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09 janvier 2014

Building a stage persona

von Philharmonie Luxemburg

Two journalists came to the defense of Lang Lang and all other flamboyant stage personae earlier this week. We shouldn't dismiss stage attire and so-called excessive body language too quickly, they say, as they might well be necessary to classical music. They touch on the subject from two different angles.

* What's wrong with showmanship?

People attending Yuja Wang concerts talk as much about her talent as about her dresses. She is one of a few up-and-coming musicians whose clothes have attracted mostly negative attention. But American music critic Terry Ponick doesn't see anything wrong with her stilettos or with Korean pianist Ji's tattoos. "It doesn’t surprise us in the least that today’s rising generation of classical soloists has grown tired of taking a back seat to rock “stars”." Just like any other entertainers, those musicians "develop and market a distinctive image." There is absolutely no harm to that, he argues, as this might just do the trick "to attract members of their own generation to the concert hall", something halls, symphony orchestras, opera companies and classical soloists badly need.

Ponick compares this new generation of soloists to late-Romantic classical artists such as Vladimir Horowitz: they are all showmen (and -women), he says. And concludes: "And so it is that Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Ji and others who increasingly are attracting new audiences with their 21st century personae, garb and showmanship chops that, seem to be inviting us to go back to the future of classical music by re-creating an environment of intellect, fun, and excitement similar to the good old days when the public clamored for concert tickets and vinyl recordings of Vladimir Horowitz and friends."


* Substance and style

In an article entitled "In defense of Lang Lang (sort of): Pianists and stage persona" Bachtrach's Evan Mitchell notes that if musicians' clothes have come under fire from conservative critics, so has their body language. "[The m]ost outspoken [critics] are those who believe that a quiet, undemonstrative approach to the instrument – à la Arthur Rubinstein – best reflects a serious commitment to earnest musicianship. The corollary is presumed true as well: that excessive body movement or facial expressions can cheapen an interpretation or betray a lack of real understanding. He wonders: "Why should it not be acceptable for body language to convey part of the overall musical meaning? After all, the seats in a concert hall do face the stage." He goes as far as saying that "seemingly excessive motions can draw a first-time listener’s ears to a key motive, or a transition that may otherwise have gone unnoticed", thus enhancing the concert experience and helping listeners get a better understanding of the work played.

Mitchell also notes that introspective players' "often extreme visual displays are usually of the pained, tortured-artist variety, and the unquestioning acceptance of this suggests that certain emotions may be regarded as more sincere, or deeper, than others. (...) apparent enjoyment is equated with self-indulgence, whereas seriousness bordering on suffering automatically signifies depth." If you have fun, why not show it?


Two interesting pieces that we warmly recommend you, whether you are a Lang Lang fan or stick to calling him Bang Bang. And while we're at it, may we remind you that Nikolai Lugansky will perform with the OPL on 23.01., that Mitsuko Uchida will be with us on 27.01. and that Yuja Wang will grace the stage of the Grand Auditorium on 02.04.?


-- Julie