Houston Symphony Magazine From the Orchestra February 2011

On behalf of the musicians of the Houston Symphony, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Jones Hall and this exciting month of concerts. In addition to Beethoven and Dvorak’s great seventh symphonies and the fiery Spanish works of Ravel, this month also brings a visit from world renowned violinist and orchestra favorite, Gil Shaham. In 2004, Gil founded his own record label, Canary Classics, during a time of major upheaval in the recording industry. The technological advances that make it possible for Gil to run his own label allow him to record the repertoire he wants -- in the way he wants -- and the results have had great critical and commercial success. I had the great pleasure of joining Gil in his first release, The Fauré Album, and Frank Huang joins Gil on his most recent Mendelssohn Octet release. Considering the recent changes in the business led me to reflect on how recordings have changed our conception of what music is.

Before the era of recording, Bach and Haydn wrote music intended for use in a single performance and it’s unique audience -- listening to music was inseparable from live performance. The first recordings miraculously allowed music to be heard without musicians present and therefore provided people new access to music. As early recordings could not be edited, what the listener heard was still similar to a live performance. With the introduction of tape and editing in the 1940s, there began a slow change from the idea of a recording as a souvenir of a live performance to a perfected testament for the ages (much as Beethoven and the Romantic composers began writing works with an eye to posterity as well as the present day.) For the last 50 years, the modern studio recording has involved multiple takes and splices, all of which help achieve a beautifully perfect product but can also interrupt the natural spontaneity and flow of the performance; more like filming a movie than acting in a play.

At the same time, the increase in availability of recordings has changed music from a special event to an omnipresent part of our lives. Everywhere we go, music bombards us: in cars, on the telephone, in stores and elevators. Imagine if commercial buildings were wallpapered with reproductions of Miró's and Picassos- how quickly we could become desensitized! I love recordings and the chance they afford for me to hear things I never otherwise could. It's fantastic that we can hear music anywhere, and that all the music of the world is easily available online. However, the hyper-availability of music has ultimately brought us back to a time when the concert is once again something unique in our lives; A time when we put aside the chaos of our daily lives and gather together in real life, as part of a community, to surrender our souls to art. And for the musicians, a time when we worry not about perfection, but about communicating to our audience in the brief moment that we share. Thank you for joining us.