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'Someday Baby', Bob Dylan, Khathia Buniatishvili and WTF Does It Means to be Talented?

By Thomas Swan t.swan@classicalite.com on Jan 21, 2016 04:08 AM EST
Bob Dylan (Photo : Photo by Val Wilmer/Redferns))

Bob Dylan's "Someday Baby" hits the radio and it is a good little song. Off The Modern Times album, it suffices. It's obvious talent fades with age and beautiful, right? Gone is the god who blew the world asunder with the Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde album. He let go of what made him Bob Dylan. Is this typical with others? Two classical pianists of note, Georgian-born Khatia Buniastishvili, and Ukrainian-born Valentina Listisa, continue to frustrate critics with the way they interpret the sacred classics, which have been trodden on so much they have almost become derivative. Are they failing their talent? What does it mean to be talented anyway?

Art is a business but it also is a form of personal expression. There was a time in history, back before the dawning of the horseless carriage, that sentences in literature could sprawl on longer than the state of Nebraska or a Marvel movie. Not today. Sentences stop. Quickly. Can't carry on too long. Your editor may go postal. Or take away the publishing button. The truest talent is to avoid the deadly serpents of expectation and irrellevancy. Talent lies in the art of perception.

There are two type of performers, artists and attention seekers. Khatia Buniatishvili is quite beautiful. She dresses, for what the classical world might think, somewhat provocatively. Andrew Clements, reviewer for The Guardian online lamented the Georgian-born pianist's "rash, immature" playing during a recent concert. To quote Mr.Clements, "There's no doubting Khatia Buniatishvili's talent. The Georgian pianist has an imposing technique at her disposal and, when she puts her mind to it, the ability to produce moments of insight and refined sensibility." So, essentially, she doesn't interpret the music like Glenn Gould? Does that make her less talented than Gould? It does if Khatia is to carry Gould's message, trying to speak in his voice with his piano phrasings.

Talent is a manifestation, not a solidified object. We each form it to our individuality. What I am telling you now I sure as hell hope I am not saying a year from now. That is why films and records are made, to capture a snapshot of the artist's mind. In his Rolling Stone review for Dylan's 1970 album Self Portrait,when Greil Marcus famously asked, "What is this shit?" he not only immortalized a bad album, but immortalized himself. He shocked the journalistic world by asking a very unprofessional and somewhat rude question. In the annals of literature committed to paper "What is this shit?" won't stand the course of time but Greil Marcus, as a Rock critic, as a literary talent for his time frame, will. Talent isn't always clean and eloquent.

So, what the f*ck is talent? Merriam-Webster defines talent as "a special ability that allows someone to do something well." According to Mr. Clements, one could interpret her talent as her ability, her technique she uses to play music, not to create it. But Khatia is up there creating and Jane Doe, who utilizes the same technique, works in a factory or did a couple of performances and faded off into the sunset.

Another reviewer lamented Ukrainian pianist, Valentina Lisitsa's interpretation of Beethoven's Piano Sonata In D Minor Op. 31 No. 2 "The German composer's works require the utmost discipline in tempi, but Lisitsa's penchant for brushing aside the inner details of phrases and always being ahead of the pulse threatened to derail the performance." Discipline is an inherited skill. It flies in the face of Merriam-Webster's very definition of talent. It's a socialist word, no discrimination or distinction. Everyone with half a brain could play it. That is not talent.

No one is born talented. They are infected by it. It spreads throughout their body and possesses their very soul. If you want to see it, watch Valentina and Khatia when they sit behind the piano. Watch what happens when they strike the first chord. It is also fickle. It can never be weighed, measured or summoned in the same dosage every single time. Sometimes, it is a trickster. It convinces you that one thing is better than another.

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TagsBob Dylan, Khatia Buniatishvili, Valentina Lisitsa, Talent and Critics, Singers and Pianists

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