I had a revelation yesterday afternoon that may surprise you. It certainly surprised me. To be a good citizen, I went up to Caramoor for the afternoon. They were giving a special concert honoring their four mentoring programs, and since I am the artistic director of one of them, the Vocal Rising Stars, I felt I should make an appearance. The surprise? I was completely swept away by the beauty and power of the music—songs and chamber music by Clara and Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms.
Because of my line of work, I get to/have to listen to lots and lots of live singing. Eventually all the different places I hear vocal music start to blend together, and the distinctions between coachings, rehearsals, auditions, and performances by students or superstars get quite blurry. My unguarded (and mercifully unspoken) reaction to Anna Netrebko’s first aria at the Met’s dress rehearsal of Anna Bolena was, “OK, wow, there’s lots to work on, so let’s start again from the recit….”
Yesterday’s concert was an unexpected gift. It transported me back to the magical way I heard music when I was a kid. I have to confess that I wasn’t able to silence my mental chatter during the one vocal piece, much as I enjoyed it. My inner coach was on the sidelines all the way through Schumann’s “Spanisches Liebeslieder,” listening for vowel choices, monitoring breath support, evaluating acting choices and tempi. The only “off button” for that seems to involve the consumption of several alcoholic beverages.
But when the instrumentalists offered the chamber pieces, I went to another world. Those players set me on fire—the Linden Quartet, violinist Benjamin Beilman, cellist Alice Yoo, and especially the pianist Roman Rabinovich who seems to wed the emotional depth of Rudolf Serkin with the gorgeous fantasy of Bill Evans. I was reminded of something I didn’t even realize I’d forgotten: the intense beauty of hearing music performed live. I remembered what a miracle it is to touch a piano, draw a bow across a string—and in the process heal souls. People often talk excitedly about going to concerts to “see people take risks.” That kind of daring has little interest for me—once I’m aware a musician is taking a risk, I lose track of the music and start obsessing about how brave or foolhardy or egomaniacal the performer is. All I want is to be drawn forcibly into the current of the music, to take artistic communion with the musicians, the audience, and the composer, to go to my inner Woodstock. Yesterday I got to do just that—and now I’m fired up for my own season of concerts. What a beautiful way to start the Jewish New Year.