Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Who's Special?

Specialization is a curious thing. Even more so at the University of Melbourne, which seems to have DMA students specialize in a particular aspect of performance, with a related research field, and in this regard quite different from the American system. As one gets older (and by "one" of course I mean me) I can understand why Barenboim considered specialization "knowing more and more about less and less", but my response is, "You say that like it's bad thing". The age of Benjamin Franklin Renaissance Men are over because only one man was needed to stick a kite into a lightning storm and then make a keyboard instrument out of glass. The world today needs experts for various reasons, whether its an academic area, the perfect steamed fish, or the kitchen plumbing, and I personally don't mind if the guys who come to fix my bathroom window don't offer me advice on whether my chicken curry needs a touch more salt.

(That being said, I got excellent suggestions on potatos from a harpist today, so sue me.)

Comes with sacrifices of course, and the more I get into the viola and surround myself with people who get more into their own instruments, the more I feel how much I don't know about a whole lot of other things. Which may prove Barenboim's point to an extent, but in my opinion is exciting in its own way in the new things you can lear
n every day from all these other interesting people on their way to being experts in their own way. Which wouldn't be the case if everybody were trying to learn more of the same everything. A whisper of this and that along the way, like strawberries, complements and not contradicts one's firm conviction in being the best in, say, vanilla ice-cream.

One nice thing about getting older is getting these glimpses and brushes of all the other specialties that come by along the way and never know
ing when it may be useful. I just finished listening to Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 7; though only five violin concertos are confirmed as authentic, there is a mysterious No. 7 (but not a No. 6 which I am assuming either comes from a notation on the manuscript, or that the No. 6 was proven to be not authentic). I first heard about this little concoction a couple of years ago from a violinist colleague, and I had no idea it had been in my own CD collection for some time, until 20 minutes ago. Picked it up almost a decade ago when I had a summer fling with violin music.

And it's not even in the various "complete Mozart" CD collections I've collected over the years. Most of which have been obtained to get hold of a specific item: the Sinfonia Concertante, which has been at the center of my cu
rrent research, as well as that of my communication to both an academic journal and possible DMA specialization at Melbourne University. I'm actually looking forward to spending the next three years rediscovering the opus again and again. And while we're on the topic, I've obtained a couple of extra Concertante recordings, bringing my total to 21. The last one was found in a little discreet corner of a side shelf. I remember a professor suggesting (at around the count of 18) with humor that it was carrying it a little beyond interest into the realm of... obsession. Maybe that's what specialization really is. But again, don't say it like it's a bad thing.

The most recent two are: Maxim Vangerov and Lawrence Power with the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra, and Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Metha.

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