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Picasso’s Bach

What can a musician allow himself? Last year, when I first participated in international competitions, I got various answers, but found out that he certainly does not have unrestricted freedom.

For the first round in the Paris competition, a work of J.S. Bach was scheduled. My professor had warned me for this: ‘Bach always means trouble, even more so with harpists.’ My whole life I was scared to perform Bach. Even those who have spent their lives studying his life and music, still do not agree on the right way to perform his music. How could I make a plausible interpretation, especially with my romantic tendency? I looked up musicians who perform Bach regularly on more common instruments than harp, and mainly contemplated a lot about it. After a lot of work I found out that Bach was closer to me than foreseen, and even though I knew I would not be able to please everyone, my conviction was that I was going in the right direction.

The first round approached, and my particularly creative harmony professor (and also organ player) had come up with the idea of quickly fabricating a matching cadenza. ‘That’s part of the deal. Everyone did that in his time. That’s Bach; creativity!’ I imagined a hall of confused and unsettled harpists, and was immediately in to it. By working on this, new ideas emerged and I implemented them in the piece. Finally, I had thought about almost everything, and promised myself to not be influenced by the audience; something that seems very unnatural to me. I felt like I completely controlled the piece and I fully knew what I was doing.

In Paris I could make a reasonable reproduction. Because of nerves I did not manage to play flawless, but I did play like I had plotted. Then the cadenza came. An incredible feeling it was to deliberately choose a ‘wrong’ detraction; you could hear the audience questioning themselves what I was doing, and I am quite sure I heard one of the jury members scraping her throat to clearly show of her disapproval; brilliant! I really felt like I was making music at that moment.

The jury clearly felt differently about this. Even though I progressed because of my Damase to the second round, my Bach only received tremendous criticism. ‘Way too romantic, too… different, not at all like Bach should be played! A tight rhythm, that’s Bach. And what were you doing in the middle of the piece?!’ It continued in this matter for a while.

The next day I visited the Musée d’Orsay with my mother. There was a special exhibition: Picasso’s vision on Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. Many works of Picasso were displayed, all of them inspired on this famous painting of Manet. One after the other ingenious and beautiful, even though the resemblance was sometimes far-fetched. I pondered on how much more interesting this was than three rooms of exact copies of Manet’s painting, and I was fascinated by the bizarre brain of Picasso which repeatedly gave a new but concise interpretation of the composition.

Subsequently the question arose: why is a musician expected to be a conservator, who has solely got the duty to make sure the artwork remains in a good condition, and why does he have to produce replicas of an artwork that is impossible to exceed? Who decides this and why doesn’t the musician, as though he were a painter, abandon this path to in this way become a true artist himself?

Remy Live Performances

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