I’ve been giving this one a lot of thought recently. A month ago, I had dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time. He surprised me by saying he’d taken up classical guitar. He played a few pieces for me and I was, indeed, impressed by his hard work and his progress. The pieces he played were all studies written by someone I don’t know of and were very modern sounding….that is to say, dissonant, not particularly melodic, lacking rhythm or swing in any obvious way. He asked me to play a few and I sight-read them. They were somewhat challenging, very playable, really. I found them unsatisfying. Why?

Another of Maestro Albert Bellson’s memorable quotes was to “always find the music.” Find the music. It seems to me that this is critically important: Find the Music! That can be difficult to do.

I remember struggling with a Bach cello suite transcription some years ago—I could play all the notes but they just seemed like notes going nowhere. Then I happened to hear Yoyo Ma (on the radio) playing the very same piece. It just opened up like a flower; the melody was so exquisite, so inevitable, so perfect. After that, it was easy to “find the music.”

I believe one’s performance must embrace the listener; we must share our intention, our understanding, our depth of feeling—this is what gives impact to our art. Approaching a modern, dissonant work presents challenges; it also offers big rewards. We need to fearlessly, intrepidly seek out the music: then, only then,can we put it across.