So I went to my fourth or fifth music department concert. I never go to a concert without gaining new insights. This was seven music students, grad students I believe though there could have been an undergraduate in there, playing seven sonatas by Beethoven, as part of a series where they will play all of them. It lasted almost three hours, from 2:30 to 5:15 on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. In attendance were a few friends of the musicians and some representatives of the generation who frequent classical music events: those over 70.
They were playing different pieces, but they also sounded different stylistically. The first woman, who was blind, had an emotional immediacy to her playing. The last one had a beautiful cantabile feeling. The guy who played the appassionata was very good if a bit more bombastic. He was the only non-Chinese or Chinese American player of the bunch. Another sounded more Neo-classical, etc... Some were as different from each other as a piece of hard wood and a supple leather belt.
This was a bit of reality check for me. I have a good idea that I am still on the other side of mediocrity from these players, but even mediocrity seems well out of my reach today. Another insight is that getting better is about gaining access to more repertory instead of being stuck to a narrow set of pieces that happen to be within my grasp now.
I also saw a percussion concert the other day. There was a piece by Cage on some Conga drums, which was ok, but some of the other pieces were really interesting. I had the insight that composing for percussion allows for a whole nother set of sensibilities to come out.