It’s now a week since the Florestan Festival ended, and lots of people have been kind enough to write and say what they thought of it. One thing is very interesting: there’s enormous variety in what people enjoyed best. Some relished the things which were new for them, others treasured the old. Some liked things involving guest artists, others not. There was great dissent about the Beethoven Symphony which we performed in the version for piano trio (and about which I wrote beforehand in the Guardian); some loved the trio version, others thought it was pointless. A wide range of individual pieces were singled out as ‘the highlight’ of the festival. It all confirms that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I first really took this on board during the semester I spent with my group Domus at the Banff Centre in Canada. This wonderful inter-arts institution in the Rocky Mountains was the first place we encountered which employed a roster of visiting artists. Every week, different people would appear to give masterclasses. You could ask to have a lesson from a visiting pianist, string player or wind player, but also from a playwright or a painter or a potter – or from a fellow student.
We were playing well and feeling secure about our group, so we sought as many opinions as possible. And they all said different things. This may not seem surprising to the casual reader, but most young musicians have studied for a long time with a single teacher whose opinion comes to seem like the only legitimate one. It therefore came as a refreshing blast to hear that different things were important to different people. I don’t mean to imply that the views of a single teacher are of limited value; goodness knows it’s the focus and persistence of individual teachers which pulls most players through their adolescence and enables them to become accomplished performers. I just mean that when your playing is advanced enough, and you are open-minded, it can be wonderfully liberating to realise that there are facets of your approach which will inevitably appeal to someone.