On Listening: Getting Ready for Johnny Gandelsman and Bach

March 12, 2018, 12:08 PM · I’m not sure why Daniel Barenboim’s brief talk on how to listen to music popped up on YouTube as a selection I might enjoy. But I’m grateful that it did.

Next week I have the wonderful opportunity to hear Johnny Gandelsman perform Bach’s Sonatas & Partitas (March 24, 8:00PM, St. John’s Cathedral) at the innovative Big Ears music festival in Knoxville, TN. (I’ve also been asked to write about the performance.) This may be the only chance in my lifetime I have to hear the collection performed live in a single sitting. I’ve heard Gandelsman enough on recordings to know this promises to be an amazing evening. He is an extraordinary violinist. But I also know that two hours is a long time to sit and listen to one composer… even a composer whom I adore. I so desperately want to make the most out of this experience. But I’ve been questioning whether I’m up to the task.

Then along came Barenboim. He reminds us that we must be focused and will ourselves to let the music in.

Bach and nature

He reminds us that we must give ourselves over to the music, just as we would give ourselves over to a person we love. He reminds us that music is “everything at the same time." It doesn’t just make us laugh or cry... it does both, simultaneously. As I listened to Barenboim, I was reminded that listening is not a passive experience, but an active form of participation. As he so aptly states, we must “hang on to the first note and then fly with the music.”

As a performer myself, I understand how my own performances have been transformed by looking into the audience and seeing one person (sometimes literally just one person) who is engaged and transfixed. Someone who is flying with the music.

I will try to be that person for Mr. Gandelsman. I will try to convey my respect for the excruciating effort he has put into bringing this music to us in Knoxville. And I am certain that I will not be alone.

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March 13, 2018 at 10:40 AM · Thanks so much, Diana, for another inspiring article! I'm very much looking forward to Gandelsman's performance at Big Ears. I, too, have never heard all of the Sonatas and Partitas in one sitting. I am looking forward to hearing them a s a whole--as "opera"--every opus of the set. See you there!

March 13, 2018 at 02:47 PM · Sometimes listening is hard work, but it's worth the effort. Thanks for the insight, Diana.

March 13, 2018 at 06:03 PM · As usual, Diana provides us with insights and thoughtful motivations about the enjoyment of music in our lives. Big kudos to Ashley Capps and his Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN for inviting this extraordinary artist to perform!

March 15, 2018 at 12:11 PM · Johnny Gandelsman Is the perfect violinist to play all of the sonatas and partidas in one session. From what I’ve heard on YouTube he rushes robotically thru them seemingly to spare the concert goers tush from excessive seat time. If he used his entire bow the performance would take twice as long.

March 17, 2018 at 04:55 PM · So true. We do fly with the music. As a stage manager for opera companies all over the country including the Knoxville Opera, I get to listen to symphony orchestras and world class singers all the time. Believe it or not, that is very dangerous for me. So often I find myself taken over by the music when I need to be focused on calling all the cues for the operas! Because the music is so powerful, my concentration must to be at over the 100% mark otherwise I'm completely taken over by the music and I lose my focus on what I have to do. We should all have such problems! How wonderful Diana it is that you can just sit back and let Johnny Gandelsman whisk you away for two hours!

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