who cares if you understand?

Yesterday a friend and I attended Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s piano recital at the CSO. Although we both love music, we aren’t experts, so when PLA only paused very briefly between the various pieces in his program, we had no idea he had moved on to a different composer. I feel like I’m outing myself as a musical imbecile here, but we thought that a three-part half composed of Schumann, Chopin, and Debussy was all the same piece. Both of us.

Abashed, in the second half, we tried to be smarter, watched for when his page-turner took one score off the music stand, and, this time, caught the change from Messiaen to Carter. We both listened much more closely.

His performance style was similarly masterful and understated. He made you come to him rather than the other way around. The entire program was all about keeping your eyes and ears open. Even as the pieces got more contemporary, louder, more showy in some ways, his playing was still all subtlety.

I watched him play for two hours, and I still know nothing about him as a person. He seemed concerned only with the music – and that music was almost beyond my understanding. It was a great concert.

I want to see theater that doesn’t explain itself any more than PLA’s playing did, that doesn’t worry about whether or not the work is accessible to the audience – only if it’s being performed at the highest artistic level possible. I’ve sat through so many theater production meetings concerned about comprehension.

For a medium driven by plot, this factor may be more significant than it is in a medium driven by sound – but the recital made me feel like the significance of understanding every single thing that happens in a play has been a little overvalued. It was challenging, and that challenge was welcome.

I haven’t felt so stimulated and provoked by a play since Richard Foreman’s WHAT TO WEAR at Redcat. When I saw that play, I felt that I couldn’t possibly take it all in, and that it would require six more viewings to get it. I miss feeling so overwhelmed by theater.

Do I feel this way about music because I know less about it, or because music is more complicated – or because this particular performer chose to challenge his audience?