On Friday March 6th, Ertegun House hosted a concert of ‘Radical Interpretations’ as part of a Royal Musicological Association (RMA) conference on Authorship in music. The programme consisted of music by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Brahms, re-imagined in order to offer alternatives to the more standardised interpretations founded on deferential attitudes towards these composers. The performers were Dr. Mine Doğantan-Dack (pianist and departmental lecturer in music at Oxford), Carson Becke (pianist), Diana Gilchrist (soprano), and myself Jake Gill (baritone). This ensemble was augmented by commentary from Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson from King’s College London, whose recent work on performance analysis has been highly influential in musicology.
Leech-Wilkinson and Doğantan-Dack have argued that performers of classical music tend to avoid creative, spontaneous or unconventional engagements within their repertoire, while expending considerable effort in trying to live up to abstract aesthetic principles, handed down as authoritarian dictates. The latest in a series of similar experiments, this concert featured a gender-reversed performance of a duet from Don Giovanni; the interspersal, splicing and recomposition of solo piano music and duets, along with drastic variations and juxtapositions in tempo and expressive devices. The audience, consisting of delegates from the RMA conference and a number of Ertegun Scholars, all dispersed and seated informally around the room, were invited to contribute their questions and comments at the end of the performances. Discussion touched on whether ‘radicalism’ destabilises or reinstates orthodoxy; how and why the practice of improvisation has all but disappeared from classical music performance; and the problem of performance anxiety in classical music, whose idealist and perfectionist demands can bring the hopelessness of unattainability to some artists, while providing a source of motivation and inspiration to others.