I was reminded tonight of why we try to avoid talking about metaphor and meaning in rehearsal.
As it happens, in the midst of a long and very happy day of trio rehearsals, one of my colleagues and I found ourselves in complete and profound disagreement about one passage. It’s not unusual for people to disagree, of course, but in a certain sense, chamber music disagreements are different, and often more intractable, because of the lack of a hierarchy. A 2nd oboist may disagree with the principal oboist’s articulation in an orchestra work, and may well discuss it, but at the end of the day, the principal will win that argument.
Unless, of course, the conductor agrees with the 2nd oboist.
But the real issue in our case is that we both had strong metaphorical constructs in mind, and that they were pretty antithetical. I was using words like “rarified, elevated and ecstatic,” and he was using “rustic, earthy and carnival.” It’s not hard to see why we got stuck.
But of course, although we have different sound concepts, I think the difference in sound concept is much smaller than the difference in metaphysical concept. This is the problem with rehearsing in terms of meaning and metaphor- when we agree, it’s wonderful, but when we don’t we cut off each other’s psychic room for perception and response. The whole beauty of abstract music is that a single piece, even a single performance, can be experienced spiritually in profoundly different ways. That experiential space is something very personal and very profound- it is us at our most honest. To take that away can be quite cruel. I never picture cathedrals in Bruckner, I picture the cosmos- the dances of galaxies and the destruction of stars. However, I don’t have the right to destroy another listener’s mental imagery. Likewise, people can disagree about whether the end of Shostakovich 5 is happy or sad, but only fools take it twice as fast as he intended it (see, even that makes you tense up, even if you know I’m right! Still, better a fool than a politician who splits the difference between Shostakovich’s tempo and 2x Shostakovich’s tempo).
So, we agreed to leave it for now and record it later. I have a feeling that when we listen to the playback, it will be obvious if it needs to be louder or softer, longer or shorter, more or less articulate. If you boil it down to “sounds-good/sounds-like-shit,” life gets easier.
Then he can have a carnival while I contemplate the fragile wonder of the undiscovered country.