I have been thinking of the basics of interpretation a lot recently. You sometimes hear the argument: “better be original”, meaning that originality should be the first and foremost quality in your musical activities, be it choice of repertoire or your way of playing. While I'm more inclined to agree with this in regard to the choice of repertoire, I'm a bit suspect when it comes to the question of interpreting your piece of music. And yes, before you put me off as an utterly conservative, narrow-minded jerk lacking any imagination, hold on! It might not quite be the agenda I'm trying to put on you now...
If you ask me, being original is the first prerequisite to create art at all! Now the question here is, what do you mean by originality? Everyone of us is a unique blend of different traits and energies, which make our so called “personality”. If we play our music as naturally and lively as we speak, we will automatically project that unique blend to our environment, thus being original interpreters. But far more often originality is being understood as an attempt to be different from all others, no matter how. This, again, very often results in various kind of mannerisms that have little to do with the vision that the composer wanted to convey to the audience. In fact, you could compare mannerisms in classical music to the stage show in pop and rock, which has become an art form itself. Only with the difference that there, the show is being managed by an army of dedicated people and not by the artist alone. And it's carried out systematically and in a convincing way.
So what should an individual classical artist do to remain “interesting” and to “stand out of the crowd”? Think again what I said earlier: project that unique blend to the audience. The real challenge here is the strength of the projection! And to project, we must know exactly what to project. Imagine a guy at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, shouting out loud all kinds of nonsense. Not really a way to make the next prime minister... The solution then? To go into depth and get more and more conscious of those undersurface currents that make our moods. For there, we'll find the aggregates that electrify our performance (or not!)
Being in touch with your inner currents (call it “soul” or whatever) has yet another advantage: your playing will never be quite the same, because you're not quite the same today as yesterday. Whereas all those yellow stickers put onto your interpretation tend to stagnate your way of making music, because they were born dead anyway, apart from the vital source of creation.
And the strength of the projection then? Take Ray Brown's word: “Never Stop Practising!”