Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love is...

When I was a child, I had a small book by Charles Schultz called "Happiness is..." My favorite page was Happiness is a warm blanket. Here's a variation on that beautiful idea.

Love is going to a classical music concert even though you don't really like that sort of thing. It included dressing in more than jeans, which is also not your speed. It wasn't a great concert; you smiled and held my hand.

Love is whispering at the intermission that we're among the youngest here. It's looking into the balcony and realizing that classical music concerts are a dying art form and this may have been one of many memorial services. Love is remembering the dead, honoring the living. Love is the snoring behind me, the lady with the real fur, his dusty wingtips. Love is the man who conducts from the 12th row, his combover flapping gently.

Love is laughing with the percussionist who got to play the contemporary piece. One of the many unusual percussive devices used was a ping pong ball in a jar. You asked if it would be on his resume some day-I played ping pong ball with the chamber orchestra. "Yes," we pretend that he says, clearing his throat and trying to look modest, "I play first-ball". Asking him in person, we found out it was his first time playing a ball in public. Love is a smirk and a chuckle.

Love is nachos and beer after Beethoven. Love is talking late into the night; Beethoven suffered deafness because of his mother's syphilis and liked beer too. It is realizing that sometimes you need to see poor concerts to appreciate really great ones and that all live performances are exciting. Love is watching a paid professional group of musicians that plays together every day almost lose the beat. It is realizing our volunteer musician group can almost lose it too and that it's ok. No, it's much better than ok-it's real and it's the love between us that makes it palpably special.

Love is being part of life, not a perfect life, but a real one. Love lifts us all.

"Take away love and our earth is but a tomb.". Robert Browning


  1. Don't know where you got your information, Chris, but you're sadly misinformed. Beethoven's deafness had nothing to do with his mother, and Beethoven's mother most assuredly did not have syphilis. And the great beauty and value of Beethoven in our lives, Chris, is that his music transcends both time and our own personal experience, to enhance both. That's why his music is still being listened to and deeply loved 182 years after his death, and will be as long as people value truth and beauty. This is something, as you go through your life (and every year, you get a year older, Chris), that you will, I hope, come to understand more and more profoundly. It's called the human condition, Chris. To learn more, listen to more Beethoven. And be assured that classical music concerts are by no means a dying art form. The same cannot be said, I hope, of the arrogance of youth.
    Best wishes,

    Peter in Australia.

  2. Hello Peter! So glad to hear from you. Are you the Peter of Neil Diamond fame in Australia? If so, Congratulations on a great show.

    I went snooping for more Beethoven information and thank you, I must retract the mother reference. Although many websites talk of syphilis and tuberculosis, there is no strong link connecting his mom or dad to his condition anymore. Thank you for pointing me to more discoveries made in the last 5 years. At the latest websites who have done Beethoven lock of hair study, they believe he died of lead poisoning. fascinating.

    Write again, Peter. It is interesting to hear your perspective on live classical concerts!

  3. I enjoyed your reflections Chris. You write well!! I think you were being somewhat tongue in cheek also? Never heard of the ping-pong ball in a jar instrument!

    In Detroit, I've been to theatre and concerts recently and yes, the crowd does seem to be a high % of elders. They have the time and money to imbibe. I believe classical concerts will not die as well as books.

    I could breathe Beethoven's music every moment -it transcends above mere mortality.

    The important words: Love is being part of life, not a perfect life, but a real one.

  4. Joy, I don't think that classical concerts, books, (newspaper for that matter), or theatre will ever go away entirely. Because I teach children mostly, I want to make it interesting and meaningful, like Peter (above) in "truth and beauty", to the up and coming generations, even my own! We are learning to play these amazing works, but my students can be reluctant to go to live events.

  5. Chris, very kind of you to be so kind to me in responding to my post, which, when I re-read it, did seem to bristle a little! But your kindness overwhelms me, as kindness always does. Well done! I was perhaps thinking of my own experience last Saturday night when I wrote. I had not long returned from a concert of Beethoven's music, performed in a church, as part of a 6 or 7 concert Beethoven Festival here in Melbourne. This was the 2nd last concert in the series, and a string quartet played 2 of the famous final 5 of Beethoven's string quartets, Opus 132 and then Opus 130, plus the Grosse Fuge, which ended up with its own Opus number, 133. OMG, mesmerizing is not the word. Transcendental is the only word! I had never heard any of Beethoven's string music played live, so this was a first. Recently, I heard the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra absolutely on song, nailing a performance of his Symphony #7, and not long ago, violinist Nigel Kennedy from England toured, and played the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Both magnificent events, and both sold out concerts, with a brilliant mix of older and younger people, and everyone in between.

    But Saturday night was something else again! In the intimacy and the acoustic environment of a church (and with a seat in the front row!!), the impact of those 4 instruments was overwhelming. And of course, the string quartets are SO personal, SO intimate, SO transfixing, that to hear them live has, I have to say, added yet another glorious layer to my appreciation of the stunning genius of the Great Man. They say that Beethoven, in his last period, which includes the late piano sonatas, the Missa Solemnis and the 5 string quartets, as well as the colossal 9th Symphony, was really, in his tragic deafness and isolation and loneliness and frustration and poverty and illness, communing deeply with himself (apart from the 9th, which is really a message to all of humanity). And the string quartets are at the very zenith of his art. That having been said, for anyone who has not entered into the circumstances of Beethoven's life and grown through his middle period (Symphonies 3, 5, 6, 7; piano concertos 3, 4 & 5; sundry piano sonatas and trios, along with early quartets etc etc), I would not recommend picking up any of the late string quartets and expecting to make anything of them. But do your homework, cut your teeth on the earlier stuff, and wow, what revelations come when you are finally ready to delve into the immense profundity of his late music. He is absolutely and definitely and most totally assuredly the GOODS, that Beethoven dude.

    And if you really want an encounter with truth and beauty, comprehended and articulated as no human being has before or will ever again, listen to the 1st movement of the string quartet No. 131, in C sharp minor. Mystical union. Revelation. Beauty. Truth. 8 minutes of Nirvana!!

    Having a bit of a Beethoven glut in Melbourne at the moment. It's summer here, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is giving one of its annual free outdoor concerts in the gardens this Wednesday night. They're playing the Symphony No. 9!!!! My life is complete!! Speaking of completing your life, may I suggest to any of your readers that if they really want to do something spectacular and really out there, providing that they love Beethoven, of course, they should go to the Zentralfriedhof ("Central Cemetery") in Vienna, Austria, some time and listen to the 9th on an iPod beside his grave. Shatteringly beautiful, deeply gratifying and prodigiously satisfying. It was my 2nd anniversary of that pilgrimage this Feb 12 just gone. Next time, I'm gonna listen to the Missa Solemnis. Or the string quartets. Or both. He'd like that.

    Meanwhile, getting my next Beethoven fix this Wednesday night in the gardens, at the very same outdoor venue where I once saw, would you believe, Chris, Neil Diamond. And no, not me. Different Peter Byrne.


  6. Enjoy the event in the garden, Peter! I love outdoor concerts. I will turn on my recording of the 9th in the a.m. and we'll listen in tandem! Which choral group will be singing with them? I hope your weather will be as glorious as the music.

  7. Chris, it was the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus, numbering around 100, who starred (and I mean starred) in the finale of the Beethoven Symphony last night. Did you listen to your recording? However good it was (i.e. even if it was the von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic of 1977), it could never match the immediacy and the sheer overwhelming power of a live performance by a full blooded orchestra on fire! Such was the evening last night here in Melbourne, Australia. A stunner. And while waiting for the concert to begin, seats in front of me began to fill (it was first come, best dressed, at this free open air event)with such a wide disparity of people and age groups it was astonishing. I so wanted to take a photo and send you - 2 rows in front of me, with no-one in between at that stage (I was seated 3 hours before the concert began, 7 rows from the front, right in the middle) there was an elderly gentleman on his own, maybe 70+ years, and 2 seats away from him was a drop-dead gorgeous blonde girl, also on her own, aged around 20.
    Utterly perfect. Both there hours before it started. And by concert time, there would have been around 20,000 filling the lawns and grounds of the venue (for anyone who knows it, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl), just for the Beethoven 9. Kids, grannies, families, cool young people, mature age adults, oldies...all there with one heart, all there for Beethoven, and the greatest piece of music ever written. I promise you, Chris, live classical music, like books (good ones, that is) and love itself, will never die.

    Best wishes, Peter in Australia.

  8. In fact, Chris, there's a new recording out by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, on the prestigious German label Deutsche Grammophon of a young conductor named Gustavo Dudamel conducting BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5 & 7. Here's a quote from a website I came across, with the conductor speaking: “Beethoven is a symbol for us in Venezuela. This music is very important for young people. For all of humanity, of course, but for young people especially. A professional orchestra has played these symphonies hundreds of times. For us it's new music. And it's a new vision of the music, because the players don't have an existing version in their heads.
    “The Fifth Symphony is not just about the notes. Everybody knows the opening motif. It is fate, it's destiny, and that's something important for everybody. You don't need to explain it. It's inside the notes, and you can feel it. The symphony opens with anger. But if you play it all the way through, following the line of development, you come to the last movement, which ends with hope.
    “You listen, and you can feel this in the music. A lot of the children come from the street. They have experienced all these horrible things, crime and drugs and family problems. But when they play this music, they have something special. They all share this hope. And it becomes something amazing."
    Dudamel is aware of the magnitude of the risk involved in choosing Beethoven for his debut recording with Deutsche Grammophon. It is not, he explains, that he feels he and his orchestra have more to say about this repertoire than anybody else, but simply that they have their own voice.

    “If you go into a CD shop, you will find thousands of recordings of Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. We are a youth orchestra. Why start with such a difficult composer? But then I thought, why not? It is necessary to know Beethoven when you are young. Technically, it is important for the development of your sound. And then there is the simple fact that Beethoven is a genius. The Fifth Symphony is about destiny, about the future. And the Seventh is sheer joy. The energy in this music is fantastic for young musicians.
    “Of course Beethoven himself could never have heard his music played by such a large symphony orchestra. But I am sure he would have loved it if he'd had the chance. One of the things that is special about this orchestra is that they can play 'piano' similar to a small orchestra. And a 'forte' similar to either a small orchestra or a large orchestra. It is easy to work with these musicians, because they understand things, and they are very committed.
    “Of course, these are not my last versions of these symphonies. Already, since recording them, we play them differently. Because music is a river, you know? It's not the same water from one day to the next. It's not a glass with water inside. And it's good to play this music now."
    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
    Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
    Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

    Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
    Gustavo Dudamel
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg
    1 CD DDD
    477 6228 GH


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