Art thrives on metaphysical ideas, which I believe are as old as human consciousness. A great work of art, reflecting the powerful intellect and the compelling imagination of its creator, elicits from us a metaphysical shiver as it confronts us with a vision of ultimate reality.
Over the past couple of weeks, I've had some very good shivers.
Most profound shiver:
November 13th, Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory of Music in Boston
Pianist Gabriel Chodos played Schubert's A Major Sonata, D.959. I studied with him as a graduate student, and I tried to talk myself into feeling prepared for the heartbreak I knew was coming in the Andantino. When it came, everything changed. Stunned hush. We were all drawn in to Schubert's painful rocking ... the whole building itself fell into that relentless rocking. Something in Schubert exposes the truth about loss. The evaporation of love. Schubert doesn't get easier to take with age. And when this movement is right, it can undo me. And things get worse at that exquisite moment when the sadness is reduced to one single, luminous thread of sound -- the rocking finishes and there we all are, dangling high above God-knows-what realms of the heart, hanging on to one single homeless voice (and following it as if we'd never, ever heard it before)... until the madness sets in. Schubert writes the truth about madness. I wished it would end, and I wished it would never end. This was a metaphysical shiver.
Most astonished shiver:
November 7, Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts. The Worcester Music Festival.
Hearing the 29-year-old French violinist Renaud Capuçon. I stood with brilliant sound engineer Antonio Oliart dead center in the first balcony at the back of Mechanics Hall, to listen to some of the rehearsal an hour before the program. Korngold Violin Concerto (as lush as it gets). Dennis Russell Davies, conducting the Bruckner Orchestra Linz. When Capuçon drew his bow, the place virtually blossomed with a sweetness and richness of sound ... we both exhaled audibly. Gorgeous. Renaud plays the violin that Isaac Stern played for fifty years, and he told me that it makes him feel as if he has "different shoulders." This was a good-hearted shiver.
Most enigmatic shiver:
Friday, November 18th, The Regattabar, Cambridge Massachusetts
Front row table to witness a force unlike any I've heard before. Patricia Barber reaches into strange and artful territories with her voice. Her pianism is extraordinary. She is uncompromising -- a perfectionist with a nearly compulsive need to speak the truth. She never stops moving. She strikes bizarre open-mouthed poses. Her hands stab at the air, rub themselves with a kind of madness, then stir up a magic on (and in) the piano. She sets songs to the poetry of Verlaine. She is not to be missed. A mysterious and baffling shiver.