Reflections on the 4th Performance Studies Network International Conference

The 4th Performance Studies Network (PSN) International Conference—a gathering of 133 scholars, representing 71 institutions and 20 countries—took place July 14–17, 2016 at Bath Spa University in the UK.

A number of scholars affiliated with PAIG were among the presenters, and we’d like to share some reflections and observations here. For further details, check out the detailed conference program and abstracts or read Daniel Barolsky’s report on the 2nd PSN Conference (2013).

REFLECTIONS ON THE 4th PSN CONFERENCE
Edward Klorman (McGill University)
Having attended two PSN conferences, I am struck by the cross-pollination of scholarly approaches and musical styles represented. Most delegates are musical performers of one kind or another—some are extremely accomplished—who bring perspectives from musical analysis, ethno- and historical-musicologies, cognition, and other approaches to bear on aspects of musical performance.
I was struck by a number of presentations that engaged limitations to creativity among “classical” performers imposed in part by certain traditions of musical training and institutions. (Having spent several years as student and faculty member in a conservatory setting, I could relate to this theme personally.) Anthony Gritten (Royal College of Organists) gave a paper about dismantling what he calls the “pedagogy of constraint” (e.g., “Don’t do X like that!”) in favor of what “projective teaching” (“Do this in order to perform X”).
A presentation by Mary Hunter (Bowdoin College) examined “the language of Werktreue in practice,” drawing on rehearsal transcripts of professional chamber musicians to analyze how musicians “situate themselves between obligation and agency in their interpretative choices.”
Violinist and musicologist Maiko Kawabata (University of Edinburgh) presentation “Virtuosity Now” contrasted one model (or stereotype) of violin virtuosity—that of the technically assured by musically constrained players said to be favored by competition juries—with another model represented by the iconoclastic Moldovan-Austrian Patricia Kopatchinskaja. This extraordinary and memorable video of her live performance at the BBC Music Magazine Awards exemplifies a certain kind of virtuosity that is uniquely her own. (The performance is hard to describe, but if you can spare 60 seconds to watch, I promise you won’t forget it. It’s an encore piece entitled “Crin,” written for her by Jorge Sanchez Chiong.)
Victoria Tzotzkova (Harvard University)
The sound lingers on… A couple of weeks after leaving the idyllic campus of Bath Spa University, I still have the sounds of one particular presentation clearly ringing in my ear, the whole-body sensation of wonderment and delight at that sound still vivid and readily accessible. The presentation, by performer-researcher Abigail Dolan (Cambridge University) on the opening phrases of Debussy’s Syrinx, was to me an emblematic example of a piece of work in artistic research. The conceptual points tended towards systematization and categorization of performing concerns and approaches, and so, were clearly grounded in artistic practice. But what was particularly striking to me was the navigation between scholarly and artistic modes of presentation. Rather than playing these few phrases chiefly as illustrations of points made verbally, this presenter was able to offer several exquisite (if only partial) performances, giving me—and I suspect other attendees—the gift of experiencing with my whole body the boundless array of possibilities she navigates in every moment of performance. While the verbally articulated points were certainly helpful in navigating that terrain along with her, it is the possibilities I heard in sound that spoke to me most eloquently.
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