Thursday, October 18, 2012


I grew up listening to a lot of classical music, especially for violin. As I got older and started listening to music of other genres, a particular aspect of classical music started to really bug me: there is such emphasis on virtuosity, above and beyond the emotional/aesthetic impact of the music.

Virtuosity should be only a tool to enhance that impact, not an end in itself. Cadenzas, the solo interludes in concertos in which the performer gets to show off his own skills and strengths and style, should fit with the rest of the music, should be beautiful, and shouldn't sound forced.

Compare: Itzhak Perlman's cadenza in the Beethoven violin concerto, probably my all time favorite. Beautiful, effortless. On the other hand, the Paganini caprices. Aesthetically borderline offensive, blatantly designed just to show off one skill after another, painfully forced. Impressive, most definitely. But who cares? It's not a competition. Or if it is, technical skill isn't the relevant aspect.

I was reminded of this last night by an amazing concert by Kelly Joe Phelps, an acoustic/slide guitarist who is the pinnacle of effortless understated virtuosity. His musical genius is undeniable but it only serves to make the music more beautiful. Listen (main song starts at 1:30. I like the vocals on the album version a little better but I'm too lazy to upload it. I've never heard him play the same song the same way twice; more proof of the genius...)

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