la musica: la lingua universale.
or: please allow me to wax rhapsodic for a moment.

last night t. and i went to see rostropovich play in torino. the concert was interesting in many respects, featuring “i virtuosi di praga,” a czech ensemble of 12 violinists, four violists, four cellists, 2 bassists, and a few brass. they play without a conductor(!), which i think is quite impressive, given that their number (in my opinion and limited experience) rides that limit for conductor-lessness.

the program:

  • leos janacek (sorry, this keyboard doesn’t support czech accents), suite for two violins, viola, cello and bass
  • petr ilyich tchaikovsky (why do they use a czech spelling in the program? isn’t the guy russian?), serenade for strings in C maj, op. 48
  • haydn, cello concerto in D maj
  • mozart, symphony no. 29 in A maj, K.201

i really dug the janacek; it seems like precisely the type of chamber music i like to play: satisfying in its chord progressions (simiilar — in feeling, not execution — to vaughan-williams’ “thomas tallis”) and resolutions and offering up some really juicy violin parts. this tchaikovsky is one of my lesser favorites. maybe because i’ve played it on so many occasions with various orchestras, but mostly because i find some of it so ham-handed. the first movement exposition in particular. which is not to say that i don’t like the serenade. because i do: the development sections and the fourth movt — so kickass to play! the virtuosi do lovely work, producing a warm, luxuriant sound that the agnelli auditorium, with its wood panelling and excellent acoustics, delivers in all the right ways, producing the sonoral equivalent of a five-ply cashmere blanket, enveloping the ears, the frontal lobe in cumulus folds. though ensemble is not always spot-on — owing to the whole conductor-less scenario, one imagines — when they’re tight, they are tight. the synchronicity buoys the mind and makes one feel lightneaded. they seem to be most effective with mozart and played this symphony with a scintillating clarity and a precision that’s nothing short of remarkable.

but rostropovich — rostropovich is the one that boggles the mind. the man is seventy-seven years old! SEVENTY-FUCKIN’-SEVEN! he’s beenn playing for upwards of three-quarters of a century! i hope i’m still capable of wiping my own ass when i’m his age. at that point, arms become extensions of wood and horsehair, lungs f-holes, and the tongue answers with resonance sympathetic to those strings tuned in fifths. it is unfortunate that i only get to hear him play the haydn — a piece to which i am decidedly indifferent — as one shivers to think what this near-octagenarian might do with dvorak. i wasn’t so taken with the first movement, primarily because the haydn is given to a sort of feebleness, but the second, i loved. rostropovich treated each note with such tenderness, such consideration and respect. he delivered some brilliant runs in the third movement, displaying a still-remarkable dexterity. when that was over, the maestro bestowed upon us, his rapt audience, some unaccompanied bach that spoke of the power and intensity that still lay in him. i wept.

some observations about [classical] concert-going in italy (in comparison with america):

  • italians tend to dress more formally. there was still some denim in attendance, but i also saw more than a few cocktail dresses and a sea of ties. more met opera house, less BSO.
  • the median age in attendance is twenty years younger. i remember BSO concerts being more or less like “coupon clippers’ night” at the bingo hall. not that i’ve ever been to such a thing, but you can well imagine.
  • italian audiences are just as prone to hacking and coughing during performances as americans. what was particularly incredible — perhaps owing nothing to culture or country — was the silence that descended each time rostropovich lifted his bow to play. the tension, the expectation was palpable, and at the end of each movement, you could hear the collective exhalation of breath that been suspended throughout.

in non-music news:

i finished the corrections last night. it was good. it was decidedly not the twenty-first century’s great american novel, but i will vouch that it was good. i was a bit disappointed by the tidiness of the ending, but in retrospect, the opening was punishing enough that i didn’t need a concluding disembowelment as well. but read it — this jonathan has a way with words as well.

i’ve had a pretty successful week in the kitchen. i cooked up a large pot of butternut squash soup, still good sans crme, and finally put my food mill to good use. it will be rescued from the just-out-reach shelf again this week when i try out carrot-ginger soup. excursus: the butcher didn’t have any chicken today, so we’ll have to see how veal stock works on this. but on a happy note, the macellaio offered me a lagniappe after i queried him on cuts: an illustrated diagram of meat parts! how excited am i? on saturday, i went to a birthday party and managed to crank out a pretty solid seven-avocado guacamole while semi-inebriated. i, for one, am impressed.


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