Intimacy and Virtuosity

When my mother was pregnant with me, on most days, if not every day, she played her LP of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, performed by Arthur Grumiaux and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam.  A genius work of classical music, and a genius performance, thus infused my pre-natal life, and, I am certain, prepared me to want the same constant company of great music in my life.
The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Chamber Music Series 2012-2013
I was thinking about this, on the afternoon of November 18, while at the Perelman Theater, attending the second concert of six chamber music concerts presented by the Philadelphia Orchestra for its 2012-2013 season.  The pieces performed were a string quintet by Darius Milhaud, a string quartet by Claude Debussy, and a piano trio by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  As I listened, I felt: how beautiful when there are silences undisturbed by the sounds born of them: music is meant for listening, deep listening, listening that vivifies, arouses joy, that eases and soothes, provokes and, maybe sometimes necessarily, disturbs, but, in every instance, joins together or reunites aspects of mind and soul too often disconnected from one another.

The composer Igor Stravinsky once remarked that he hadn’t understood a bar of music in his life, but he had felt it.  Chamber music, a more intimate music than full orchestra music, performed in a more intimate venue (with precision acoustics) such as the Perelman Theater, concentrates performer and listener alike on the dimensions of feeling in the music.  Exactly such was the experience of both performer and listener at this concert of compositions, each of which asked for a an imaginative, participative feeling for what their respective composers heard when they first composed their piece.  

Listening, as distinct from hearing, demands effort, Stravinsky also said.  There is too little in contemporary society, with its inundation of distracting sound, that requires of us to listen.  Which makes all the more precious this chamber music, expressive of the multiplicity of genius of imagination, performed live, using the finest of crafted acoustic instruments.  The great composers are always listening; we are fortunate that we may make a complementary effort of listening until we hear what they heard.

The next concert in this series will be performed on January 13, 2013 at 3 PM, in the Perelman Theater at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.  The program includes Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat major, for piano winds, and Mozart’s String Quartet in D Major. Ticket information may be obtained by calling the Kimmel Center Box Office, open daily from 10 am-6 pm, 215-893-1999.


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