“The real dignity of the virtuoso rests solely on the dignity he is able to preserve for creative art; if he trifles and toys with this, he casts his honour away. He is the intermediary of the artistic idea” [Richard Wagner]
I like this quote because it talks about the junction point, in which we, as instrumentalists, are facing the danger of becoming, well, instruments. Like a pair of monitors – playing the music, but not being truly inside it – thus losing the art. I also find the typical Wagnerian tone rather amusing – talking about dignity and honour being jeopardised… a fair amount of drama and arrogance.
In any case, the great thing about virtuosos (though not exactly surprising), is that they are often generally talented in playing instruments, and so there are many virtuosos who are actually multi-instrumentalists. Rostropovich, perhaps the most famous cellist of all times, is just one example. He was also a pianist and a conductor:
The obvious thing to do if you are a multi-instrumentalist is to create a way in which you can play all your instruments at the same time.
The one and only Barbara Hannigan, does this in the most astonishing way. Her breath-taking multitasking performance feels almost like a circus. She is a soprano singer who could have easily “settled” on a big solo career, yet she decided to combine another instrument – conducting (counts as an instrument, I believe) – at the same time.
It is innovative and original because nowadays nobody expects the soloist to conduct (unless we are talking about early-music performance), and definitely not when the soloist is a singer. It is creative because there are almost no examples of such a phenomenon, and for sure not at this level.
Barbara Hannigan sings conducts and acts – all of which, she does amazingly. More importantly, her multitasking, aside of being incredibly impressive, brings new levels of depth to each of her acts, while the combination brings new meanings to the work of a performer.
I saw her perform Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre (probably one of her most famous acts) live in Lucerne Festival last summer. Even though I watched this on YouTube countless times prior to that concert, I couldn’t believe my ears (or my eyes):
Next on this list –
Valentin Garvie of the praised Ensemble Modern. Another example of creativity meeting multitasking, in a way nobody expected.
And last (for today), as the titled promised –
a private association to Wagner’s take on virtuosity:
Speaking of Wagner, when I think of Gesamtkunstwerk, I think of a One Man Marching Band: the artist is a composer, a virtuoso, an inventor, a mechanic, a designer, an actor –
embracing sound and visuals in a live performance.
A multi-instrumentalist on a multitasking machine.
Building such a machine should definitely start from a messy garage full of junk and strange pieces (and strange people):