There was lively debate at King’s College London following my talk yesterday. I had spoken about the interpreter’s task as I see it, taking as my title a remark of György Sebök’s, ‘Play the contents and not the container’. In my talk I used ‘contents’ to refer to music itself, and ‘container’ to mean all the things that can hold a player at arm’s length from the music itself – including the printed notes of the score, through which you have to learn to read the content.
It turned out that my performer’s way of talking about these things was difficult for some of my academic audience to take. ‘You have fallen among historians’, a professor reminded me, going on to point out that my attitude to performance was not unique to me, but was itself part of an aesthetic tradition. From the questions that followed, I became aware that I had unwittingly cut across some prevailing academic theories, or at least across certain terminologies. It was great, though, because when the question-and-answer session was finished, there was a further long and animated discussion over a glass of wine, just the kind of thing that these ‘colloquia’ are supposed to provoke. Nobody seemed to want to leave. Many of the students came up to speak to me, and I was touched to find how deeply they cared about music.