Friday, July 29, 2011

a musical feast

“Two princes.  Each more handsome than the other.”

So said the baker’s wife in Into the Woods when she encountered the arrival of royalty in her common place world.

That is about how I feel about these last few days in San Miguel.  If yesterday was hiking in Arizona, today was unadulterated Cole Porter.

As I draft this in my notebook, I am sitting in the restaurant of Hacienda de Guadalupe.  Dining on venison while listening to a jazzy arrangement of “But Not For Me.”  I am definitely not in Melaque any more.

But that is just the coda for an amazing evening.

Tonight was the opening night of San Miguel’s thirty-third Festival of Chamber Music.  And it was quite an opening night.

Entertainment awards (standing alone) do not impress me.  After all, even Jane Fonda won two Oscars.  But a Grammy won in the chamber music category is, at least, an indication that the quartet does not earn most of its income selling shoes.

The Parker Quartet is a young group.  I have a corn older than the oldest member of the group.  And they put their youthful energy to good use tonight by pumping their personalities into their performance.

I know some people would prefer a return to the days when musicians were merely conduits of a composer’s voice -- and not such an obvious presence on stage.  If there ever was such a day.

But that stage coach left town long ago.  Performers now perform knowing that they are performing.  It is a postmodern world.

Of course, sophisticated audiences know the performers know they are performing.  I suspect that makes the whole thing post-postmodern.

That post-postmodern mode has seriously injured Hollywood.  It is hard to escape sarcastic cynicism.  The only thing that saves music is its unique character.

Music is concurrently abstract and concrete.  And finds its reflection in souls where mind and passion are united.

I am a big fan of live music.  Especially unamplified music -- like tonight’s performance.

Live music has the raw sound of reality -- flowing directly from the strings to the ear.  With all of the music’s beauty and flaws.

And, of course, seeing the musicians playing in person is exactly the difference between an in-person conversation and a telephone call.  At least half of understanding music is watching the performer create it.

The Parker Quartet excelled in every way tonight.

Their first piece was Haydn’s Quartet No. 57 in C Minor.   The piece is usually performed in a very cerebral manner with Haydn’s unique sense of humor subtly slipped in.

The quartet took a different tack.  They played this Classical Period standard as if they were channeling Schubert.  Lots of arched backs, flying bows, and knowing glances.  Haydn's jests were a bit more vaudeville than Dorothy Parker.  But it all pulled together in one of the finest performances I have seen of this piece.

They then showed their versatility with Dvořák’s Cypresses -- settling into a stately, but passionate, period-perfect performance.

That was the light stuff.  After the intermission, they got down to two meaty serious music pieces.

I had not heard György Kurtág’s 12 Microludes performed live.  The second violin put us on notice that the twelve movements were each based on a note of the chromatic scale.

It was a well-played ploy.  The piece is quite demanding for the performers and the audience.  The movements are atonal and brief.  What some of my fellow concert goers in Salem would have called “noise.”

The San Miguel audience loved it.  And well they should.  It was a good example of contemporary music at its best.

And that brought the quartet to its final piece.  Schumann’s String Quartet No. 2 in F Major.

The first violin eased us into Schumann’s world.  An emotionally troubled composer with innovative and creative musical ideas.  The quartet delivered just that.  In the Romantic Period style the music dictates.

It has been quite a night.  I feel as if I have had the music equivalent of five Thanksgiving dinners.

And there is more tomorrow.  If I start showing symptoms of Stendhal Syndrome, you will know why.


Felipe Zapata said...

I have a corn older than the oldest member of the group. You're quite the card. And thanks for the mental picture.

Steve Cotton said...

Ah, metaphors.  Where would we be without them?

Dan in NC said...

Stendhal, eh? Should you start effusing like the "double rainbow" dude, we will happily douse the overwrought musical passion with a few well timed margaritas and a discussion of the "debt ceiling"  at Harry's...
Dan in NC

Steve Cotton said...

I almost had dinner at Harry's last night.  But enough was enough.

John Calypso said...

Quite a musical variety pack - you do stay busy.

Steve Cotton said...

I try.  Tonight the Parker Quartet is presenting pieces by Hayden, Ligeti, and Brahms.

tancho said...

Something you don't quite hear in Melaque....
What...are you longing for Ranchera music coming from your neighbor's boom box?

Steve Cotton said...

Entertainment comes in many forms.  But I do not have to pine away for ranchera music.  I hear it now and then even in Babs's idyllic surroundings.

Rick said...

It seems odd to me but I have also seen some of the most enjoyable live performances of my life in San Miguel. 

It's not just the performers as it should be but I feel many other influences that come into plaly on the pleasure palette.

In contrast, years ago we took my parents to dinner and a Los Angels Opera production of Puccini staring a charming Mexican, Placido Domingo.

It was very, very good BUT it took us 2 hours to drive the 13 miles to the theater.  The crowd was the typically miserable Americans suffering from traffic and unfulfilled dreams.

It cost $1000 for the dinner and opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. 

I am a believer in the "magic" of a setting like San Miguel enhancing the experience in subtle ways that all add up to smiling faces.

Steve Cotton said...

The small town feel of San Miguel certainly helps to enhance my pleasure of the concerts I attended.  I walk down the hill and end up feeling refreshed when I sit down.  The night is entirely delivered over to pleasure.  And the fact that gthe audience is made up of a lot of fellow artists adds to ambience.  Whatever it is, I like it.  And I will be back.

NWexican said...

Can I just say that we cant quite get that hoity-toity in Salem? We still have turnip trucks here..

Steve Cotton said...

And I was one of the turnip truck drivers. Now I can pretend I just popped down from Toronto.

ANM said...

By the way, Old Duck, are you still talking to that corn for moral advice, or have you moved on to bird entrails?


ANM said...

Hekun Wu at W. U. is pretty hoity-toity, I think.  His Tao of Bach is about as good a cello as I have heard.


Steve Cotton said...

In your absence, I have been chatting up the scorpions.

Steve Cotton said...

Willamette's music program is one of the things I really appreciated about Salem.