A friend of mine recently posted an article on facebook that claimed personality in performance was dead. He bemoaned (like Bernstein's complaint that competition is for racehorses) the prevailing expectation of technical flawlessness in favor of risk-taking.
I shrugged it off. We panic in the classical music world. The Internet encourages sensationalism.
And yet I've been thinking about what "individualism" and "personality" mean in light of this article. It can't only be the extreme, idiosyncratic interpretation in which the player's fancy takes precedence over the indications in the score. The article article praises this as "overt performance personalisation." (so British)
I think "personality" comes from the inside -- from conviction in your identity, in your values, and bodily awareness. Perhaps this is why "technically flawless" performances that all sound the same ring hollow. As performers, we can't all have the same inner experience of music (and then project that experience in our performances) because we physically cannot experience it the same way -- my hands are not my students' hands, and try as I might, my lungs will never be quite what my teacher boasts. But we typically teach to an ideal, and maybe listen oriented towards an ideal, rather than lauding a player for mindfully knowing oneself inside and out.
Like most other new music fans in NYC, I was deeply moved by eighth blackbird's "Heart and Breath" program at Miller Theatre on September 18th. The commedia dell'arte portion was fine, but what really spoke to me was the first half. It opened with a recent work by Richard Reed Parry, in which the duration of the violist's notes was determined by the inhalation and exhalation of her breaths. I found myself breathing with her bow, being physically drawn into her unique perspective on the world, and literally hearing the rest of the program with new ears.
In shakuhachi playing, rhythm is tied directly to a player's breath, to his or her bodily awareness of the in-out cycle of air. And for Watazumi, bodily awareness goes deeper:
"And when you consider rhythm, rhythm is not just simply rhythm; rhythm is the movement of the entire body from its last cell. And that movement differs from person to person because everybody’s flow of blood is different… Everybody has that movement within their bodies. You have to balance, then, the movement of your pulse with the movement of your body."
Performing is literally bringing forth the inner structure of one's body, of being so in touch with one's inner workings that there is no distinction between the player and the played. Maybe that's what I at least am looking for in performance -- a profundity of candid self-awareness that is simultaneously beautiful and loyal to the score.