There’s been a subject which I as artist have brooded over almost entirely throughout my career but one should get clear with oneself.
If you’re a performer who regularly prepares music for concerts, you want to keep reading.
There are two kinds of players in the musical scenes:
“Big-Hall Players” and “Small-Hall Players“.
Now, before we even validate this argument, I’d like to warn you that what’s said on here are nothing more than my views based on my performing experiences and that some of you’ll likely disapprove them.
big-hall players: provide with the volume of sound and gestures that are sufficient for major concert halls (whose capacity are usually more than 1,000 listeners).
small-hall players: provide with the volume of sound and gestures that are only sufficient for small concert halls or salons (whose capacity are anywhere between 50 and 800 listeners).
Obviously we’re barely talking about the size of the halls.
A leading British cellist Steven Isserlis once remarked on this:
“The minute you think in terms of the big-hall players vs small-hall players paradigm, you’ll stop playing music.”
This is true, because in that argument we’re only looking at it in an acoustic point of view that has mostly to do with the size of the hall itself. But in real life, music is, ― by law, ― the integrated whole with a series of sound and silence BOTH, therefore sound on its own doesn’t constitute music. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Does that mean the acoustics doesn’t matter?
Of course not. It does matter.
But if you’re not careful, you’ll easily fall into the trap of excessive pursuit of sound and completely isolating yourself from what matters ultimately most ― that is ‘music’ and what the composer’s intended for us to manifest ―, which would be a very unartistic mentality for performers to have.
So naturally the next question arises:
“How does the acoustics matter? And to what extent?”
Needless to say, there are about 1,000+ concert venues currently in place around the world, and each one of them ― despite its derivation from similar designs ― represents itself in different ways. The differences are manifold ― the height of the ceiling, the shape, the material, the capacity for audiences and the temperature & humidity. Therefore, we must cope with it case-by-case and tailor the sound that fits into the location.
And for all of us, playing at any concert halls or salons with audience is a very different experience than in a practice room on our own.
Nothing is worse than getting locked up in a little room for weeks and months on end trying to work on a piece with strenuous effort, only to sound like you’re stuck in a little cage and look all miserable before an large audience in a proper concert hall.
Dorothy Delay, one of the most influential violin pedagogues ever in the 20th century who’re responsible for a lot of the existing violinists around the world today, used to say:
“What you do not want is to sound like a small-hall player.”
On a player’s part, playing in a big concert hall might mean that one requires to produce stronger and more resonant sound. Or to beware the tendency of the reverb slightly longer than usual and thus leaving more space between silence and the following note.
How about playing the entrance of Beethoven’s Romance No.1 in G major, for instance? The music starts in double stops of the violin solo alone, and then the orchestra follow up with the same motif. How should it be projected? Playing with piano accompaniment and with orchestra are different experiences, and so are playing in the Carnegie Hall and in the little St Peter’s Church.
Long since I was a lot younger, I’ve been used to playing in a big concert halls or with an orchestra, so that even when I practice a piece of music at home, my sound production is always customized with the hall in which I’m bound to perform in mind and set proportionately to the actual framework.
A couple of years ago, I was rehearsing one of Wieniawski’s solo pieces (I don’t remember which one) with a pianist to play in a concert hall in London. I won’t mention his name here, but he’d worked as an accompanist under György Pauk at the Royal Academy of Music for many years. He said something to me in the middle of rehearsal that just sums up what I’m saying all along: “You know, you’re playing it like you’re in the Royal Albert Hall or something.”
Now let that sink in for a second.
Sure, that may sound like a compliment to you.
But in case you don’t ‘get it’, whenever you hear something like this coming from the mouths of British people, it is a criticism.
I’m well aware of those who are against Delay’s mindset and think one ought not to perform like a big-hall player.
But again, it all boils down to what the music stands for.
The Wieniawski piece I was rehearsing with him also bears comparison with its orchestrated version.
Maybe he knew nothing of Wieniawski. Maybe he’d gone spasmodically insane. I don’t know.
But my point is this: One does not have to express something in small ways because of the ensemble condition set smaller.
As a matter of fact, the fewer ensemble members you play with, the more freedom is generated, hence the more responsibility comes with it – the responsibility of filling in the overall harmony (Bach’s unaccompanied Violin Sonatas, for instance) and of displaying strong sense of rhythmic security.
Before we finish this discussion, I’ll leave you with this question to ask yourself:
“If you were a composer, what idea on earth would you wish to be expressed ‘small’?”