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Monday, Aug 31, 2009
by PopMatters Staff
by Alex Ross
The New Yorker (31 August 2009)

“The art of embellishment—improvising cadenzas, adding ornaments, taking other opportunities for creativity in performance—is a hot topic in classical music these days. For generations, conservatories preached absolute fidelity to the score: do what the composer wrote and nothing more. The problem is that the scores of prior eras can leave quite a bit to the performer’s imagination, and the earlier the piece the sparser the notation. Modern musicians specializing in the Renaissance and the Baroque have led the way in looking beyond the printed page: the great viol player Jordi Savall improvises heavily in his appearances with Hespèrion XXI, and Richard Egarr, in a new recording of Handel’s organ concertos, responds imaginatively to passages marked “ad libitum.” The notion of adding unwritten material to Classical and Romantic works is more outré, especially in instrumental music, but it is gaining ground. At this summer’s Mostly Mozart Festival, both the pianist Robert Levin and the violinist Joshua Bell presented their own cadenzas, giving spark to what might have been routine events.”


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