On Saturday, Melissa and I had the great fortune to attend a piano recital at the high school where she works. We don’t see live music as often as we would like to, and this opportunity, which had come to her unexpectedly, was one of those experiences that is enjoyed somehow sweeter for it comes out of the blue.
The 21 year old performer was a student who had graduated several years before and was now returning for reasons that directly escaped us and our comprehension of the Japanese introductions and reading material. However, the enigma surrounding the occasion only removed from us any responsibility other than being total spectators, perfect audience members. We were merely there to listen and the pianist, who entered at last dressed in a tailored black suit, black turtleneck, and styled long hair, was merely there to play. He began Mozart’s Sonata K545 with a start, surprising us first with the incredible volume and range of the grand piano before him, and waltzed through the music with a skill and verve that seemed beyond him. When the piece was over he stood, bowed, and after first introducing his instrument with a surprise (for, like him, it was a great thing out of place, a $30,000 Yamaha C6 Grand Piano), he introduced himself. What happened next, however, brought both Melissa and I to tears. Our pianist sat, shot out of his cuffs, extending his hands before the keys, pausing with a tension that came from beneath the tips of his fingers, and laid into Chopin’s Nocturne Op.48-1. If the difference between live music and a recording of the same were only quality of sound, no one would continue to perform, much less listen to, music unmediated by the electronic. Today marks my first live Chopin, and perhaps, after years of listening to his music, the first time I have heard it. And it was not that the student before us was a prodigy; talented, yes, but not genius. It was that he reconstructed before us Chopin, music over a hundred years old from a culture alien to his own, clearly, beautifully, and truly, and brought forth through his comparison with Mozart, the thesis of 19th century Romanticism. The Chopin being unfolded before us, as with the Rachmaninoff and Ravel after, was for once a music of reinvention, an emotion without adequate expression, an art trying to break free of its form. I have always been attracted to the Romantics and Impressionists yet did not understand why until today. Their music had reached the limit of its form and it was there that it continued to pull and strain, bend and shape the form to it, rather than it to the form. It is the soundtrack of the mind reacting to the machine and the instrument struggling at last against the musician.
At each rest during the Nocturne I would tense at seeing the pianist’s fingers draw away from the keys, of any signal of the end, so enraptured was I by the music. The recital hall was quite small and the sound filled the room, rattling keys in purses and loose leafs of paper on tables. The magic of seeing and hearing such incredibly beautiful music being wrought from the instrument at the fluttering hands of the pianist was an unforgettable moment of immediacy. The Chopin resonating through our minds bore on its sound waves that fundamental aura of the original. Each performance bares that mark to the audience. Classical music is an art dispossessed; anyone can own it, shape it, perform it. And each person who takes it into their hands and presents it to us leaves a part of themselves upon it. After the performance I wondered what that student pianist had left behind in the music for us, what part of his experience, for there is no doubt that through music such things transmit.