“for the beauty of the act”
– reflections on the concept of virtuosity in the expanded field of current performance practice.
PhD research in contemporary music performance at the University of Huddersfield.
The Informal part
Poznań, late 80’s
It is an anecdote my Mum once told me when justifying, why I keep putting myself through all this trouble being a musician. She would take me and my brother to classical music concerts at the Philharmonie in my hometown Poznań. According to her, after one of the Poznań Spring Contemporary Music Festival concerts, I asked her why there wasn’t any piano on stage (at that time I was learning the piano). I said that in this case I wanted to play the violin instead, like the orchestra musicians I saw in the concert. I told her I wanted to be on stage. I like to believe it really happened.
Specialist violin education I was undergoing at that time was pretty stressful – frequent competitions and masterclasses made my teenage life revolve around violin practice. I looked up to Gidon Kremer, Itzhak Perlman, Maxim Vengerov. I certainly wasn’t a child prodigy. However I loved the violin and all these hours spent alone in a room with its sound. I liked listening to Polish Radio Programme 2. One afternoon, a transmission from Berlin Phil (Gil Shaham playing Brahms Violin Concerto) failed to be broadcasted and a review of recent CD releases was played instead. I heard “Celestial Mechanics” – a piece by Anders Hillborg using 17 detuned string instruments and percussion. Microtonality! My mind was overwhelmed having heard timbers I didn’t know existed. I took a note writing down a new word “scorgatura” ( yes, I misspelled it like that) and how it was “mental”.
Despite such meaningful listening experience, I still kept practicing Wieniawski and others for some more years.
Lucerne, August 2007
The first large symphony orchestra experience in my life was Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra and performing Stockhausen’s “Gruppen”. Not a great statement about Polish music education of that time, I know. I started dreaming of playing contemporary music for the rest of my life.
Manchester, May 2011
I met Emma Richards (Distractfold’s violist) on a train from Liverpool, where we both just had a concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. I convinced her to buy some beers and kept pretending I could open them against a side of a bench. We bonded over interest in Russian literature and New Music. She passed my details onto Mauricio Pauly and the rest is history. Distractfold Ensemble was born soon after.
I’ve been playing acoustic violin less and less. My performance practice increasingly shifted towards percussion, amplified objects, electronics with or without my learnt instrument. I rarely knew what I was doing but differently than when deciphering unfamiliar notation on the violin. When I happened to play four different kinds of performance styles in one concert, I felt tripping in a surreal haze.
I spent New Year’s Eve watching movies, among others Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors”. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had just seen – one of the craziest narratives ever written? one of the best movies ever made? Over the course of the film Denis Lavant aka Monsieur Oscar – the protagonist- seamlessly impersonates 13 different characters, giving a tour de force of virtuosity – the kind I have never seen before neither in music nor in any other art form. From then on I wanted to be like him – both the actor and the character. But how?!
Huddersfield, February 2018
David Pocknee told me that some artists put themselves in a lineage of history so that they can put themselves at the head of it; they create false history so that they can say they are a logical consequence of everything that came before. I was wearing a jumper with Mickey Mouse print that day.
For the record I want to state that I do not consider myself a virtuoso.