6 August 2012

Confessions of a reviewer #1

Currently I have written 46 reviews for Bachtrack. When I first started writing for them I was incredibly insecure and unsure about whether I was really suitable for the job; do I know enough? Can I write well? How's my English? Am I too enthusiastic about Shostakovich?. I expected that with experience confidence would somehow appear and that eventually I would trust my judgment when it came to music, and that I would learn how to write better. There are still many struggles and doubts, however, which is why I've decided to write a bit about my experience as a reviewer. My experience is 85% fantastic because I get to listen to the music I love without having to spend all my money on it, and I can share my love for it. The other 15% are my own insecurities and doubts, and I figured that instead of keeping it all in I should use this platform to create openness and hopefully gather some responses and other experiences.

For some reason, I am still as insecure as I was in the beginning. Some things have changed; I write the reviews much quicker now, I can compare concerts to one another and thereby I think my methods of assessing a concert have changed, and I definitely know more than I did. But still I worry, I worry about being able to put into words the experience of seeing a concert. That is and always will be my struggle; the most important and overpowering experiences during live concerts will always be those that words fail, they will be emotional, hard to capture, not rational. Of course there are many rational things as well, such as the tempi in a piece, the movements of the conductor, whether the notes that are being played are the right ones, whether an instrument plays too loudly/soflly etc. But music and concerts are not about these things. They are about emotions. At least, that's how I experience music. And sometimes emotions go beyond words. This is what people like George Steiner and Schopenhauer have written about when it comes to music; it has an effect that is beyond language.

As such, the only reviews I wrote that I actually like or am proud of are ones where I feel I was able to capture the emotions, ones where my description goes beyond the rational and touches upon something beyond that. I think it will be an eternal struggle, because some things simply will never be a part of language or at least of my vocabulary (this is why I admire good music journalists and philosophers of music so much - they have found a way to describe the musical experience).

So how do I go about writing reviews? The first thing I do is write down all the particulars of the performance that aren't necessarily related to how I experienced it - like the size of the orchestra, the tempi in the performance, how the conductor moves, whether there were any stand-out performances etc. I also usually divide the review into several paragraphs, with at least one paragraph per piece performed (this can change when for example only one piece was played, or it's a chamber music recital with a ridiculous amount of pieces). That's the easy part.

The hard part? Trying to convey how I felt during the concert. What the pieces mean emotionally, what made the performance different from others, whether it was intense and why it was(n't). There's only so many times you can call a piece of music "bleak" or "intense" or "overpowering" - what do these terms mean? I fear that a lot of the time I don't get these points across as well as I'd like to. I hope that I'm learning and I hope that it gets easier, but at the same time I think that it is inherent in the way that I experience music that I would find it difficult to communicate what exactly live concerts can mean. And that is certainly something I never want to change.

1 comment:

  1. gevoelens zijn toch een van de moeilijkste dingen om over te brengen (vind ik), zelfs in 'real life' wil het niet altijd lukken! ik ben zelf ook begonnen met het schrijven van recensies (voor tentoonstellingen), en het is toch een heel stuk moeilijker dan ik had verwacht.. bij muziek lijkt het me zelfs nog een stuk moeilijk, zo zonder visuele referentie!

    ik ken het gevoel, maar gezien je er al 46 (wow!) hebt mogen schrijven, denk ik dat het met je recensies wel goed zit :D