Some time ago, I attended a solo recital of Bach's lute music, played by an experienced, well-traveled, well-respected professional. I had been looking forward to this concert very much, and settled myself into my seat in anticipation.
The music was lovely and well-played, but I did not enjoy the performance.
At every turn of phrase, or fugal entry, or cadence, the performer grimaced, swayed, ogled the audience, and occasionally even groaned slightly. It was so distracting that I had to listen with my eyes shut to be able to concentrate on the music, which was otherwise well played. The lutenist was clearly offering himself for display, rather than the music. He did Bach, and his audience, a great disservice with his self-centered posturing. I was disappointed and annoyed and a little disgusted. What do I remember about that concert? The player.
A few weeks later, I attended a concert by an internationally-known string quartet with a very fine pianist, highly acclaimed in our region. I had been anticipating this program with pleasure, too: Haydn, Janacek, Franck. Throughout the fine program, I was struck by how the music always was in the forefront, and the performers, though energetic and fully engaged, never put themselves forward as “performers.” They were of the music, and in the music, and making the music, but they were not the music. There were no superfluous gestures, no grimaces, nothing to say “Watch ME!” What I heard was the composers’ music, beautifully and honestly and professionally played. That was sufficient. It was wholly satisfying. What do I recall about that concert? The music.