NICA recommends | REFUSE/NIKS: Classical Music Performance Norms—Resist or Obey? Daniel Leech-Wilkinson in Conversation with Anna Scott
Online event by Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA)
Monday 7 June 2021 | 19:30 – 21:30
More information here
As this session’s special guest Daniel Leech-Wilkinson observes in his 2020 eBook Challenging Performance: Classical Music Performance Norms and How to Escape Them: “Classical musicians may be the only Western artists still trained to believe that their job is to reproduce the practices and intentions of the dead, as faithfully as possible, for ever.” Classical music’s adherents might support the idea of increased performer agency and creativity, but “behind idealistic talk of artistry musicians must always strive, in the ruthless neo-liberalism that the music business so efficiently performs, to out-play their rivals in fluency, reliability, punctuality, collegiality, health, good looks, and musical affect, while being careful not to change the agreed character or meanings of a score.” Classical music performance norms are a set of rules and expectations concerning the agreed-upon character and meaning of musical scores. Both prescriptive (dos) and proscriptive (don’ts), as well as strictly enforced, these norms include patterns of behaviors and internalized values, beliefs, and assumptions that often operate unnoticed—until someone dares to expose, challenge, and escape them.
This session brings together a group of artist-researchers doing just that. As the above quotes suggest, however, this comes with great risk. Engaging more imaginatively with composers’ scores is one thing, but how open are we really to greater imprecision, or to imbuing musical works with startlingly new characters and meanings, or to radically rethinking our criteria for evaluating the quality of performers and their performances?
Chaired by pianist Anna Scott, Assistant Professor at Leiden University’s Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA), and featuring themes that emerge from a series of pre-recorded video presentations by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and a group of ACPA-affiliated artist-researchers, this session will take the form of a ‘live’ discussion and Q&A. Pre-recorded videos will be available to registered attendees one week in advance. Questions to be discussed on June 7th include: why challenge classical performance norms at all; what are the risks and rewards; how to engage with gatekeepers; how to avoid alienating artistic communities; what role do audiences play; what wider cultural and political implications are involved; what has been the effect of the ongoing pandemic?
Featured Guest: Daniel Leech-Wilkinson
There is much common ground between the values of classical performance and the political right, including belief in an imagined past, obedience to leaders, and the prevention of change. Examples are examined, focusing on critics’ analogies between difference in musical performance and in sexuality and race. The right’s failure to see the value of classical music for its political project, and the benefits for society of a more humane approach, are discussed.
Daniel Leech-Wilkinson studied at London’s Royal College of Music, London and Cambridge Universities. He started out researching late medieval polyphony (sources, analysis, performance practice), before changing his focus, c. 2000, to the evidence of early recordings in relation to the practice and psychology of performance expressivity. His recent work questions foundational beliefs about ‘proper’ performance and offers musicians alternative approaches. He acted as Dramaturg for Helios Collective’s ‘Dido & Belinda‘ (2016) .
Recent publications include (with Helen Prior) Music and Shape (Oxford, 2018) and the eBook, Challenging Performance: Classical Music Performance Norms and How to Escape Them (2020). He is Emeritus Professor at King’s College London.