Talk about LATE ... I looked for this post when I was in communication with composer Alex Shapiro today and realized, to my profound embarrassment, that I never posted it here! Agghh. Here it is, and as I re-read it, it seems not in the least out of date.
THOUGHTS ON MUSIC AND INTERPRETATION …
2011-07-04 (july 4 2011) ON MEMORIZING
Joelle Wallach wrote and thanked me for making new pieces part of my ongoing repertoire. It almost surprised me -- because I so deeply believe in a piece, or pieces, becoming part of my ongoing repertoire, that I suppose I take it for granted by now. It seems just RIDICULOUS to me that someone commissions a piece –in many cases a perfectly good piece, mind you-- plays the première, and then … NOTHING. It seems like such a waste.
In fact it seems like a waste to learn ANY piece of music and then not live with it through many performances, regardless of when it was written; but particularly a completely NEW piece of music. I know this happens a lot and it's not always up to the performer, I suppose ... but for me personally it is non-negotiable to make the kind of musical life in which I CAN live long and richly with any piece I choose to learn. In which I choose to invest, might be one way to say it, considering that the investment is of my own personal energy, imagination, and love.
Of course there is the case of the new or commissioned piece not being right for me. I’ll write about that another day. For now suffice it to say that this is one reason I choose my repertoire with enormous care.
Not too long ago I remembered something José Luis Castillo --the gifted Spanish conductor and composer who is FINALLY getting the posts he deserves here in México and Latin America-- said to me a few years ago when we were talking about memorizing. He said, "Why spend time memorizing a piece when you could be spending that time learning another piece?"
True enough. But not always, at least for me. As an old colleague at Mason Gross (Rutgers) once observed, "Time does something to music that nothing else can do".
On the one hand, there is nothing like the exhilaration of exploring a completely new piece, whether it be one written for me or one new just to me --as the Liszt versions were new; the original lieder I've known and loved forever. On the other hand, there is a kind of passionate tenderness in coming back to a piece I'd previously explored as new and now rediscover, as I did with the three Brahms Op 118 to which I returned a couple of years ago. I suppose for me it's a question of a balance between the two things -- no surprise for a Libra, right?!-- for me both are necessary.
Even more important, it's not simply a question of time spent memorizing one piece versus time which could be spent learning another one. I guess I just don't work that way. For me to play Silvia Cabrera Berg's El sueño ... el vuelo as I believe it should be played --and as I know I can play it- I MUST memorize it. This was also true of Dobles del Páramo, the splendid piece she wrote for Solo Rumores. True as well of the two pieces I've commissioned from Stephen McNeff, and of Paul Barker's La Malinche, and of any piece Federico Ibarra may write; while it is not always true of the music of other composers. It is certainly true of Wallach’s Lágrimas y Locuras, as I guessed from the very beginning -- I am starting to feel myself memorizing that piece. And I also know it will be the case for Gabriela Ortiz’ amazing Monarca piece.
It has to be inside of me and not outside on the music stand. I have no other way to explain it. At a certain point the piece starts to WANT to be memorized and then it's perilous to ignore that signal because I can go no further with the piece until it's inside.