28 January 2008

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Vingt Regards

I
Is Messiaen’s music now a cult? Hertz Hall is full for Christopher Taylor’s performance of Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus, with a buzz surpassing the usual recital. I overhear conversations about L’Ascension at the Symphony the other day and Saint Francois at the Opera several years ago. Does this happen to every composer on his way to “Oh, him again” status, or only the heaven-stormers? Is this what it was like to gather for a rare hearing of the late quartets when the generality still held that Beethoven’s late work was insane and monstrous?
II
resplendence, transcendence, refulgence, resounding reredos of reverberation
III
If you saw Christopher Taylor on the street, he would look completely ordinary, albeit slightly goofy; you’d guess correctly that he was interested in mathematics. When he plays, his looks change. He becomes completely compelling and magnetic. He’s downright adorkable!
IV
I’m not on the coveted piano-recital left-hand side of Hertz Hall, but if I look at the glassy black underside of the grand piano's raised lid, I see the reflection of Taylor's hands dancing over the keyboard and then the jumping inner works of the Steinway. The entire piano is trembling, quivering and shaking.
V
Christ, this ticket was a bargain!
VI
The paradox of silence, rarer and rarer in our world: the quieter and more attentive the room, the more disruptive even the smallest sound becomes; a hastily turned page in the program rips open the atmosphere. Once, on the hajj to Stratford-on-Avon, I was walking on a path beside an empty road, and suddenly the crunching of gravel beneath my feet sounded like a horrible deafening roar. I stopped walking, and experienced absolute stillness and silence for possibly the only time in my life, until a car came by and broke the spell.
VII
I’ve had a low-level migraine all day, but I just noticed it stopped when the music started, and resumed when the music stopped. Should I forward this to Benedict XVI as Messiaen’s first miracle? Do I need more of a miracle than his ability to write such music? Years ago, in the Cathedral Treasury at Chartres, I noticed a rather sheepish reliquary stuck way up on a shelf. It contained the alleged cloak of the Virgin Mary, the alleged discovery of which caused the great cathedral to be built. Doesn’t that make it actually miraculous? Isn’t what’s around us enough? Why are we slightly embarrassed by the sublime, yet hoping always for miracles?
VIII
I am hearing passages I never really heard on the several recordings I have. Do I just listen differently in a concert hall, so that, for instance, nothing distracts me from the quieter moments? Or is it just the recreative performers who take the same score and render it slightly differently, to people who all hear it slightly differently?
IX
“I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.”
X
(colors of the celestial city) I have my eyes shut. How did he get that bell sound? If I could play more than a C major scale on the piano, would I understand, even if I couldn’t replicate it? The sound is exactly like the Campanile carillon caroling as I walked through the light rain to the concert. It would be so cool to have synaesthesia right now. But only if I could turn it off later so the colors don’t blind me.
XI
Who are all these people?
XII
Walking out of the Hall, I’m oddly grateful for the misty rain and the trees of such dark green they’re almost black silhouetted against the pearly dove-gray sky.
XIII
This was one of the concerts I was most excited about this season. What do I do now? What does Taylor do after a performance? I would need to pace up and down in a darkened room for at least an hour.

5 comments:

vicmarcam said...

This was so lovely and moving that I am beyond commenting and I have a lump in my throat. See, I'm not going to be embarrassed by the sublime.

sfmike said...

Well, I guess you DO get Messiaen. Good for you. And I've never been embarrassed by the miraculous and sublime all around us. It's at least half the fun of living.

By the way, I'll get us tickets for Other Minds from the box office with a phone call to you first.

pjwv said...

V, thanks once again, and I bow gracefully to the Other WS.

Mike, Thanks -- I went to the website and they seem to be doing an awful lot (intentionally ambiguous phrasing) of electronic stuff -- is that usual for them? Am I misreading it? Please tell me I'm misreading it.

rchrd said...

The concert was extraordinary. My own review is here.

About Other Minds 13: only a few pieces involve electronics. Others involve the Del Sol Quartet, the Adorno Ensemble, plenty of piano music, and two solo cellists of international fame. Do come.

pjwv said...

Richard, Thanks for the link to your review and to your blog. If it weren't so late (for a working guy) I'd be reading more -- I see you also liked Gann's article on Feldman. I hope this sounds like a compliment to him because that's what I mean, but I had my first root canal the other day and I came home with a numb face and my painkillers and I thought, I have to listen to Morton Feldman. I pulled String Quartet #2 off the shelf. Anyway -- I enjoyed the technical aspects of your write-up, since it's not my vantage point. Thanks.
And I did make plans with Mike to go to at least the Friday Other Minds concert -- I may make the Saturday one as well. (Thursday is difficult because of work.) Maybe I just haven't met the right piece of electronic music yet. . . Anyway, the new stuff is always a plunge into the deep end. I'm looking forward to it.