The art of “tuning in” and “matching”


We have recently been most inspired by this wonderful artist Martha Argerich whose excellence as a soloist is matched by her excellence as a collaborative artist.  She has quite a good number of established duo partners; only the truly gifted pairings bring that “duet” and dialogue out.  Argerich does with her regular partners, but she also does with her occasional collaborative partners like when she played the Largo of Chopin’s cello sonata with Mtislav Rostropovich.  Argerich’s amazing chamber sensitivities can be seen in her long-term partnerships with the cellist Mischa Maisky (here’s her with Maisky playing the same piece) and violinist Gidon Kremer; as for Rostropovich, his cello “supports” the piano when the melody is with the piano in this piece.  We don’t know if anyone has ever asked him or if he’s said anything about how he manages to do that, but we suspect the fact that he plays the piano in a song-and-piano duo (with the top soprano who also happens to be his wife [here’s some Tchaikovsky]) must be part of it. 

There are various types of collaboration in a music performance setting.  A pianist can be playing a piano concerto (i.e. a soloist collaborating with an orchestra mediated by the conductor) or in a piano trio or piano quartet, or a duo with a string player or a singer. 

In a recent concert, we had two piano soloists joining forces in a duo performance (in a programme of both 2- and 4-hands pieces): the discovery is that this was both difficult and interesting.  You are more competitive with each other, your insecurities come out more, and furthermore, you are sharing the same instrument if you are talking about 4-hands piano playing

For any collaboration, understanding and agreeing with the conductor on how the piece should go is part of the collaboration; but this is even more true when you are in a trio or duo situation.  Especially in a duo situation, if you disagree with the other artists, there is no one else there to mediate.  You really have to have a “shared imagination” of how the piece should go.  In an even more extreme way, this applies to 4-hands piano playing, because not only do you need that shared imagination, you are playing on and sharing the same instrument with 2 millimeters between you and sometimes having to cross over to the other side of the key-board.

Or as a commentator has observed:

Four-hands players are somewhere between being one and being two; the boundary dissolves, but not entirely.  They play duets, but they are not as safely dualistic as, say, a singer with an accompanist six feet away …. At the end of Schubert’s Rondo in D major (D.608) the two players’ hands are supposed to cross – and in fact they finish the piece interlocked with one another.  Here, then, the surrender of subjectivity (under the sign of amitie) is equated with the surrender of personal space on the keyboard. 

…  In four-hand piano playing, primo and secondo form a single Gordian knot – like a single kraken, they lay into the keys; their hands, wrists, and arms entwine …”.

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