November 12, 2016

Interpretation and Improvisation

"The name of the game is flexibility. Every conductor has his own interpretation. Your job is to interpret not only your conception, but also that of the conductor." Julius Baker

Interpretation is the art of deciding how to play a piece of music. This includes how loud and quiet sections are, what tempo to take, when and how much to change tempos and all the little things that can't be written down in the notation or possibly even expressed in words. No one interprets a piece the exact same way and learning to adjust to another person's ideas can be more than a little challenging. Yet Classical musicians are expected to do exactly that. When they practice, they explore multiple interpretations. Then they adjust and match their interpretations to those of the other players in their section. Finally, they change how they interpret a piece each and every time a new conductor takes the podium.
I believe that in many ways, this is a form of improvisation. Granted, the improvising is subtle and doesn't involve changing the notes or rhythms. Yet the music changes every time it is played based on the performers choices at the moment. This is the heart of improvisation; no two performances, or even rehearsals, are exactly the same.

Now Classical music used to include a great deal of improvisation even in ensemble playing. It was only after the 1800s that instrumentalists were expected to "just play what's on the page" rather than filling in musical ideas on their own. Recently, there has been a push to reincorporate improvisation into Classical music. Solo pieces have been the main focus of this idea. Many Classical musicians find this unsettling at first and the idea of adding improvisation to ensemble playing is still largely not discussed at all. 
Perhaps considering interpretation as a form of improvisation could be used to ease Classical musicians into the world of music of the moment.