Thursday, December 20, 2007

Seeing a Legend

Van Cilburn was in town. How our small-town, but with a magnificent symphony, landed this virtuoso pianist is beyond me, but he was there. We saw him and heard him.

Yes, it was a fund-raiser, and the prices were elevated, and the orchestra donated some of their time to put on the concert, but it was worth it all. When I was in high school I saw Sandy Kofax pitch. I saw Stan Musial at the end of his career. I saw Ray Charles. It is a distinct privilege to be a witness to greatness. Van Cliburn, in his 70s, was great! I had heard of him, of course, when he won the first Tchaikovsky piano competition in Moscow in 1958. (I was 12 and my mother bought one of his recordings.) This concert 50 years later was marvelous.

Our view was from the balcony, but the acoustics of the hall are such that the sound is stunning from any seat. Cliburn is a tall man. When he walked on stage he seemed to tower above the whole scene, dominating it, but humbly, like a person not used to his height. When he sat at the piano and started playing, he still dominated, but all humility was gone. I noticed his hands like one would notice hands sticking out of too short sleeves. Those wonderful hands involved his whole being in the music. I had tears from the first notes. You can read a review by our local guy (Ken Keuffel, whom I affectionately call "kerfuffel") here. I don't do music reviews.

We all stood and cheered after the first movement, a real no no, faux pas not so many years ago. But our music director, Robert Moody, agrees that we should applaud when we feel moved. Not a soul was unmoved after that first movement. I'm listening to it now on a recording from RCA Victor Red Seal now on CD. I'm still moved. Van Cliburn did three encores. We did not want the evening to end. He did some Chopin fantasie impromtus, or such, and ended by accompanying the house as we sang Happy Birthday to the principle sponsor, Ms Hanes, of underwear fame. (manufacturing, not wearing)

I have to mention, again, the orchestra. We are truly blessed with a symphony that belies our town's small size, but demonstrates our wealth of talent. We draw musicians from four universities, including The North Carolina School of the Arts: faculty and students.

Gone to a live concert lately? Do it. The rewards are worth the hassle of getting there, and you cannot repeat a live performance on any sound system yet invented. Do it!

BRB is Write (and cannot wait for the next concert in February)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Meditations at the Cantata

We went to a Christmas Cantata last Sunday at a local Moravian Church here in hyphen city. It was most enjoyable (haven't I written about live performances, already?): Woodwinds, strings, percussion, and piano accompanied by a chorus made up of several church choirs and soloists, about forty Sunday singers and ten instrumental students. It was a strong effort by all. This cantata alternated musical parts with spoken readings, mostly from scripture.

So here I am in the pew wishing I could cross my legs at the knee, or slouch down, or otherwise make myself comfortable. Pews are not made for worshipers' comfort. They have been designed to encourage attention and humility. Therefore, I alternated between attention and humility. During one of my humility postures, I noticed I had my legs crossed at the ankles, my hands on my thighs, and my palms up and my thumbs touching my index fingers. I looked down and saw my belly. Damn, I thought, Buddha had a beer belly, too. And I went from humility to more of a feeling of contentment and tranquility.

This church that held the concert was decked out in greenery: wreaths, garlands, and a '60s modern triangle of a tree on the back wall of the chancel. It covered up the cross. This is the second church I've visited at Christmas that had the chancel cross covered by an evergreen tree. One would think that in a Christian church sanctuary the cross would never be covered. I noticed that the flags were still visible. I really have no comment on this phenomenon, only questions.

Passages from the Old and New Testaments were read between the choral offerings. Scripture has changed remarkably since I first started reading it. As a child I wished for a modern translation to help me understand better. Now, I hate modern paraphrases, interpretations, translations. King James is a basketball star, not a version of the Bible.

Read this aloud from Isaiah 40:1-2 New American Bible: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.
1 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins."

Now read this from the King James version: "1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD's hand double for all her sins."

Try setting the first to music. Yes, the King James version is not reliably a true translation from the best sources, but it is far and away the best for Hebrew poetry and songs.

It was also a football Sunday afternoon. The sanctuary would have seated 250 easily. There were many vacant spaces in the pews. The only young people were in the orchestra.

It was a great afternoon out of the house with family and live music. From these musings, it doesn't sound as if I paid much attention to the concert. You listen your way, and I will listen mine.

BRB is Write(and is still searching for Christmas)