This evening, I had the important privilege of hearing a live performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. I've taught the piece many times but have not heard it in person for years.
As I listened to our Imperial Symphony Orchestra play, I was reaffirmed in my calling to classical music. I sensed once again the special place in the human experience held by art forms such as the orchestra, the ballet, the opera, gamelan, or gagaku . . . in which numerous performers collaborate and coordinate at a high level in an endeavor that invites the individual and the culture into deep philosophical consideration. To maintain such traditions must truly be to stand against the everyday undermining of civilization.
During Beethoven's sonic epic, I was stirred by countless thoughts:
how grand the conception and masterful the craft
how modern the sounds - engaging in every fluid moment, plus Rite and Spring is already there
how imaginative the orchestral color
and what a melding of patterning and human emotion
what creativity of form
what limitless depths suggested within such well-defined boundaries
not to mention the long journey from at least J.S. Bach through his sons to Haydn with some influence from Mozart, all of whose contributions were needed to make such things possible
On the same concert, my colleague and friend, Annabelle Gardiner, performed The Lark Ascending of Vaughan Williams. Her playing was characterized by seamless bowing, sure intonation, and beautiful inflection, all amounting to a statement of profound serenity. While the musical movement was very natural, the touch of Vaughan Williams somehow placed it within a greater parenthesis of stillness. And in that stillness, I felt an acknowledgment that our grasp on the moment is feeble, that the present is always slipping into memory, and that nature breathes with us.
More wonderful than all of this was the fact that, as I mentioned to another friend, the work is ideal for Annabelle in that its virtuosity is selfless and its ways are graceful, genuine, and without power-oriented rhetoric. It's a perfect work for this colleague who is always nurturing, genuine, and humble. Those spiritual qualities are why I think she can play beyond categories of presentation and confidence, replacing them with much-needed presence and empathy.
Thank you ISO, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, and Annabelle Gardiner.
And to all, a good night.