January 28, 2008 at 9:35 AMIn Anchorage, I prepare for the upcoming January concert. The Beethoven symphony that we will perform (his first, I believe) makes me feel like running through the mountains, but the wind chill is minus fifteen, and I seem to have forgotten my longjohns. Besides, the mountains are too far to reach by foot from my hotel, and I have no car. So instead of taking him literally, I lace up my running shoes and alternate my practice sessions with bouts on the treadmill at the top of the hotel. (With no one familiar to distract me, I’m left to my own whims.)
Beethoven can be tricky, but if you enslave yourself to a metronome and some simple speed drills, his music becomes accessible and allows for the imagination to take over from there. With a chuckle, I discover that it actually helps to envision small scurrying animals when playing the scales in the finale. Before I know it, another hour has passed and it’s time to hit the treadmill.
I’m just warming up when Alisa Weilerstein, the featured cellist for the Dvorak concerto, enters and takes the neighboring treadmill. What an opportunity! Now is my chance to say something. I want to tell her that I stay in the room next to hers. I want to tell her that I look forward to the long measures of rests in the second movement because that’s when I can finally get lost in her playing, which at times has such a voice-like quality that it leaves me breathless. I want to thank her for bringing music to life and speaking to my soul.
But then I’d have to admit to all of those scratching sounds next door.
In each passing moment, the silence steadily builds an impenetrable concrete wall. I bury myself in my book that I bought at the airport terminal, where travelers buy things to help them get lost in something else that makes them feel a little more understood and a little less alone. She picks up a jog. For maybe two miles, she runs. During this time, my thoughts go back to Beethoven, and mountains, and how she will finish her two miles and cool down, and maybe someday I will run across a mountain ridge and never stop.
I wonder, does she ever feel that way too?
We don’t ever speak. We just go back to our rooms to practice.
And I'll bet her mind was whirring too, but mostly it was "Oh, I hope this person leaves me to my peace and doesn't strike up a chatty conversation, because I just don't have it in me right now... oh good, she's engrossed into her book and dang, I wish I'd gotten a second book at the airport because I'm almost done with the one I got and then I'll be alone with my thoughts and that's a scary place indeed and oh boy, time to ramp up the angle of this jogging machine more because here come the thoughts right now, and maybe I can outrun them, and boy, this silence in the room is nice and thank goodness this didn't turn into a chat-fest where I might have to explain just why it is I'm there and why I chose to play the cello and not the violin..."
Great concert, by the way. It was well worth the long drive from Kasilof. And Alisa's Dvorak was fantastic. I like that it so fully involves the orchestra, yet still allows the cello to soar.
So I say nothing for a long while, and just re-read Emily's post, feeling ever lonelier as that impossible gap between the two musicians gets wider and wider. And there's so much I want to say to them both, as I so recognise myself and many others in their impossibly beautiful, impossibly human predicament.
And what if she'd said something? Every moment is a death of all the unchosen choices. Instead of a sad post, there might have been a funny story about an embarrassing moment in the gym at the top of a hotel. (Or the obituary of a distracted concert cellist in a freak treadmill-accident. ^_^ )
If I have to say anything, I think I'll go with a hesitant "Fish."
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Emily Grossman is from Soldotna, Alaska. Biography
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