June 21, 2005 | Permalink
by Alex Ross
The New Yorker, June 27, 2005.
Some of the most compelling film music of the past year appeared not on the big screen but on the small one. Michael Giacchino’s score for the TV show “Lost”—the tale of several dozen plane-crash survivors marooned on a vaguely supernatural, “Tempest”-like island—has unsettled millions of American viewers with an eerie array of orchestral sounds: fluttery four-note figures, shivery tones produced by bowing strings near the bridge, nasty glissandos on the trombone, and, at moments of maximum tension, a low plucked note on the harp. According to convention, harps are called upon to herald angels or other vessels of goodness. Giacchino makes the instrument gaunt and deathly, much as Mahler did in the last song of “Das Lied von der Erde.” In general, Giacchino has done such a bang-up job of generating menace that the scriptwriters may have a hard time satisfying the expectations that he has created. Something mighty grim will have to crawl out of that lush jungle in order to justify those twangs of terror.
Composers usually enter the filmmaking process late in the game. They’re given a few weeks to add music to the mix, often under strict instructions as to mood and style; they’re essentially applying a finishing coat of aural stimulus. But music can do much more than echo the action on the screen. It can evoke hidden lives, unknown destinies, unseen histories, forgotten voices. The greatest filmmakers have all understood the complicating significance of music, and one measure of their greatness is their willingness to delegate power to composers. When Eisenstein made “Alexander Nevsky” and “Ivan the Terrible,” he had Prokofiev as his house composer, and he would sometimes wait until Prokofiev had finished a certain segment before filming the corresponding scene. He wanted to chain the camera to the notes. Orson Welles followed Eisenstein’s practice on “Citizen Kane,” hiring the young New York composer Bernard Herrmann. For the final sequence of the film, which shows the destruction of Rosebud in the fireplace of Kane’s castle, Welles had Herrmann’s cue playing on the set. He later said that the score was fifty per cent responsible for the film’s success.
Music can take control of the image; it can also suggest a world separate from the image, or expose the image as a lie. Shortly after sound came in, Eisenstein and other Soviet directors wrote a manifesto declaring that soundtracks should create “sharp discord” with the visual dimension, in order to cultivate critical thinking on the part of the audience. (That’s not quite what Stalin had in mind, of course.) One early illustration of the practice was Shostakovich’s 1929 score for “The New Babylon,” a story of the Paris Commune. At the end, when the Communards are killed by a firing squad, Shostakovich responds not with a tragic utterance but with a distorted version of Offenbach’s Can-Can. Giacchino’s music for “Lost,” in its own non-Marxist way, plays this same game of estrangement. Dispatching the ghosts of Schoenberg, Xenakis, and other twentieth-century sonic terrorists into an island paradise, it touches on the universal modern suspicion that surfaces are not what they seem, that the center does not hold, that it ain’t necessarily so.
When the images themselves are terrifying, music can bring about an even trickier reversal, providing ironic reassurance or genuine compassion. Stanley Kubrick’s decision to play “We’ll Meet Again” over a montage of nuclear annihilation at the end of “Dr. Strangelove” is one famous example; another is Oliver Stone’s use of Barber’s velvety “Adagio for Strings” over scenes of carnage in “Platoon.” Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, in their score for the new Gregg Araki film “Mysterious Skin,” do something wholly unexpected: as a horrendous story of child abuse in a Kansas town unfolds, the music sways toward a state of irrational bliss, as if to numb the pain. Music, in these cases, doesn’t show the image as a lie; instead, it is itself the lie we tell ourselves in order to survive.
Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series recently presented a mini-festival titled Sound Projections, in which live ensembles played alongside silent movies, both classic and modern. The series began with a vintage radical Soviet film, Vsevolod Pudovkin’s “The End of St. Petersburg,” for which Alfred Schnittke supplied a score in 1992. Pudovkin was one of the directors who had argued for freethinking musical narratives in film, and it was fitting that Schnittke, the master surrealist of late-twentieth-century music, should have subverted Pudovkin’s story of the education of a Bolshevik hero with all manner of brooding ostinatos, kitschy digressions, and anarchic pileups of tunes. The Asko Ensemble gave a committed, demented performance. The Ensemble Intercontemporain, from Paris, one-upped them by presenting Benedict Mason’s 1988 score “ChaplinOperas,” a kaleidoscopic companion piece for three classic Chaplin silents. It’s a dazzling, dizzying, ultimately wearying exercise in free association, as chaotic in technique as Chaplin’s films are clean.
The Lincoln Center series culminated in a blast of Glass: “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Powaqqatsi,” and “Naqoyqatsi,” a trilogy of documentary film fantasias conceived by Godfrey Reggio and scored by Philip Glass. (The live performances were courtesy of the Philip Glass Ensemble.) The titles are Hopi Indian words approximately meaning “life out of balance,” “life in transformation,” and “life as war”: the aim is to see human civilization in its mundane entirety, without reference to politics, culture, or history. There is no dialogue or plot; scenes of high-tech American cities, poverty-stricken Third World streets, frenzied factories, and empty canyons unfold in dreamlike motion. The images are sometimes sped up and sometimes slowed down. Humanity comes off as an insectoid species, though not without certain redeeming features. Glass’s trademark arpeggios and carved-in-granite chords generate a ritualistic, vaguely ancient air, circling back, time and again, to an abiding sadness.
“Koyaanisqatsi,” which was shot during the nineteen-seventies and released in 1983, is the masterpiece in the series, and a singular event in film history. There is no more potent example of a score dominating a film. The relationship between filmmaker and composer extended Eisenstein’s ideal to the nth degree: Glass watched the footage and wrote some music, Reggio and his editors listened to the music and reworked the footage, and the process went on until the appearance of fusion was total. In an interview that accompanies the “Koyaanisqatsi” DVD, Glass provides his own eloquent definition of the film-music art: he calls it “observing accurately the distance between the image and the music.” In other words, instead of trying to make image and music serve the same ends, you play one against the other, letting the disparity become an emotional experience in itself.
Glass’s solutions to the challenge of “Koyaanisqatsi” are riveting. The opening is famous and majestic: a deep bass voice chants the title phrase in monotone while an electric organ turns slow pinwheels above it. As the camera of Ron Fricke, the cinematographer, floats across immense Western landscapes, a flute plays a lonely figure in open intervals, perhaps in tribute to the prairie music of Copland; then the bass chant returns, sounding very much like a sad, angry god. A later sequence, devoted to various forms of transportation, dwells for a long time on slow-motion footage of a jumbo jet taxiing on a tarmac. Glass responds to this grungy image with music of exhilarating quickness and lightness, high female voices predominating. In later sections, Glass abandons his attitude of cosmic detachment and picks up the racing rhythms of Fricke’s cinematography. To depict the decay and destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, in St. Louis, the composer writes a monstrous neo-Baroque moto perpetuo, which, as the buildings fall, devolves into nothing more than descending scales. (This footage has become more haunting with time; Minoru Yamasaki, who designed Pruitt-Igoe, was also the architect of the World Trade Center.) During the twenty-minute frenzy titled “The Grid”—crowds swirling, traffic churning, televisions flickering, hot dogs and Hostess Twinkies being exgurgitated from production lines—Glass and his musicians become manic machines, firing off notes like so many 0s and 1s. The distance between sound and image disappears, and the viewer is left with little space in which to think or breathe.
When I saw “Koyaanisqatsi” in college, I dismissed it as a trippy, slick, MTV-ish thing, to which some well-meaning soul had attached hippie messages about the mechanization of existence and the spoliation of the planet. At Lincoln Center, I understood it as something else altogether—an awesomely dispassionate vision of the human world, beautiful and awful in equal measure. What made the difference, apart from the fact that I was no longer a facile collegiate ironist, was the experience of hearing the music live, with Kurt Munkacsi’s sound design adding heft and definition to every gesture. For all the deliberate coldness of some of Glass’s writing, “Koyaanisqatsi” is deeply expressive; its blistering virtuosity is often the only sign of emotional life on display, excepting a few wan smiles on the faces of pedestrians who hurry through Times Square.
“Powaqqatsi” and “Naqoyqatsi,” the sequels, don’t match the force of the original, though they are absorbing throughout. Glass supplies many passages of cool, aching beauty, but the urgent side of his early style, the technique of eviscerating repetition, is diminished. As a whole, the trilogy mimics the uneven shape of the composer’s career, which has ranged from achievements of staggering originality (“Music in Twelve Parts,” “Einstein on the Beach,” the Violin Concerto) to statements of baffling neutrality (a world-music cantata entitled “Orion” is the newest instance of the latter). These days, he often seems trapped in his formulas; he writes “Philip Glass music” in place of music that happens to be by Philip Glass. But he has won his place in history, and he may figure out a way to knock us sideways once again.
Still from Koyaanisqatsi, dir. Godfrey Reggio, cinematography by Ron Fricke.
June 20, 2005 | Permalink
David Diamond, who died one day before Carlo Maria Giulini at the age of eighty-nine, was the last faithful representative of the mid-century populist school in American music. I will write about this often fiercely eloquent composer in a future New Yorker; for now, here are links to an obituary by Richard Dyer and to my own 1992 review of Diamond's Eleventh Symphony, which proved to be his final effort in the form.
Update: Lisa Hirsch reminds me that Harold Shapero, composer of a classic mid-century American symphony, is alive and well; Diamond was not the last of the breed. And a reader points out that Robert Ward, composer of The Crucible, has always remained loyal to the populist style, and recently completed his Seventh Symphony.
June 17, 2005 | Permalink
The conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, who died on June 14, gave a rare interview last year to the Orange County Register's Timothy Mangan. It's a touching, revealing piece. To quote: "The memories fade for Giulini, or perhaps he has
chosen to forget. 'With music I have nothing to do anymore,' he says
firmly. Does he like looking back? 'No, I don't want to think back.' But he perks up when Los Angeles is mentioned. 'I heard that they have a new concert hall now, yeah? It's beautiful?' He is touched to find out that his orchestra and listeners still speak of him with admiration. 'They remember me, yes? Ah, thank you, I'm very happy because I also remember this beautiful period that I had....'" By all accounts, Giulini was that rarest of God's creatures, a humble conductor.
"After a slow start, Batman Begins begins — to rock!" — Alex Ross, Syndicated Online Verbiage. Opera fans might be intrigued to know that Boito's Mefistofele figures in the plot of the latest caped caper. A performance of that work so frightens the young Bruce Wayne that he asks his parents to take him home, whereupon they are shot by an economically downtrodden miscreant and a dark destiny takes hold of the child. The score, by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, is a dour, serviceable Philip Glass heavy-metal symphony. Christian Bale isn't quite all that, but he gives good bat.
Robert Sherard, in his biography of Oscar Wilde, remarks that the great cosmopolitan aesthete resembled the actor Henry Irving. When Irving arrived in the United States, he found to his irritation that Americans made much of the resemblance (it was "the only unkind thing" said of him, Irving's biographer stated). At this period, Sherard writes, "Wilde...was still masquerading and mumming; and if there is one person in the world for whom the hardworking and conscientious actor, the sincere artist, has a dislike, it is the man who acts, as an amateur, by grimace and posture on the stage of life." The resemblance became less marked as the years went by, yet the faces merged once again in Sherard's mind when he watched a performance of the Victorian play The Lyons Mail, telling of a real-life Frenchman named Joseph Lesurques who in 1796 was mistaken for a highway robber and beheaded on flimsy evidence. Here Sherard describes Irving's performance of the lead role:
In the scene where Lesurques, having been denounced by the witnesses from the inn, makes his pathetic appeal to one of the women to speak the word which admitting her mistake shall absolve him from the horrible charge which has been brought against him, and the witness turns mournfully but resolutely away, Lesurques' face assumed a look of agony and horror, as the vista of what lay before him opened out—a look in which the blood rushed to the face and made it turgid and vultuous, there was at the same time a distending of the eyeballs, which seemed about to leap from their sockets, a twisting and contortion of the mouth roughly kneaded into a mass of agony by torturing hands, while the face lengthened as though by two crushing and simultaneous blows on each cheek it had been flattened downwards .... At that moment Irving presented the exact facial picture of Oscar Wilde, as looking sideways at the foreman of the jury from his place in the dock in the Old Bailey he listened to the verdict that meant to him ruin, shame, and death.
At the center of the inebriated, phantasmagoric "Circe" chapter of Ulysses is the Trial of Leopold Bloom, in which literature's average man par excellence is accused of all manner of bizarre crimes — of being nothing less than the "archconspirator of the age." This spectacle was probably meant to reflect in part the persecution of the European Jews, a subject that Joyce had pondered as early as 1906, when he was reading tracts on anti-Semitism in Rome. But it also echoes the persecution of Oscar Wilde, at his sodomy trail of 1895. You can find many signs that Joyce was thinking of Wilde when he wrote this scene — for example, the rather campy line "I have moved in the charmed circle of the highest ... Queens of Dublin society" (ellipses are Bloom's own). Then there's a brief reference to The Lyons Mail, and the accusation scene in Sherard's biography (which Joyce owned) provides an interesting subtext for it:
(scared, hats himself, steps back, them, plucking at his heart and lifting his right forearm on the square, he gives the sign and dueguard of fellowcraft) No. no, worshipful master, light of love. Mistaken identity. The Lyons mail. Lesurques and Dubosc. You remember the Childs fratricide case. We medical men. By striking him dead with a hatchet. I am wrongfully accused. Better one guilty escape than ninetynine wrongfully condemned.
The shade of Henry Irving shows up later in "Circe," behind another hallucinatory figure, that of Bloom's sex-obsessed grandfather Lipoti Virag. This apparition enters with Henry Irving's characteristic gait — a sideways movement, often likened to the crawling of a crab. He possesses Irving's spider-like legs and high, nasal voice. He is outfitted in multiple overcoats, which a reminder of Irving's most famous entrance — as the burgomaster Matthias, bundled in fur coat, cap, and muffler, in The Bells. This play, based on a French melodrama The Polish Jew, was Irving's principal vehicle, even more than Hamlet; it first made his reputation in 1871. Matthias is a man haunted by a murder he committed fifteen years before; one Christmas Eve, he hears sleighbells, which remind him of the sound that accompanied his original crime. Like Bloom, he is tormented by hallucinations; they eventually drive him to his death. In the play's extensive dream sequences, an imaginary court summons a mesmerist to draw out Matthias' confession. Matthias conducts his own defense — "is it a crime to dream?" — and, like the character in The Lyons Mail, protests gross injustices and false accusations; but he yields to the prosecution's questions under hypnosis. Here again a man is on trial, except that this time he has actually committed the crime in question. The man he murdered was the Polish Jew of the title. What all this has to do with the cryptic figure of Lipoti Virag is anyone's guess, but it's telling that Joyce should have filigreed his chapter with these stories of grueling trials and unspeakable acts; they seem an essential part of Bloom's frame of reference, his way of living in a politely hostile world.
John Adams' website has a synopsis of Dr. Atomic, his third opera, which will have its premiere at the San Francisco Opera on October 1. Most of the action takes place in the hours leading up to the Trinity atom-bomb test, outside Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. The final line given in the synopsis is "Zero minus one...."
June 11, 2005 | Permalink
A correspondent has skeptically greeted my claim ("The Record Effect" again) that Stravinsky could have listened to Jelly Roll Morton in 1916. He says that there were no Jelly Roll Morton recordings before 1923. (Or 1918, if you believe the artist's own recollections.) My statement was based on the fact that Morton's "'Jelly Roll' Blues" was published in Chicago in 1915. It seemed to me possible that there was a disc of that classic number in circulation, and that Ernest Ansermet brought it back for Stravinsky to hear after a 1916 American tour with the Ballets Russes. Admittedly, there's no evidence of such a recording. It's more likely that Ansermet found some sheet music. In any case, Gabriel Fournier insisted in a 1952 essay on Erik Satie ("Erik Satie et son époque," Revue musicale, June 1952) that Satie was in the habit of playing Jelly Roll Morton during the period in which he wrote Parade (premiered in 1917), and that he obtained the music from the pile of recordings that Ansermet gave to Stravinsky. Certainly there's potential for confusion on the French end of things. For "apparently," read "possibly."
A striking fact emerges from Lawrence Gushee's important new book Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band (Oxford UP). In the year 1916 the Creole Band was spreading the New Orleans sound across America, and in December of that year it opened a run of shows at the Empress theater in Omaha, Nebraska. Opening that same night at the Omaha Auditorium — Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes! The company was on the second leg of its American tour, and the star attraction was Nijinsky's new production of Till Eulenspiegel.
Composer Marcus Maroney is featured in Orchestra of St. Luke's concerts at the Chelsea Art Museum (Saturday) and at Dia:Beacon (Sunday). Program also includes music of David Rakowski, Ingram Marshall, and Anna Weesner.... Please welcome a blog by critic Zachary Lewis.... Bartione Tom Meglioranza is writing a wry, revealing behind-the-scenes account of his progress in the Naumburg competition.
A certain David Byrne has written a long and fascinating response to my "Record Effect" piece on his eponymous website. I'm thoroughly flattered by the attention. In passing, Mr. Byrne calls me a "classical guy" who's broadened his field to include John Cage. Wait, isn't John Cage a "classical guy"? Not to many people in both classical and pop, I suppose. Interesting how certain postwar composers such as John Cage, Stockhausen, and Philip Glass have secured honorary coolness in the pop world, to the point where they are considered "classical guys" no longer — more like kindred spirits on the horizon. The classical world needs to show somehow that all the great composers are kindred spirits. In any case, Mr. Byrne offers many rich thoughts on the changing and multiplying roles of recording in pop. Arresting idea: "When music as a product, as a consumable object, is subverted and undermined by technology and by its own success, then maybe we have come full circle. Maybe if music is no longer seen as an object, but as pure information, data, sound waves, then the object becomes at best a mere delivery device, and we’re back to viewing music as an experience, albeit still one that other people produce."
Also, reader Charles Andrews writes: "The hype around the Edison Tone Tests is not as improbable as it might seem. The Edison Diamond Disk player was a miracle of fidelity. If you've ever heard one of the big ones in good working order, with a clean disk, the sound can be amazingly life-like. It would not surprise me at all if people couldn't tell the difference in a darkened hall, given the right circumstances. The player probably came closer to capturing the live sound of a singer than any other medium before or since. Edison's ideas were really brilliant, and resulted in a remarkable piece of technology." Perhaps the old man wasn't putting us on after all. For more, see Emily Thomspon's excellent article "Machines, Music, and the Quest for Fidelity: Marketing the Edison Phonograph in America, 1877-1925," in The Musical Quarterly, Spring, 1995.
Coming soon, a note on Evan Eisenberg's important book The Recording Angel, newly reissued by Yale University Press.
A call for academic papers on Brad Pitt: "Depicting masculine American whiteness in various states of crisis, his characters generally enact complex postmodern agencies; they are never wholly coherent, they are often self-destructive, and they generally rely on a certain amount of play -- between stability and instability, between life and death, between autonomy and alter-dependency, between control and abandon. Simultaneously reifying and challenging hegemonic codes of race, class, gender, and regional or national identity, his characters explore the complex and changing postmodern cultural landscape." (Via Beautiful Atrocities.) I'm not so sure about all that, but Mr. and Mrs. Smith looks hot. There is no strictly musical point here.
The Guardian reports that a new aria by Bach has been discovered in a three-centuries-old shoebox. The first page of the score can be viewed at the Leipzig Bach Archive website. I have two questions: 1) Are shoeboxes really three centuries old? 2) Who's going to cash in? According to the magnificent new legal precedent set by Dr. Lionel Sawkins, whoever writes out an arrangement for strings and basso continuo is eligible for royalties on his or her work. If you're still interested in the possibly exhausted Sawkins matter, read on.
Vilaine fille has a link to an incredibly charming video of the brilliant young Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez singing "Te amo, Perú" and "Granada," before a wildly enthusiastic crowd in his hometown of Lima. If Simon Cowell can get his okay pop-classical ensemble Il Divo into the Billboard Top 10, why can't a singer of this magnitude become a global phenomenon as well? Perhaps he will. The Fille also brings news that Esa-Pekka Salonen's Paris Tristan, which I raved about last month, will be broadcast on various radio stations in July, including WHRB — which, someone should point out, pioneered decades ago the concept of a "complete works broadcast," or "orgy," such as BBC 3 is currently presenting.
Update: The Tristan is being sent out by the WFMT network. Check Operacast to see if it or anything else of interest is playing in your area. Of course, thanks to the Internet, everywhere is your area. WQXR in New York broadcasts the Tristan on June 18 at 1PM.
Amid a lively response to my recent article "The Record Effect," I've received several strongly worded letters and e-mails objecting to my — or, more accurately, Mark Katz's — account of violin vibrato in the early twentieth century. (For those who didn't read the piece, or have already forgotten it, Katz argues in his book Capturing Sound that violinists took to using continuous vibrato in the period between 1910 and 1920 partly or wholly because the oscillation in tone helped them to penetrate the primitive recorded medium.) There has apparently been some ensuing discussion in certain elite on-line forums. Katz does not claim, as one scholarly critic has him (and me) saying, that vibrato is a twentieth-century invention; that's obviously absurd. Nor does he propose Fritz Kreisler as the inventor of continuous vibrato. Indeed, he says quite the opposite: Kreisler was at first perceived as having been responsible for the rapid spread of the style, but there were deeper forces at work. And, while the picture was certainly more complex than you'd gather from my rapid paraphrase, I don't buy the counterargument that Joseph Joachim's classic 1903 recording, in which vibrato is used quite sparingly, is untrustworthy because the great player made it at an advanced age. True, Joachim was seventy-two and had only four years to live. But, to judge from a photograph taken of him that year, he was not infirm, and below the picture is a fine, flowing signature. And surely not even deteriorating health would have caused such an august musician to make a fundamental change in his practice. We really have no idea how violinists sounded before the phonograph arrived on the scene, but the fact that vibrato becomes progressively more pervasive on recordings from 1900 to 1920 — and that the likes of Leopold Auer and Carl Flesch remarked upon the trend — suggests that it was much less common in the nineteenth century than it is now. And Katz's explanation for the almost total victory of the "new style" still seems to me convincing. But, hey, I got no PhD.
June 07, 2005 | Permalink
Thomas Bartlett, master of musical ceremonies at Salon and lead singer of Doveman ("lamp rock"), asked various pundits to suggest an ideal lineup for Bob Geldof's Live 8, a festival of global musical mediocrity that's being held in July. My suggestion was the following: Prince, Björk, Cecil Taylor, Missy Elliott, Mary J Blige, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, the Flux Quartet playing Feldman's Quartet II, Steve Reich & Musicians, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, René Pape and the Berlin Philharmonic (all-Wagner program), and the Scissor Sisters. You'd pay to see that, right?
June 07, 2005 | Permalink
La Cieca on fire: "Well, Mr. Vilar, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that you fell $1 million short of meeting bail and so you're staying in the slammer. The good news is that your cellmate could be Russell Crowe."
June 06, 2005 | Permalink
Terry Teachout has written a formidable essay on the brief history and broad culture of blogging. It's maybe the most considered statement yet on a phenomenon that has inspired a huge amount of breathless commentary, both of the effusive and panicky sort. Terry makes the point that blogs need not be seen as rivals to traditional media. The Internet has simply multiplied the media in which writing becomes available. No matter what the medium, only good writing will survive. Terry also celebrates the Internet's embrace of the older and more eccentric art forms, which most major media outlets now avoid like the plague. A case in point is the lively, expert opinion on the Van Cliburn blogs, official and unofficial. It's not surprising, in the end, that another brawny virtuoso (Alexander Kobrin) won the competition. It is surprising that a single post on a piano blog drew 113 intelligent comments.
June 06, 2005 | Permalink
Pianist Jeremy Denk, whose blog I've recently started reading, has a deeply moving post about playing Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time:
It is a piece for the "end of time," and yet the pianist (yours truly) has to be time. In the cello and violin solo movements, I simply play chords, awkwardly slowly, marking moments which are much slower than seconds, and marking (with my harmonies) a larger, really time-free, arc of meaning under the melody. In no other piece do you feel such a tremendous strain between something achingly large (something that only eventually will be expressed) and the snail's steps you must take to express it. But he (Messiaen) manages it; not a note is out of place in the last movement; every harmony is extraordinary, an essential step, a grammatical and striking word of the holy overall sentence... somewhere toward the middle of the last movement, I began to feel the words that Messiaen marks in the part, I began to hear them, feel them as a "mantra": extatique, paradisiaque. And maybe more importantly, I began to have visions while I was playing, snapshots of my own life (such that I had to remind myself to look at the notes, play the notes!): people's eyes, mostly, expressions of love, moments of total and absolute tenderness. (This is sentimental, too personal: I know. How can you write about this piece without becoming over-emotional?) I felt that same sense of outpouring ("pouring over") that comes when you just have to touch someone, when what you feel makes you pour out of your own body, when you are briefly no longer yourself -- and at that moment I was still playing the chords, still somehow playing the damn piano. And each chord is even more beautiful than the last; they are pulsing, hypnotic, reverberant... each chord seemed to pile on something that was already ready to collapse, something too beautiful to be stable... and when your own playing boomerangs on you and begins to "move yourself," to touch you emotionally, you have entered a very dangerous place. Luckily, the piece was almost over... When I got offstage I had to breathe, hold myself in, talk myself down.
Who needs music critics when performers write like that? Read the whole thing here. My own attempt at a panegyric to the Quartet is here. The recording to get is Tashi's. If you have some notion that "great music" ended with Brahms or Mahler, the Quartet is the work that might make you think again.
June 03, 2005 | Permalink
A while back I posted a link to a performance of Handel's Messiah in which the organist had a very bad day. Marc Geelhoed sends along a link on a similar theme — a page devoted to infamous trumpet bloopers. The Hummel concerto disaster and the Mahler Seventh catastrophe are not to be missed. As a bonus, there's an excerpt from the Portsmouth Symphonia's performance-recomposition of Also sprach Zarathustra. The Portsmouth was an avant-garde / comedic outfit founded by Gavin Bryars, featuring, among others, Brian Eno on clarinet. No one in the ensemble was particularly familiar with his or her instrument, which was the idea.
June 03, 2005 | Permalink