for colleagues and friends. This performance was a good one – I was happy with the spirit and mood I was able to create; I had to keep substituting listening deeply for thinking, for mental activity. I worked a lot at exploring many places for playing at soft dynamic levels, leaving the higher levels for the most important emotional and spiritual moments.
A funny thing was that in the afternoon I had to decide if I was going to cook dinner (we were hosting the evening) or practice – and I decided to cook and work on the music in my mind and body while cooking. A good choice, so it seems.
Mark Nelson says
thinking about Shem’s performance of the Bach d-minor Partita on December 8. . . .
1. On the one hand, it’s about exquisitely nuanced,
You, and JSB, venture down so many alluring, asymmetrically unfolding paths.
Sometimes these veer off unexpectedly in unusual directions.
Sometimes they are a matter of tenderness taking its sweet time.
Sometimes they seem bold and reckless.
These narrative streams evince a remarkable thinking/feeling mind, one capable of speaking in modes of Jamesian complexity and sensitivity.
We begin plainly enough. But then we digress, and extend, and observe anew; we weave, pause, extemporize, re-cast, discover, reflect. A daunting magisterial process, one blending imaginative caprice and stern rigor, blooms.
Thematic materials, textures, sentences unfold,
according to the dictates of an irrepressible logic,
into paragraphs that resist closure–
elegant, colorful not-quite-self-contained structures
whose late moments suggest new possibilities.
Their refusal to conclude neatly suggests an abiding yearning,
a striving to intimate, and instantiate, sublimity.
2. On another hand, it’s about _non-thought_.
Or perhaps _non-verbal_ thought!
Words fail, crash, in one’s attempts to evoke the experience of listening to your performance of this piece.
I am struck by how all-consuming this experience was–by the extent to which I felt so wholly inside of it; by the pregnancy of the long silence attending the performance’s conclusion; and by the inadequacy–perhaps the very incommensurate nature–of my earnest but paltry efforts, then and now, to articulate that experience.
What does it mean to be truly present for a moment of experience?
Is it a pre-rational immediacy, one that follows and absorbs experience before the mind has time to filter it?
Or–and this is my struggle right now–have the partita’s sounds triggered a deep-seated mechanism–a product of genetics, training, sensibility–that intimately monitors, tracks, and flows with an abiding, ever-metamorphosing awareness of the rich sonic metamorphoses continually emergent?
All-consuming indeed! One traces these sublimely coherent, ebullient trajectories–sonic flights which, replete with anomalies (daring forays into unanticipated keys, novel twistings of motivic material, uncanny interpolations of new ideas), threaten coherence; but in their subsequent workings-out, these reveal and secure an unfathomably rich new coherence–and in so doing it seems that one is being shown a parallel thought-dimension, one that exists next to, or before, or closely bound to, verbal thought.
3. This performance was about _color_.
String doublings, wide-ranging gradations of bow pressure and speed, subtle _sul tasto_ shiftings, adjustments in the amount of bow hair allowed to engage the strings–
these combined both to abet the complexity of the narrative and to lend a near-fantasia quality to the proceedings. You mentioned having learned from the color-shiftings deftly produced by an organist whose compelling Bach performances you recently discovered. Indeed, Bach organ fantasias and your traversal of the partita have much in common. One imaginatively shapes a constellation of timbres, infusing the performance thereby with a sense of play, of keen exploration and discovery. And the relationships unfolding among these lavishly nuanced sounds further the music’s remarkable rhetorical substance.
4. What about the repeats?
I yearn to hear the repeats, of each half of the first four dance movements.
In its depth and reach, this music needs (and wants!) to be weighed, absorbed, assimilated. It wants time to sink in. It wants time to be _heard_!
(And what does this mean, _to be heard_?!
My own hearing seems full of reflective processes.)
I crave and savor the luxury of hearing and _re_-hearing.
There are so many questions asked by each one of these dance movements. Would it be possible to take in and ponder these questions more slowly before moving on to the next ones?
I was surprised to sense that I had been catapulted into the chaconne. I wasn’t ready for it. Wait! I’m still spinning with the gigue! What was that strange and cool shift in phrase structure and harmony in the second half of the allemande? The corrente was so fleeting, its rate of change so rapid; my auditory transmission is stripped! I need to make some adjustments, and–oh, here’s the intimate sarabande. . . .
Self-contained and masterful as it is, the chaconne is the culminating movement of a suite of stylized dances. It’s a summation; a commentary. It offers some answers to questions posed in the preceding movements. I need time to absorb those questions, to adapt to the unique emotional and rhetorical world of each dance.
5. Spirit; Circling Into the Depths of Soul
(Keith Jarrett, admonishing his audience before launching into a concert last December:
Christopher Kaufman on Facebook says
Well, I know the way… but I don’t have the loose change to use the bathroom… :))) but I’m sure it will be an event that can have a permanent and positive effect on the vibrations of one’s cells.Read more…