Attempt at a catalogue of life-altering musical moments.
In the summer of 1995, I traveled around Europe, covering music festivals for the New York Times. It was my first trip to the classical homeland, and I had some sort of epiphany every other hour. One major experience was Gidon Kremer's chamber-music festival in the tiny Austrian village of Lockenhaus. I stayed in a castle that had been converted into an inn; next to my room were a vintage torture chamber and an equally disturbing hall of antlers. Kremer, violinist of genius, followed his usual practice of deciding the programs only at the last minute. One day, a “Mystery Konzert” was announced for midnight. I didn’t think many people would show up, but the village church was full. At the witching hour, Kremer emerged with a pianist, a cellist, and three percussionists to play a chamber arrangement of Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony. Even in its usual guise, the Fifteenth is a monumentally eerie work — Shostakovich’s farewell to symphonic form, his serenade to all musical history. But in that ghostly, stripped-down version, at that hour of the night, in that remote place, it became a borderline religious experience of the kind described by William James (“giving your little private convulsive self a rest”). I remember not just the performance itself but the silence that surrounded it: a rich, resonant silence, which only deepened when I began walking in the moonlight back to the castle. Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica will play this same work at Zankel Hall next season, on May 3; if it is one-quarter as intense as the Lockenhaus performance, it will be one of the best concerts of the year.