Friday, April 17, 2009

The artist matters more than the instrument

This week on the Concert Programme, they're giving away a CD called Homage in which James Ehnes (pronounced Ennis) is playing a bunch of well-known short violin pieces. The unique selling point is that each piece is played on a different violin from the Fulton Collection (in Washington) of Stradivarii and other famous instruments. Somehow, playing on instruments that are at least 300 years old is supposed to make the pieces sound more wondrous. So far, to my ear, that doesn't seem to be the case. They could be being played on any decent instrument.

So it was interesting to read the following paragraph from Mike Figgis' book, Digital Filmmaking, page 10.

"I'll make an analogy with music. If you go to a concert and hear a really great violinistplaying a Stradivarius, you'll be witness to a magnificent sound and a great performance. Now that violinist could take a twenty-dollar Chinese violin made for schoolchildren, tune it and play it, and I guarantee a lot of people couldn't tell the difference from the Stradivarius - because of the musician.
Similarly, a great drummer can pick up a wooden packing case and make it sound like an amazing set of drums. A photographer - let's say a Cartier Bresson - could pick up a Kodak Brownie and without a doubt take great photographs.
The point is that it doesn't really matter what the equipment is. It really matters who the artist is, and what their attitude is. So a serious filmmaker will pick up an Arriflex, 16mm or 35mm, or a Panasonic video camera, nad you will see immediately that there is a serious intention in the way they're holding the camera and the way they're recording the image. It will not be ambiguous. It will not be negotiable. It will not be in doubt. They will state their relationship to the caemera, like the musician and the violin, the drummer and the packing case. The way that you pick up a camera and the way that you address the camera is fundamental."

I've always held this contention myself, when other pianists have said to me: that piano's crap or it's too hard too get any decent music out of. Pianists, often having little choice about what instrument they play, have to make the instrument do the best it can. It relies heavily on the musician to bring the music alive on whatever instrument they're faced with.
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