Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Little Bell Busk Redux

After the Joshua Bell busking story swept the classical blogosphere, this English repeat of the experiment seems to have attracted much less attention. Maybe it's that Tasmin Little isn't as well-known as Bell, but probably it's just that the idea's already been played out. Apparently, several other British papers were/are thinking about doing the same thing, but I'm not sure there's much more to say. To me, the great joke of the whole Bell thing is that he got more attention for not being noticed than he usually gets for being a great violinist.

I'd say that both the Joyce Hatto and the Joshua Bell stories have basically the same moral: context makes a huge difference. Hatto's recordings (all made by other pianists) received extra acclaim because of the powerful centripetal* force of her "biography"; Bell's playing was mostly ignored because the unwashed masses were unaware of his glittering biography - and because he didn't know how to busk.

This depressingly cynical little item from Soho the Dog+ suggests that much audience reception is based on a sort of confidence game in which listeners are manipulated into believing they're having an authentic experience. I don't really agree with this extreme sociological point-of-view, but HattoBell shows that there's some truth there. Certainly, the authentic performance practice movement has gotten a lot of mileage out of this trick.

    * Yes, I originally used the word centrifugal, until realizing I meant the opposite; thus, the edit.
    + Also, in reading the final paragraph above, I realize it looks as if Soho the Dog (Matthew Guerrieri) is the one being cynical. It's actually an article to which he refers which cynically examines the marketing of Chicago Blues to tourists. It's easy for any of us to be cynical about marketing, and rightly so, but I didn't mean to suggest that Guerrieri's entire outlook towards audiences is so negative.

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