Artistic Individualism / by Jeannine Cook

Last night, the 2010 Savannah Music Festival opened with a wonderful celebration. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, directed by Robert Spano, played Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 - lifting hearts and expanding minds. The second half of the programme opened with a flutter of anticipation because Lang Lang, slender and youthful, came out on stage to play Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor.

As he played, I was fascinated at his butterfly approach to the delicacy and complexity of Chopin's ravishingly beautiful music. His lightness of touch and sensitivity to the nuances in the music made me think back to other pianists whom I have heard interpret this Concerto. Lang Lang has a very different approach, I decided, and his individualistic approach made me feel that Chopin would be very gratified at this interpretation. Essentially music suitable for a younger pianist, I would argue, this Concerto allowed Lang Lang to show his own understanding of Chopin's musical record of his infatuation for a fellow student at the Warsaw Conservatory, Constantia Gladkowska.

As I listened with delight to the music, I could not help thinking about the aspects of any artist's individualism, in any discipline. A musician has to hew to the notes written by the composer, but the interpretation is his or her own in terms of emotion infused into those notes, in conjunction with the other musicians and orchestra director. A visual artist has another task in terms of defining individualism: first the concept and execution of an artwork has to come from within that artist. Only after creation of the piece of art can a viewer appreciate the individuality of that piece and hence the hallmark of the artist. Perhaps, in fact, the visual artist has the easier task, for the musician has to work within much narrower confines to define his or her essential artistry.

Lang Lang's wonderful technical and interpretive skills, complemented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's superb playing, allowed Savannah to glory in great musical beauty last night.