Monday, October 29, 2007

Afternoon at Symphony

Ah....the graces and gifts of this rich and abundant time just keep on coming. Thursday night, out of the blue, I was handed a free ticket (thank you, Carol!) to the symphony. I had missed my (at minimum) annual visit to Tanglewood this summer, so I was especially delighted to be given the spontaneous gift of an afternoon with the BSO in Symphony Hall. I was excited to take my seat the next day, front and center in the first balcony, and ready to soak in a wonderful concert.

I do love cello, and the program notes further piqued my interest in the Shostakovich concerto, but as I listened, I found my thoughts and attention wandering. I studied the musicians, their excellence apparent. I watched the percussionists in particular: amazing, to be able to subtly shake that tambourine at just barely a 'simmer' for minutes on end--first with one hand and then a seamless pass to the other and then back again, and repeat and repeat. Amazing. I found myself wishing I'd brought binoculars in lieu of opera glasses--to better see the plucks of the harpists, for example. The soloist was impressive. But still, I found myself wondering: why do we do this? Why do we play these classical pieces again and again, decade upon decade? Why do we attend concerts to hear them? Why do we spend 60 or 70 or 80 dollars a pop to do so: why?

Looking around the Hall, I wondered: are these people engaged, enthralled, the way I am in front of say a Patty Griffin or a Brandi Carlile performing live? Does this transport them? They didn't seem to be transported. And these musicians: they are professionals. They make sacrifices, they dedicate their lives to this. Why? Is it transporting for them? I imagine it is wonderful, uplifting to be surrounded by all that music brought to life in their very midst and with such expertise. I've been steeping myself lately in the music of independent singers/songwriters. That I understand, that force which erupts in an artist and results in a created work. And yes, I don't think I would ever tire of hearing Patty perform "Mary" or Cris Williamson belt out "The Changer and the Changed" live. But these are the music makers themselves sallying forth with their own creations for our enjoyment. Those songs I've grown so familiar with and enamored of via recordings are brought newly to life before my very eyes and ears: marvelous! Is it this way for those intimate with the works of the great classical composers too? Perhaps. I don't know. I do know that when the BSO and the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra, all crammed together and using every last quarter inch of the stage of that Koussevitzky Music Shed out in Lenox, put their violins and flutes and horns and drums and all the rest to the score of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, they never fail to bring me to my knees.

I also know this: Shostakovich ended, and on the other end of an intermission, Bruckner's Ninth began, and by the third and last movement of this unfinished symphony, I wasn't asking any questions. I was "taken" by the music--transported, yes. In part I'm sure because I had read the program notes. I knew of his struggles with this work, triggered by Hermann Levi's rejection of his Eighth. According to the notes, "Levi had truly loved the Seventh but found himself, to his great embarrassment, unable to comprehend the Eighth." That blow cast Bruckner and all his recent works under a shadow of doubt. He began second guessing himself. He began revising previously finished works, and continued to do so until the end of his life. He spent his last three years trying to create a finale for the Ninth: there was to be a fourth movement that would have tied up all the elements of the first three.

My ears (or is it intellect? heart?) are not trained sufficiently to recognize those elements to such an extent that I would be left after the third movement feeling incomplete, feeling as unfinished as the work itself. Yet on the other hand, maybe the work is finished, is perfectly whole as is. It sounded so to my ear. Maybe Bruckner's doubt blinded him to the wholeness, the exquisiteness, the brilliance of what he had made. After all, here was a stage full of skilled musicians about 120 years later working at rendering it to the best of their ability, and a Symphony Hall full of patrons paying handsomely to hear it, and here was this one listener at the least, in Row C, Seat 31, moved to tears as its final notes were played.

Would Bruckner ever have guessed this, let alone expected it?

We give our Love truly, is all. Ideally, we bring forth what is ours to bring forth as purely as possible, and the rest, I say, takes care of itself. The force that gave rise in Bruckner to his Ninth, as written, deserved to be trusted. But it would appear that Bruckner died without confidence in that, without enjoying the fruits and satisfaction--and peace--of that certainty. How many of us are at risk to doing the same?

By the concert's end, I realized: so I wasn't crazy about the Shosta-
kovich. But the Bruckner was another story. In any event, the answer to all my Whys was clear to me. We do it all because of their (the works' and the composers') brilliance. We do it because Love was given Its way with these composers, and their works of art are the result.

We do it, I see now, to be closer to Love.


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