When For the Love of Music was first created I had the great pleasure of reviewing a performance of Hamelin as he performed Rzewski's "The People United shall Never be Defeated." The concert took place during the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival and, in a word, it was miraculous. Hamelin demonstrated that he could duplicate, if not exceed, the technical perfection offered to us through his recordings in a concert situation.
Having obtained the disc of Rzewski’s daunting work several weeks before that concert, and being acquainted with the work already, when I attended the concert I was prepared to listen for all of the important things: would he whistle in the prescribed variation (many pianists don’t), would he truncate his cadenza? The answer to both these questions was no, and if I had any misgivings of the man playing a piece that is about an hour long they quickly disappeared.
Hamelin is one of those artists that gets you to wonder what Glenn Gould was really worried about: Gould retired from performing in favour of recording and broadcasting because he was concerned that the live performance wouldn’t be able to deliver the same, quality product, to each listener. The experience would not be the same for each individual.
Ah, but there’s the rub: We are all different, and we will all each experience things differently. While I may not attend as many concerts as I would like to be able to, the fact of the matter is, live performances rarely match the quality of a recording, yet a live performance is almost always preferable. Why? For the simple reason that it is live: there is an energy flowing from the stage to the audience, and those in attendance are receiving something from the performer. Performers enjoy their art because in so doing they to receive something from the audience.
That was the thing I enjoyed so much when I was in college: being able to get up in front of people and perform. Playing classical guitar gave me that opportunity, and it permitted me to taste a small amount of what the great performers experience when they feel the waves of adulation pouring onto the stage from the fans. It is a feeling that cannot be easily replicated, and is one of the reasons you hear the phrase “chasing the high”. Performing is a natural high. It is an exhilarating experience (as is having a composition of your performed, though nausea also enters into play … but that’s another story).
Hearing Marc-André Hamelin reminds me of why we (composers) write music: to see people like this bring it to life.
In the following recital clip, Hamelin performs the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, by Liszt, with an amazing cadenza that he composed. The second selection is the Allegretto Alla Barbaresca from Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano.