[Originally posted at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: PSO Blogs]
Listening to Hilary Hahn starting off Sibelius Concerto I had to think about what constitutes talent. I have to recognize the reality that most of the performers (and just about all of our wonderful guest) are at a technical proficiency well beyond my ability to judge. The sheer volume of performers that come out of the world’s music schools and conservancy’s will ensure that only those that are the most skilled make their way into our notice. But there is more to talent than skill. And you realize this when listening to Ms. Hahn, who commands your attention without flash.
In my profession, computers are the instrument of use. Because for all the work we do, at some point our work interacts with the world through data, and through a computer program that takes our understanding and uses it to interpret the data. The risk is to forget that the value of the work lies in the understanding that went into the program and the interpretation of the results, not in the program itself. But this is easy to forget, especially if only viewing it from the outside. From a surface understanding, one can only see a computer and an operator. And in the shallowness of the moment, believe that the talent is the talent of the operator. But this is a trap. The point where you need to make the investment and have the best people is with the person who designs the analysis and interprets the results. Not the person to implements it and operates the computer. To implement the procedures and run a program is (comparatively) easy. Understanding is hard.
Similarly in arts, at the level under consideration, the technical capability of the performers is not a consideration. Everyone who graces the stage at Heinz Hall has demonstrated mastery of the instrument throughout its range. But we can ask for considerably more. We can ask from our interpreters (conductor and musicians) for not just the ability to recreate the written record of composers past, but to imagine what if some things were different, to use the creativity of the composer as a point of departure and develop an interpretation that includes the aspects that cannot be expressed in ink on paper. Then present that interpretation.
After that, Aaron Copeland said that art (music) is a collaboration between composer, interpreter and audience. Once the composer and interpreter have done their part, it is our turn to do ours.