Thursday, January 30, 2014

Interviews with Artists

As we wind up our month discussing controversial stories throughout music history, I thought it would be fun to ask a few musical celebrities their opinions on what may be debatable musical moments to add to our list.

Did anyone get to see pianist Hélène Grimaud perform the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra earlier this month? While Ms. Grimaud was in town, she stopped by the WGUC studio to visit and I decided to ask her a few questions for my blog. When asked to name a controversial moment in music history, Brahms immediately came to Hélène’s mind. Performing his piece just a few hours after our chat, it made sense that her thoughts would go in that direction. She told me that his piano concerto she was performing with the CSO was not well received following its premiere. Brahms wrote in a way that the piano was one of the orchestra instruments. To audiences, it sounded like a symphony with piano obbligato rather than a piano concerto and that did not go over well.

Ms. Grimaud also mentioned that, as a pianist, Liszt is a major pillar in the musical world, changing the “universe” of piano performance with his avant garde work. She mentioned that, in her opinion, we wouldn’t have Wagner if we didn’t have Liszt.

I also again had the opportunity to talk with Cincinnati’s wonderful Maestro, Louis Langrée. When asked the same question as Ms. Grimaud, he quickly responded with a discussion on John Cage’s 4’33’’. Are you familiar with this piece? Cage’s composition presents silence as music causing audiences to wonder, “what really is music?” Maestro Langrée said that it is this type of “music” that “forces you to think” and “provokes” a reaction.

Here is a link to a performance of 4’33”. What does this “music” provoke you to think? Is it indeed music?


  1. As one who is not educated in classical music, I found myself being confused during the 4'33" performance. Even just sitting in my own house I felt myself wanting to look around an ask "What's going on? Am I missing something?" Even though the performance catches me off-guard, I love the idea behind the composition. Silence itself is avoided far too much and too easily, especially with all of today's entertainments. Perhaps it is something we should surround ourselves with and celebrate more often.

    1. Thank you for your comment. John Cage's 4'33'' is an intriguing piece that certainly provokes questions as to what constitutes music. It is an interesting idea that silence can be just as valuable as sound in a piece of music and Cage makes a statement in that regard with his composition. Another way I look at this piece is that the "music" is not only in the silence but in the sounds within the audience inside the concert hall. This may be coughs, sneezes, people shifting in their seats, or even unwrapping candy. No performance of 4'33'' is ever the same twice because any outside factors contribute to what makes up the work.

  2. There is an empty, white canvas on display in Chicago's Art Institute. One cannot call it a painting because there is no paint on it. Artsy-fartsy types become crotchety when, like the little boy in the fable of the emperor wearing no clothes, someone points out that the "artwork" is a big joke and should be removed.

    The same is true of Cage's 4'33'' because there is nothing there. Cage did not spend weeks creating it like Brahms did creating his first piano concerto. Cage had an amusing idea, probably over a drink. A composition which contains no notes is not music, by definition.