I knew already that we would also be performing Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto tomorrow. I didn't know who the pianist was, though. Whoever he is that's going to be playing with us must be competent, I thought, to be pulling that one off. I heard he was a Van Cliburn gold medalist.
That's all the thought I gave the subject until the first rehearsal with the pianist, who turned out to be not a man, but a blonde Russian girl about my age. She had the ability to spin gold from just a single note on the concert grand. Competent? Competent is hardly the word I would choose to describe her playing; I was having a difficult time keeping her from sweeping me off the stage as I tried to focus on the notes in front of me.
I know next to nothing about today's top pianists, but for some reason I felt that she looked familiar to me. It wasn't until I was describing her to one of my friends that I realised who she was. That girl! The one in the documentary I saw, Playing on the Edge, a couple of years ago--it's her!
Ladies and gentlemen, I am so honored to be sharing the same stage as none other than Olga Kern. And I must say, she breaks my heart with that Rachmaninoff.
But before I could play it, I had to chase him down across the top of a fast moving passenger train, being careful not to zig when it was zagging. We jumped across several cars, a caboose, and crawled down a ladder. Suddenly, I was in the air, like a pebble down the side of a steep ravine, lightly skipping to the beat of six, then five, then three. Tumbling, we fought over the measure of time. He had a knife.
He used it to carve a slice of cake, which he served on antique china, in an attic full of cobwebs and chests of clothing. The faded dresses were lovely and old-fashioned, but dare I try them on? Self-consciously, I picked a spider out of the frosting and declined. He insisted. Were they swallows or were they bats, circling above? I thought about being sick, churning as though balanced face-down on a twisted swing. It was a deranged fancy, indeed. Why, then, was I compelled to indulge?
...spent with my visiting mother, whom I haven't seen in nearly two years. We were unusually blessed with two sunny days, so we grabbed our cameras and made an effort to capture as much as we could before it all went away. Too bad it all just keeps moving on, as much as we wished these perfect days wouldn't end.
This week I have been assigned Caprice Basque, by Sarasate, and I’ve had so much fun delving into the previously unknown world of crazyvirtuosocompositions. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite like these high notes that show up at the end of the piece. At this point, my efforts resemble something like a tangled spider-scramble toward my nostrils, followed by a bird-like warble, whose pitches don’t really represent any particular note names. Really, I guess it’s not as bad as I just portrayed it, but I must say, playing that high requires some sort of tight-rope balancing act that I haven’t been trained to perform just yet. And, judging by the looks of it, not all the fingerings were ready for such heights, either:
One day, when I was in college, friendly group conversation wandered to the topic of PEZ candy. Doe-eyed, I remarked that I'd never heard of PEZ. The disbelief that this statement flourished amongst my peers was so great that I vowed that very day never, ever, to eat PEZ. Though at times I was held to the floor and tortured, and dark days brought my morality to lowly thoughts of PEZ, still I kept my PEZ chastity. It was difficult, but I survived, and post-college life proved to be largely devoid of the curious temptation.
I don't know, then, how the package of PEZ ended up on my bathroom floor two years ago, but it had nothing to do with me; this, I know. Every week, when I stashed my scattered laundry and ran the vacuum, I would carefully maneuver around the PEZ, which remained half-obscured by the overhanging sink cupboard. Once a week, the floor became lint and clutter free--with the exception of the singular PEZ package, still lurking at the edge of the sink.
Temporarily the sole occupant of my household, I have become acutely aware of all happenings that were not the result of my own actions. I know when my magazines have been perused by an idle parent. I take note when a student has spit something in the sink without washing it down. I notice when pockets have been emptied of candy wrappers into my wastebasket. So this morning when I glanced at my toes while brushing my teeth, the mangled PEZ wrapper caught my eye, even though it peeked out from the exact same location that it had the past 730 days. Someone--or something--ate the PEZ.
It's in there now, the hollow shell that once held all that is PEZ, and I still don't know what it tastes like.
This time of year, the weekly drive to my lesson is something to savor.
The auditorium darkened. The stage ambience glowed in vibrant warmth as the conductor took the podium. There I was, electrified by the moment I had been anticipating for perhaps nearly all of my life. This would be the first time ever that I took the stage in a professional orchestra. It was official; I was now a professional violinist--100%. In concert black attire, now brushing the rosin off my slacks, I looked out into the expectant audience and awaited the oboe's A.
I'm not really sure what I was expecting. I knew my notes wouldn't suddenly become flawless. I didn't think that angels would descend from the backstage rafters, singing allelujahs. Perhaps secretly I hoped that the conductor would give me an exclusive, knowing look as he cued the first violins for the third movement. He didn't. I didn't really think that I personally would impress anyone, though; I knew better.
For so many others who played tonight, this performance was just another of many many years of performances, strung along like cheerios on a thread. The musicians waited in the lounge during the intermission in the same fashion that one might wait on a bus or at an airport terminal. Afterward, they gathered their belongings and mingled their way toward the exits.
I saw no familiar faces. I had no bouquets to juggle in my armload. I detached myself from the crowd and began my five-block journey to my car unnoticed. I drove to an empty house in the dark.
Where then lies joy?
I found bits of it tonight, over in the bass section, and echoing off the ceiling panels. It sparkled in the swells of the violins and shimmered in the timbre of the french horn. I heard it tonight, the same old rainbow's tail that I’ve been chasing all along. It's still there, as it has always been and will continue to be.
The music, it's not heaven, but its beauty bears some resemblance. Home is far away, but I get postcards sometimes.
Revisit Violinist.com editor Laurie Niles' coverage from Canada of the 2013 Montreal International Musical Competition, including her interview with gold medalist Marc Bouchkov.
Emily Grossman is from Soldotna, Alaska. Biography
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