Monday, April 03, 2006

Brain Food

If you're still hungering for more of last year's Cliburn competition, you might be interested in a new documentary titled "Encore!with James Conlon". I have not seen the series, but it looks to be a very good one (piano competition focus or not):

"Maestro James Conlon explores the relationship between the concert pianist's internal world and the composer's score - with the finalists of the Twelfth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition as his examples - and examines what makes one interpretation so different from another
." Read the rest here.

Each episode is organized around and attempts to explore a particular theme or question. A fairly familiar rubric:

"Apollo or Dionysus?"
"Plato or Aristotle?"
"Being It or Playing It?"
"Beauty or Truth?"
"Technique or Spirit?"
"Tradition or Innovation?"

As I have not seen this series yet, I've no idea how it fares in tackling the subject matter it sets before itself. But there is a review that might, or might not, give an answer to that question: "a brainy, if naggingly flawed, treatise on the philosophical underpinnings of great classical music."

What seems to irk the reviewer is both the very asking of the questions, dimissively derided without qualification as "conceits", and what's seen as the series' apparent failure to connect the dots for the viewer ["often fails to make the link between Conlon's grandiose ideas and the music"]. But that seems, in my book, no real flaw at all. In exploring something it is often the asking of the question that is more valuable than the "answer" itself. (As an aside, this is one of my main complaints about education: very few students are taught how to ask good questions). A rough reformulation of Wittgenstein's bon mot might apply here: "Tell me how you seek and I will tell you what you seek."

I look forward to checking out the series.

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