Performance / Research Series: The Emancipated Performer (Paulo de Assis)

  • Guildhall School Silk Street London, England, EC2Y United Kingdom

6pm, Monday 28th November, 2016, Lecture Recital Room, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DT

The half-day event will include a Research Masterclass, from 3 - 5pm (scroll down for details)

'The Emancipated Performer: Musical Renderings Beyond Interpretation' (GSMD ResearchWorks Series)

Dr. Paulo de Assis (Orpheus Institute, Ghent; Visiting Fellow, Cambridge Centre for Musical Performance Studies)


A close historical survey reveals that the notion of ‘musical interpretation’ was born only in the course of the nineteenth century, bound to a specific set of new rules, constraints and expectations. Other words and other practices were in use before its appearance, and other terms and praxes might emerge in the future. This talk will offer a brief overview of
the terms used in the past and propose new ones for the future. Situating the discourse in a post-interpretive horizon of possibilities, it will argue for an emancipated, liberated and creative mode of performing musical objects from the past.

More specifically, Paulo de Assis will present his ongoing, European-funded research project MusicExperiment21, focusing on the subproject Diabelli Machines – a series of performances, lectures, articles or installations that operate different forms of problematisation of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations Op. 120. Every single instantiation of this subproject questions the original work, cracking it from inside, disclosing its ruptures, and reconfiguring it in a different regime of perception and signification.
Beyond historiographical, philological, organological or sociological investigations, it aims at creatively yet rigorously engaging with the historically available materials related to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and its compossible futures.

So far, the Diabelli Machines has had seven instantiations, including collaborations with the ORCiM-ensemble, Hermes Ensemble, Ensemble Interface and ME21 Collective, with seven young composers (Juan Parra, Lucia D’Errico, Tiziano Manca, David Gorton, Hans Roels, Bart Vanhecke, Paolo Galli), Swiss choreographer Kurt Dreyer, and a number of special guests such as Valentin Gloor, Catherine Laws, Stefan Östersjö, William Brooks, Benjamin Widmer and Mieko Kanno. All versions are documented at

Organised in conjunction with the Cambridge Centre for Musical Performance Studies and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

For further information and booking details, please visit: and

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Research Masterclass for Doctoral and Master's Students

Sponsored by the Cambridge Centre for Musical Performance Studies, Institute of Musical Research, and Guildhall School of Music & Drama

3 to 5 pm, Monday 28 November 2016

Lecture Recital Room, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, London


A new series of 'Research Masterclasses' is being launched for music postgraduates, especially those working in practice-based research and in performance studies. The first event in the series will be held on Monday 28 November. The class will be led by Paulo de Assis (ERC Principal Investigator, Orpheus Institute; Visiting Fellow, Cambridge Centre for Musical Performance Studies) and will feature the work of two students:
Naomi Woo (University of Cambridge) and Louise Cournarie (Royal Academy of
Music). Their abstracts are given below. Each of them will give a presentation of approximately 20 minutes, after which Dr de Assis will work with them along the lines of a more conventional masterclass.

Music postgraduates at any institution are welcome to attend, but a place (free of charge) must be requested in advance by writing to

The next Research Masterclass will take place on Monday 27 February 2017 and
will be led by Professor Mieko Kanno (Sibelius Academy). Details will be
circulated in due course.

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Impossibilities of and in performance: an exploration of John Cage's Etude Australe VIII

Naomi Woo, University of Cambridge

Of his collection of Etudes Australes (1974), John Cage famously claimed: 'These are intentionally as difficult as I can make them, because I think we're now surrounded by very serious problems in the society, and we think that the situation is hopeless and that it's just impossible to do something that will make everything turn out properly. So I think that this music, which is almost impossible, gives an instance of the practicality of the impossible.' Cage's reflection is geared towards the audience, and the intended utopian effect that these works might have on their listeners. Nonetheless, this effect itself is inherently dependent on the performer. After all, possibility is a constraint that relies on the contingencies of a particular performer's body. This project explores how the 'impossible' manifests from the perspective of the pianist in Cage's Etude Australe VIII.
Is the piece impossible, and if so, how? While the impossibility might easily be passed off as a nonsensical paradox (by performing an impossible piece, it becomes possible), I suggest-following Eldritch Priest's discussions of 'the aesthetics of failure'-that there is an aesthetic of the impossible that exists outside of these paradoxical loops. Using
demonstrations at the piano, I will examine some of the specific challenges that Cage poses for the performer. In particular, I will focus on disjunctures between score and gesture, the coordination (and lack thereof) between the hands, and on the role of indeterminacy and the kinds of impossibility that each of these challenges suggest.


Baroque keyboard repertoire translated to the modern piano

Louise Cournarie, Royal Academy of Music

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century keyboard repertoire seems to have become forbidden for modern pianists. When facing this music, pianists either completely transform their playing in order to come closer to what they think would be more appropriate, or choose not to play early music, leaving this entire repertoire in the hands of harpsichordists. Only Bach and maybe Scarlatti appear to escape this categorisation, probably due to well-known recordings of this repertoire by pianists such as Gould or Horowitz, whose performances became a kind of reference point. The few brave pianists
attempting to play works by Rameau, Duphly, Purcell or Handel on modern instruments will certainly attract criticism and sometimes even the anger of many people in the name of 'authenticity'. This concept appears to be largely considered as the unique guarantor of the quality of a performance, such that 'historically correct interpretations' are sometimes sought rather than emotion and beauty.

But does the simple fact of performing this repertoire on a period instrument guarantee authenticity? Is authenticity the unique goal when playing this repertoire? And how could we convincingly perform this repertoire on modern piano? These questions will be broached in my presentation and the demonstrations accompanying it.