The Importance of the Correct Venue

No, it's not Carnegie Hall after all...

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Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Sunday, August 18, 2002

No, it’s not Carnegie Hall after all…
(The Importance of the Correct Venue)

by Rolf-Peter Wille

I find it hard to believe now, but there was a time—I must have been an innocent student—when I believed that the fame of a musician depended on his/her practicing. Play like a god, and people will admire you. How wrong! People do not want to hear God after all but they prefer lovely tunes. Announce an "All Hindemith Evening" and your audience will run faster than those rats leaving the sinking Titanic; or—to be more realistic—you will not even have any rats or persons to leave that hall.

The correct choice of program is of utmost importance. Just by presenting the right tunes you can win the battle without firing a single shot, so to say. But lovely tunes need a lovely setting, a hall with "ambiente" as they say in Germany. And why—to be realistic again—does it have to be a hall? The rats of the Titanic—in fact—were quite unsophisticated animals. Who was not enchanted by the beautiful music performed by those dedicated musicians on board of the sinking ship providing a lovely background music for the drowning passengers? These famous performers are touring the globe now—strictly playing Titanic music of course—and already they have been in Taiwan on a ten-city tour.

I have learned the Rach. 3 (Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.3), probably the hardest piece of the repertoire, in six months, practicing hundreds and hundreds of hours. I don’t think anybody—including me—remembers the performance, but when we played on two days notice on the busy intersection of Chung-Hsiao East and Tun-Hwa South Roads in Taipei, sections of it were shown in the evening news and literally seen by millions of viewers. Of course you are mistaken if you believe it is sophisticated to just perform on the streets. Otherwise any fiddler in the dark tunnels of the inglorious NY subway could claim originality. A grand piano is more spectacular on the streets for the simple reason of its unhandy bulk. The performers naturally have to sport proper concert attire, and rose petals have to be strewn from the roof of an adjacent skyscraper (or, better even, showered from a noisy helicopter) onto the keyboard.

Barenboim has conducted a "ballet of cranes" (wearing a safety helmet) right on Europe’s largest construction site which has been Berlin Alexanderplatz. The music—what else: Beethoven No.9. Talking about Berlin: Before the "Mauer" came down, some musicians had the idea to perform right in front of it. But I think right on top of it would have been better, and of course you would have to wear a bullet proof vest in case some border guards would open fire (naturally you would bribe a few fake guards to shoot away with rubber bullets while aiming into the air). Imagine the sensation it would have caused if you had placed the entire Berlin Philharmonic onto the wall, sitting in one row, with the conductor hanging from a crane above them.

Many years ago we were asked to perform on two pianos next to the giant "lovers trees" on Mount Morrison. We had to leave very early in the morning from Chiayi and the grand pianos, of some obscure make, were transported by truck. The pianos and the "acoustics" on top of Mount Morrison proved to be so abominable that we refused to use the life sound and substituted our prerecorded CD sound which was played through a loudspeaker system. Our movements were all dubbed. Or should I call it "hand synch?" The results though were highly successful and frequently shown on TV. I am almost sure that many of my readers can still remember having seen these beautiful lovers performing lovely music under those lovely "lovers trees."

Shortly after this we were asked to perform on a rock in the ocean. Unfortunately we had to refuse (I guess we must have had a concert in Berlin). A real pity! They asked a friend who told us about a fantastic adventure: The grand piano (which must have been of the same make as the Mount Morrison ones) slipped on the slippery rock and almost fell into the ocean. But—alas—the pianist obviously lacked imagination. Maybe she just screamed instead of giving the piano a little push and jumping straight into the ocean (while continuing to perform, of course). Had she survived, SHE would be touring the world now instead of those Titanic players.

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