Too much emphasis on recordings?
Nick Shave asks what's happened to the traditional concert experience
When it comes to music, are we focusing too much on recordings? Magazines give far more column inches to disc reviews than to live concerts, and few concerts take place without some form of recording equipment being placed in front of the performers. In the Proms, it’s hard to miss the cameras roving around the side of the stage and the microphones that dangle overhead. We’re even told to turn off our mobile phones so as not to interfere with the broadcast when we take our seats – lest we forget, it’s the BBC that comes first in every Proms billing.
And even when the broadcast media is not out to capture the moment, it seems that social media will fill the gap, with digital cameras and phones making it possible to watch the performance, after the event, online. I’m all for YouTube, but whatever happened to the traditional concert experience in which performers and listeners engage with the present? And whatever happened to the direct communication that once took place between performers and their listeners, one human to another?
Perhaps a Proms blog is not the place to raise these questions, but then the Proms not only highlight the challenges of capturing the concert experience without radically altering it, but also the tremendous benefits of digital recording. I was 400 miles from the Royal Albert Hall this weekend, but I was able to follow the festival online, and hearing Maria João Pires’s beautifully articulated Mozart K595, with David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra, not to mention Swedish Anders Hillborg’s cleverly conceived Cold Heat (Prom 57), makes these questions much harder to answer.
So, too, did watching the live television broadcast of Emanuel Ax playing the Brahms Second Piano Concerto last weekend (Prom 49). Having watched the cameras swoop about the stage in recent weeks, I was able to fully appreciate the benefits. Close-up, you could see Ax’s focus and steadfast maturity of approach; you could see him really living in the moment, even smiling at the players, relaxed, between movements. At the end, he looked up at Bernard Haitink, and with a look of genuine appreciation, whispered across stage: 'Wow!' The live moment had been captured for all – outside the auditorium – to see.
Nick Shave writes for The Guardian and is contributing editor of BBC Music Magazine. A regular reviewer and blogger of the Proms, he can usually be found at the Royal Albert Hall with only seconds to spare, breaking into an ungainly powerwalk somewhere between the ticket collection desk and the stalls