The Through Line


classicalmusicThe Minnesota Orchestra performs once again on the Orchestra Hall stage, still enjoying superb acoustics in the auditorium.  Minnesota Public Radio has returned to its regular Minnesota Orchestra broadcast schedule, airing the Friday night concerts live.  If you cannot attend in person, you can listen online at classicalmpr.org.  Last night, I listened to the concert on my radio.  I was especially interested in hearing the latest piano phenom, Daniil Trifonov, winner of the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition and only 22 years old.  (What was I doing at 22?  Not competing in beastly difficult piano competitions!)

The concerto Trifonov played with the Minnesota Orchestra (conducted adequately by Michael Christie) was the beloved Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  I know this music really well.  As I listened to Trifonov, I found myself thinking of “through lines,” the melodic or harmonic threads that provide dramatic momentum to a piece of music vs. the flash and dash stuff for which Rachmaninoff is justly famous.  His piano concertos are beasts.  I heard a rumor once that Rachmaninoff himself was in fear of his own Third Piano Concerto.

Through lines, when found and played well, give balance to the four plus voices the pianist plays.  When the through lines are clear, it’s a sign the pianist has worked hard on the piece, given the voices a great deal of thought, and that work gives the music coherence for the listener.  The challenge with Rachmaninoff for pianists is balancing the flash and dash stuff with the through line, keeping all the voices clear (they can get muddy very fast), and illuminating the composer’s meaning in the music.  Rachmaninoff, like any masterful composer, likes to play rhythmically, dynamically and harmonically with through lines.  So the pianist has a semi-truck full of work to do to prepare a Rachmaninoff concerto.

Writers, like composers, also write through lines in their stories.  They provide the dramatic momentum, the depth and breadth to the plot and reside often in character motivation or desire.  Sometimes the through line is thematic or symbolic, however.  One of the things I checked for in each revision of Perceval’s Secret was the through line attached to Evan Quinn, that I didn’t lose it somehow.   I want readers to follow Evan through the story, to learn from his motivation and his experience as well as be entertained.  It is a part of the craft of writing that’s important to structure, story, and character.

Rachmaninoff, like any skilled writer, wrote the through line into his Second Concerto.  He did his job.  It’s now up to the musicians, especially the piano soloist, to find it and never lose it during a performance.  I’ve learned that the younger the pianist, the higher the chance that a through line will be dropped often throughout a performance in favor of the flash and dash stuff.  The balance will be off.  In that regard, Daniil Trifonov did not disappointment.  I noticed it almost immediately: here was a young pianist who has yet to acquire the life experience for him to understand balance and through lines.  There’s no doubt he has the technique for the flash and dash stuff, and I’d say, potential to develop into a fine pianist.

Daniil Trifonov (Photo: trifonov.us)

Daniil Trifonov (Photo: trifonov.us)

I’ve received the epub proof of Perceval’s Secret to review and, I hope, approve quickly.  I will once again be checking for Evan’s through line….

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