Monday, November 5, 2007

The Early Music Show

Yes, I like Andrew Manze. I suppose this is less of an embarrassment than other confessions I've made (what I listen to in the car, how many times I've been naked in the woods, the depth of satisfaction I extract from certain loud and annoying wind instruments). But I still feel, upon disgorging the information, that hot little twinge of shame. I mean, Andrew Manze? He's so (deliciously) trashy, so (god forbid) popular, so very historically inappropriate.

Andrew Manze gets up to no good. With a rate, and a scope, of up-to-no-goodness I wish I had the guts to imitate. So it was less than shocking to pick up the NYT the other day and see, once again, Andrew Manze up to no good.

Only this time, his method puzzles me. Manze and longtime collaborator Richard Egarr play Bach, Schubert, and Mozart on modern violin and piano. Egarr gets a good review. Manze rates a mild lashing: Steve Smith says of Manze that "his approach, while provocative, took a toll on his playing." But how well Manze played isn't what I'm interested in; what I want to know is WHY. Why is a baroque violinist, someone who made his name serving in the army of the Historically Righteous, cradling the enemy under his chin?

And not even for new music! We've all gotten used to the sight of Historically Informed Performers abandoning the dead for a chance to suck the life from the living. (And I'm not even an eighth as cynical about the crossover as I sound.) No, Manze's playing the good old stuff -"his" repertoire- only he's playing it on an instrument to which his entire musical career has served as a challenge.


Not that I don't think it's an interesting or worthwhile enterprise, but what's the motivation? Is it that Manze never cared particularly about the accuracy prong of the early music fork (yes, HIP is about consumption) but has instead been following his own -formidable- musical instinct? Is it about locating novelty, coaxing the new sound from the string or the unexpected phrase from the piece? Or is it that, for Manze, the worth of HIP lies in its challenge, the way it forces the musician to push his or her impulses through the barriers of codified style and less-than-responsive instruments? Then the jaunt into modern violin would be merely Manze's newest challenge, a fresh opponent against which to push.

Or maybe, just maybe, trying to analyze why a person does anything is as futile as trying to cram 500 years of musical endeavor into a book of rules. In which case I should stop trying to parse the concatenation and instead pose the real question. Not why, but how.

How can I, here, now, get up to no good?

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