I went to a concert tonight by Steven Chiu, a fabulously talented pianist. He was introduced by two executives from different parts of Yamaha America, who both congratulated him on his 25th year of loyal service to Yamaha of America Inc. as a musician/brand-ambassador, and emphasized that he would be playing the Yamaha Disklavier Mark IV, or something to that effect.
Disklavier is Yamaha’s fancy player-piano brand, which was described in some detail in the program. Chiu is a great showman, balancing impeccable performance with a dash of showmanship. His grand finale tonight was a Chopin rondo for two pianos … both played by himself. One piano ran in play-mode, playing back a performance he had recorded earlier in a studio, complete with synchronized video on a projector. The other, he played live. The result was effective and impressive, particular given the need to maintain precise synchronization with a recording that is not listening to match his tempo.
On the one hand, anyone (and especially an engineer) can appreciate the technical and musical achievement required to pull off this kind of performance. On the other hand, by literally replacing himself with a machine, Chiu raises some existential questions about the whole notion of live musical performance. If the recording sounds just as good … what’s the point of a recital?