Exercise in Styles:
On Developing Multiple Versions of Debussy’s Syrinx

This exercise brings new perspectives on the role of the score in the process of shaping the musical experience. It demonstrates how much is afforded by a score, and at the same time, exemplifies how many assumptions and pre-conceptions are brought into play. Wearing my performer’s hat, it was very interesting to discover how much of these took the form of self-censorship, looking for justifications while making artistic choices.

The exercise highlightened the extent to which the performance parameters are interconnected, and exposed the opportunity to move away from the concept of fixed parts that come together to create a pre-conceptualised outcome. The performer can use performance parameters as malleable parts that take shape in relation to each other, together forming a coherent but not necessarily predictable outcome.

Viewing performance through this prism has implications on both the way performers are trained and practice, as well as the way performance can be studied and assessed in the context of musical performance studies. 

For the latter, the challenge is to develop methods for capturing the complex and ever changing interaction between the different elements that take place in the real time of the performance. As for the relevance to performers’ training and work, the emphasis then is not on bringing to perfection one possible reading within an accepted framework, but to keep exploring alternative readings to unveil alternate combinations. As suggested by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, this approach presents new understanding of what constitutes virtuosity and mastery of a given piece. More specifically in the context of Conservatoires, one could think of a teaching framework and assessment criteria that value this type of exploration, and support performers as they move from execution to creation.

The recording was made on 14 December 2014 at Herstmonceux Castle. Sound engineer: Chris Full. Producer: Shelley Katz. I wish to thank Shelley Katz for the interesting and stimulating conversations leading to making this recording project.