I heard the extreme virtuoso pianist Yevgeny Kissin about two years ago (see my blog, April 8, 2005) and it was such a high powered experience that I could not pass up a chance to hear him again. I heard him earlier this month and was swept up and away all over again. Virtually every seat in the concert hall at the Kennedy Center, from the cheapest to the most expensive, was occupied, and the crowd was wildly enthusiastic.
The concert started with Schubert’s Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, D.568. Most of the sonata was melodic and lilting, but there were storm-like bursts of intense emotion. I thought of Stephen Brivati’s recent blog in which he bemoaned the fact that so many people believe that Haydn’s music should be played with little emotion because he lived before the Romantic era. Kissin’s emotional outbursts always seemed completely unanticipated, and he had the audience glued to him. His next piece was Beethoven’s Thirty-Two Variations on an Original Theme in C minor. The opening measures showed Beethoven’s angst at its most intense. The music seemed almost violent at times. I had a mental image of a large, four-legged creature stalking its prey, and suddenly, the music became quiet and lyrical, floating along like a great, placid river. Kissin then played Six Piano Pieces, Op. 118 by Brahms. Most of the Brahms didn’t grip me emotionally, but there was one brief, intense segment that pulled up some strong feelings I’ve been struggling with recently. I hoped that experience would be cathartic. The program concluded with the well known, incomparable Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22 by Chopin. Kissin’s performance was flashy and exhilarating beyond words. I wondered how anything could possibly succeed that as an encore.
When the programmed concert ended, another performance began. The audience’s reaction was tumultuous. People clapped, shouted, even whistled for a long time. I have rarely heard an audience respond to classical music like that. It was something I’d expect at a ball game or a rock concert. I lost track of the number of encores Kissin played. It was 7 or 8, making his total solo performance two and a half hours long. Many of his encore pieces sounded familiar to me. I believed they were popular encore pieces with such varied sounds that they must have been written by several different composers, but I was wrong. When the concert finally ended and I stood in line to get Kissin’s autograph, I spoke to a Russian woman who told me that all the encore pieces were by Chopin. She said that she has been listening to Kissin for years, since he was a “wunderkind” in Russia. I also spoke to a Korean graduate student who said that this was his first time hearing Kissin. He was so impressed that he decided to go to Philadelphia next week to hear the pianist again and to Carnegie Hall in about a month to hear him a third time.
I wondered how Kissin could have had so much inner strength and energy to put on such a stunning performance. Then I decided that it wasn’t just Kissin, it was what I would call, for lack of a better word, the Spirit. The Spirit made itself strongly felt through Kissin. It was the Spirit which moved through each of the composers and, years later, through Kissin, the piano he played, the air in the concert hall, and each one of us who heard him. Once again, I knew that music is my religion and that I was ecstatic.
I had a great time last Saturday at a jam party in the Catoctin Mountains. Although that area is only about 100 miles from Washington DC, it is very different. It is not urban, not suburban, but rural – affluent rural. The air is clean. The fields and trees are green. The stars are bright and beautiful. The peepers (tree frogs) are loud, if not beautiful. We saw goats and their kids, a new sight for city dwellers like me. The home looked to me like a country mansion built on an old country home. In the late afternoon we hung out on the large front porch. If we had been 200 miles farther south, we would have been like good ol’ boys. We had a sumptuous potluck dinner. When the sun went down, the air got cool, and someone lit a bonfire just for fun. We gathered around it and talked for a while. Then someone made a fire in the wood burning stove in a large room inside, and we all went in and jammed some more. Most of the musicians played fiddle, but there were also banjos, guitars, mandolins, and even a flute. The musicians were very good. They specialize in old time music, and some of them have been playing it for 20 or 30 years. I’m a Johnny-come-lately. I’ve been playing tunes from the Fiddlers’ Fakebook for years, but I just started hanging out with old time musicians a few months ago. There are an awful lot of tunes I don’t know, but fortunately, I love to improvise harmony. I make a real contribution that way because you can’t just have a lot of fiddlers playing melody, even though most of them play it a little differently from each other. One of the neighbors has a similar, but larger, party each year in the fall. It’s held in his barn, where some people play music, and some dance. We were all invited. Yay! More fun ahead!
I’m so excited! The Washington Performing Arts Society just published their concert schedule for 2007-2008. Subscribe early and get a better price. Sometimes you have to subscribe early because tickets for a really popular artist sell out quickly. I just subscribed to the following:
This promises to be a fantastic concert season.
I’ve been sick with allergies, a cold, and a migraine on and off for a week. Ow! I sleep almost all day, and that’s the only pain relief I get. I have managed to read parts of v.com, and those times are among the bright spots of my day. I just can’t think well enough to write now, so I’m posting a photo. This figure from Mexico is about 6 inches tall, made of paper mache, and hand painted. Do you suppose he’s crying because he lost his bow?
I just read Emily Grossman’s blog on sanity and found it very moving and thought-provoking. I started to write the following as a comment, but, since it is so long, I’m writing it as a separate blog.
Sanity is so hard to define because it is personally and culturally determined. Psychiatrists have attempted to objectify diagnoses with tests, notably DSM-IV. According to the results of these tests, upper middle class white males are the group with the lowest incidence of mental illness. Who wrote the tests and made the definitions? Upper middle class white males, of course. In one famous experiment, psychiatrists in different parts of the US were shown films of people who might be considered crazy and asked to decide whether or not they were. Psychiatrists on the West Coast were more likely to accept as normal certain behaviors that psychiatrists on the East Coast considered crazy. I don’t know what decisions the Alaskan psychiatrists made. In other studies, American psychiatrists and European psychiatrists tended to differ in their diagnoses.
I think a good way to look at the issue is: Is this person a danger to himself or others? Unfortunately, the answer would be "yes" for an awful lot of people. Alcoholics and people on the verge of committing domestic violence are good examples, and there are plenty of such people. Yet legally, nothing can be done until after violence has been committed, and, even then, many of the perpetrators are not punished, rehabilitated, or prevented from committing more violent crimes. If you consider emotional abuse, the picture is even scarier. All parents, teachers, sweethearts, spouses, family members, and even close friends hold enormous power over other people. Consider this: we all have more power over other people than we are generally aware of. Fortunately, the human spirit is amazingly strong and resilient, and most people survive some degree of emotional abuse without becoming very destructive of others. A more subtle question is: What about people who are on the verge of injuring themselves physically? I know people who have attempted suicide one or more times, people who have threatened suicide, people who have family members who have committed suicide, and people who have intervened to save other people trying to commit suicide. An even more subtle question is: What about people who are injuring themselves seriously mentally? A large proportion of the population does this at least some of the time. How can we recognize trouble before it happens and intervene to help?
The questions are multiple and important, and the answers are, sadly, elusive.
I try to be as positive and encouraging as I can when I give my students feedback, either orally or in writing. Sometimes that requires tact. At other times, I can give honest praise, but that requires tact, too. What do I really think? Here are a few excerpts from my private notes on my students. They cover a broad range of feelings.