to burst forth like magma trapped under millennia of tectonic activity. In the midst of rigid faithfuless, there was an explosion of contingency.
In an event I never thought probable, a Beethoven concerto opened up onto the world as process.