Friday, April 15, 2016

The Guy Who Coughs

I'd hate to be the one who coughs during a recital. It's bad enough to be in the audience when the one who coughs coughs, and somehow it's worse when there's just one one who coughs as opposed to many ones.

Like that time when I saw the Philharmonic at what was then known as Avery Fisher Hall, at the beginning of Bolero, the very beginning, when it's very quiet, and beautifully slow, less than 30 seconds into it, and the guy let out this huge hacking cough that just took a shit on the whole thing, and the conductor, while continuing to conduct, turned his head back over his shoulder and looked back in the direction of the guy who coughed and just raised an eyebrow as if to say, do that again motherfucker, and I will fuck you up.

And then there was that time, at Zankel Hall, when the Ligeti Quartet was playing The Ecstasy, from Terry Riley's Salome Dances For Peace, and it was so beautiful and clearly very difficult to play, and the guy who coughed just coughed and coughed, many, many times, like an endless stream of piss just pissing all over the whole thing, to the point where several people in the audienxe made little noises to signal their annoyance, and I was quite anoyed too, but mostly I was thinking how I would hate to be that guy, the guy who coughs.

And the thing is, I know that if I keep going to recitals, one day, I'm going to be not feeling well, but I'll have tickets to something that I really, really, really don't want to miss, so I'll go, and yes, I'll grab a shitload of complimentary ricollas and I'll keep popping them into my mouth but still, inevitably, I will be unable to control myself and I will be the guy who coughs and it will be mortifying and I will hate myself and it will be awful and that will suck.

April 15, 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Quartet

The Quartet sat down together to play the new work, both commissioned and composed anonymously‎ as a gift to the four of them. The cellist, the violist, and the two violinists had each rehearsed their separate parts but this was the first time any of them would hear the entire work with all of its parts played simultaneously, as this was their first attempt to play it together.

At various times as they played the composition, each member of the Quartet was nearly certain that they would be unable to get through it. This was not because it was technically difficult. Rather, it was the sheer beauty of the work that made it so challenging.

And in fact, as they played a motif near the end of the unbearably slow and unbearably beautiful second movement, all four players were weeping. Moreover, the lushness and simultaneous harshness of the sonorities, the strange, but never entirely alien tonal‎ idiosynchronsies, and the curiously teetering time signature, moved all four players not just to tears, but to an awakening within their deepest essences.

They each reported later that they felt as if a small number of precious, golden droplets of sunlight‎ and love were dropped directly into their hearts, and they were overwhelmed and enveloped with a sense of timelessness and stasis and indestructibilty and the feeling of being cradled in the arms of a supernatural being that would cherish and protect you forever.

The Quartet had a performance scheduled for that evening and they all knew, without a word of discussion, that they would perform the new work as an encore. They played their scheduled program that night with unprecedented urgency and masterful brilliance so as to insure that the audience would demand an encore. Indeed, they played so well that a riot would have ensued had they not played an encore. Not only that, the quality of their performance thus far that evening was such that they had raised the expectations of everyone in the concert hall, all of whom had become profoundly aware that they were witnessing an historic event, not unlike that historic Sex Pistols concert in Manchester in June of 1976 that led to the creation of the Smiths, the Fall, the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. Decades later this concert would be recognized as one that permanently altered the landscape and soundscape of chamber music forever.

Remarkably, not a sound was heard while the quartet played the new composition. Nobody coughed or cleared their throat. Nobody whispered or hissed. It seemed, in fact, as if nobody was breathing, although of course everybody was. Even more remarkable: virtually everyone in the concert hall had a nearly uncontrollable urge to take a selfie of themselves during the performance of the new work in order to prove that they were there; and yet every single one of them was, in fact, able to control that urge.

The sense of golden droplets of sunlight and love being dropped directly into the heart was felt by every person in the rather large room, including all of the ushers, one of whom was nearly deaf. The essence of each being in the room had been awakened in a startling but somehow familiar way, as if each of them was experiencing the myth of eternal return.

One could almost say that the intention of the composer was to offer up a means by which each individual listener might have direct experience of God, although it was later revealed that the composer had no such intention, and in fact, had no theistic (or, for that matter, atheistic) beliefs. Somewhat surprisingly, this news disappointed no one, although it did cause some people to reevaluate their religious conceptions.

‎About a half hour after the performance, it was discovered that the sheet music for the new piece had literally vanished. The composition had been written in disappearing ink, apparently timed to disappear directly following the evening's performance. Each member of the Quartet had followed the composer's strict instructions not to make copies. No one had recorded the concert and no one could remember the piece in its entirety.

And yet, nobody who missed the concert was jealous of anyone who had been there. This was most likely because every single attendee carried the experience with them in their hearts and was able to transmit it to others. Indeed, they were unable to avoid transmitting it: simply being in the presence of one of the original attendees was enough to profoundly shift one's relationship to the universe. And then,  having had a spiritual awakening as the result of their proximity to one of the listeners, they carried the message to others, who in turn carried it to still others.

Over time, the awakened feeling penetrated the essence of every sentient being on the planet. The world was changed. The composer remained anonymous but did release a number of clarifying statements, such as the one about not believing in a supernatural creator god. ‎Perhaps the most significant of these statements was the one that revealed that the composer had never written anything before or after the composition, had no formal training, could play no instrument and knew no music theory. "It was as if something or someone had taken me over completely" said the composer, "As if I was merely a conduit, a messenger, an instrument."

Soon it was discovered that many people were suddenly able to compose extraordinarily beautiful music. Others were able to paint magnificent paintings, and still others could dance, or write stories, or design urban landscapes, or tell almost dangerously hilarious jokes. Everyone, it seemed had developed an extremely entertaining new talent. Everybody also had developed a much deeper appreciation for art and beauty. Many people became interested in theological or philosophical ideas. A large number of people felt the presence of God in their hearts in a more profound way than they ever had before. Many others, while not calling it God, acknowledge a presence or power deep within that made them feel a part of the totality of the universe, and made them feel connected to every living thing.
The point being that the performance by the Quartet of the new composition was extremely fortunate for everyone involved--that is to say, it was extremely fortunate for everyone.
April 7, 2016