Classical Music World: The Special Joys of Live Performance

Want to see a great live performance? Cellist Joshua Roman will be in concert in Los Alamos Jan. 24. Photo by Tina Su
Classical Music World: The Special Joys of Live Performance

I don’t listen to recorded music very often. That probably comes as a surprise to people who know that I’m the artistic director of the Los Alamos Concert Association (LACA).

I certainly listen to CDs as part of my work with LACA. I do listen to the radio and sometimes to a CD in the car, but I hardly ever put on a CD at home just for, I guess, fun.

This is, in part, because I can’t multi-task where music is involved. I can’t read or answer email and listen to music at the same time. The music just takes over. I have to stop and listen. I can’t even do housework with music wafting about. The dust rag stops moving. The mop ends up sitting in the bucket.

The truth is that I’m a live music person. Recordings rarely move me the way live performance does. For me, the most perfect recording will never take the place of hearing and seeing artists in the act of creating something beautiful.

A while back I was sitting in the St. Francis Auditorium for a chamber music concert. One of the artists on the program was a piano prodigy, aged 12, named Kit Armstrong. He was going to play with some much older and very distinguished virtuosos.

When the ensemble walked out on stage Kit was dressed in proper summer concert attire: little white jacket and bow tie, dark slacks, polished dress shoes. They smiled (Kit a little mischievously,) bowed and took their seats. Kit adjusted the piano bench a bit then stuck his right foot out toward the pedals. He wasn’t wearing any socks!

In that moment, the entire performance took on a charm all its own. Kit  wasn’t a little music machine, but a real live boy with a mind of his own who probably had quite an argument with his mother back stage about those socks.  He played beautifully, his grownup colleagues were clearly pleased with him and the audience came away knowing that they had experienced something special.

The smallest extra-musical details in a live performance have a way of pulling the listener into the total creative experience. How artists carry themselves when they walk on stage, how they move as they play, and yes, what they wear (or not!), can have a profound effect on how the listener experiences the music.

Popping in some ear buds can take us anytime, anywhere, into a world of transcendent sound.  But live performance reminds us that music is a very human endeavor that takes courage and a deep generosity of spirit. Recorded music is edited and electronically tweaked to achieve a perfection that does not exist in nature. The tight-rope walk of a live performance can deliver a memorable thrill: artists putting it all on the line for their fellow human beings.

Occasionally, YouTube can simulate the excitement of live performance. Take a look at this clip of cellist Joshua Roman in an impromptu performance of the gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite #3:

Pretty great, isn’t he? You can see him perform live right here in Los Alamos on Jan 24. Go to www.losalamosconcert.orgfor tickets and complete concert information.