Andreas Peer Kähler. For the Performer

ANDREAS PEER KÄHLER | Berlin

The confrontation with Pärt’s music can be compared to making an oath of disclosure.

Pärt himself says of his compositional point of departure, “It’s enough to play just one note beautifully,” and this applies doubly to interpretation. Here “playing beautifully” means nothing less than “perfectly.” Thus those whose first encounter with Pärt’s music is based on its disarmingly simple notation will find themselves confronted with much they have not yet mastered. Suddenly, the regularity of up and down strokes, control of vibrato, changes in bowing or strings, and other aspects become fundamental problems.

Pärt’s music does not call for virtuosity behind which one can hide shortcomings in technique or musicality – no exaggerated use of vibrato can replace precise intonation based on the mathematical regularities of the overtone system, or cover up the resulting irregularities. No standardized “espressivo” can replace the feeling of veracity and responsibility which the performer must develop – here and now – for each and every note. The picture of Saint Christopher comes to mind, who applied his intelligence and strength to much more difficult tasks than carrying a small child across a river – a task at which he almost failed … Interpreting the 18-minute-long “Silentium,” the second movement of Tabula rasa, for example, is an experience no performer can easily forget: eighteen minutes of quiet notes of differing lengths, consisting only of seven different pitches within the aeolian mode based on D – all this without a single change in tempo, volume or character can only lead the performer into heaven or despair … It is just such an experience that is usually ignored in regular musical circumstances (including training!), in which we stand naked as before our Creator …

If we are not scared away by such exposure, then the confrontation with Arvo Pärt can even cleanse our approach to music in general: a scale is suddenly no longer something to be taken for granted, it becomes a conscious experience of climbing and falling; and the faded supermarket and pop triad suddenly becomes a dome of sound, in which three individual notes completely abandon their individuality in favour of a higher order. The medieval or Renaissance musician may have harboured a natural awe for these phenomena – for the listener today, it is nothing less than the rediscovery of them. Finally, what could be more beautiful for a performer than to enrich his own ability to listen and experience music by virtue of his own efforts?


Translation: Robert Lindell