My wife wanted to recuperate from her trip to Boston, with appropriate side recuperative
expeditions for a manicure and to the local plant emporium, so I drove to Fort Worth on my own.
The trip to Fort Worth zigged by in short order, with only one traffic-slowed patch on the 820. I arrived sufficiently early that I had time to grab lunch at Lisa's Fried Chicken prior to the concert. I carefully removed the skin off each piece of chicken, to reduce its toxic fat content, and enjoyed the skinless chicken within.
The Modern Museum auditorium holds a few hundred people. By the time that the concert began, virtually every seat was taken. A polite man with an eastern European accent serving as an usher moved me over one seat so that a collegiate couple could occupy two seats nearby.
Golijov is an Argentine composer who now teaches at a New England university. As do so many fellows, he is a few years younger than I am, but seems older, wiser, and more accomplished. The concert was sponsored by the Van Cliburn Foundation, whose creative director served as the master of ceremonies and also as the pianist. Golijov explained how the first piece, "How Slow the Wind", took
a melody he wrote upon learning of a friend being lost in a car accident in southern Argentina, and paired its with a commission to write music to accompany a New England poet. He chose portions of two Emily Dickinson poems for the resulting "How Slow the Wind". The Fort Worth String Quartet, a part of their local symphony, came out to accompany soprano Virginia Dupuy.
Although the words and the inspiration of the piece were elegaic, the tone and mood of the piece is a kind of warm, understated nostalgia. The piece had a quiet, companionable feel to its meditation on death. The quartet approached the work gingerly, and the vocalist kept her reading restrained and meditative. The result was a delightful short piece, which, in which the mood of the piece cut somewhat in contrast to the lyrics of the song.
The second piece, "there is wind and there are ashes in the wind", utilized piano and clarinet, with each instrumentalist contributing spoken word passages extracted by a speech about the Holocaust by Elie Wiesel. The clarinet player was a TCU professor named Gary Whitman, whose spoken word portions were less expressive than the words spoken by his clarinet. The MC and piano player, Shields-Collins Bray, made both his piano and his spoken word portions spot-on. I love the effective use of sound and spoken word, as in this piece. The piece was profoundly moving, and left the ambiguity of its central message--"what is the use?" applied to creative work, hanging and yet somehow reassuring.
The third piece was "Lua Descolorida", a poem sung in Galician about a distraught woman,
accompanied by a mutedly hopeful melodic instrumental setting. The soprano for this piece, Angela Turner Wilson, gave an amazing and expressive performance. I felt, as I am sure everyone else in the audience felt, that she was singing directly to me. Although the introduction by the composer gave us an idea about the subject matter of the poem, the point was not the literal translation but instead the expressive juxtaposition of sound and voice. This was a lovely reading, and the applause was sustained (but not
tritely overdone). I liked in particular that we got two run-throughs of the piece, one with the quartet, and one with the piano, and the shift in sound from the near-whisper baroque delicacy of the strings to the percussive exactitude of the piano was fascinating. I appreciated that this performance was built to permit such contrasts and information exchanges.
The final piece was my favorite. It was "Yiddishbbuk". Mr. Golijov explained it was about the childrens' concentration camp the Nazis kept "for show" for Red Cross officials, in which children were kept in idyllic camp conditions (and later shipped to Buchenwald). The string quartet without a vocalist played the three movements of this fifteen minute piece, a dissonant, acrobatic odyssey which communicated its subject matter better than words could have done. The quartet seemed more at home in this very difficult piece of music than they had in the relatively straightforward opening piece.
I am insufficiently trained an ear to assess performance quality for strings, but
I am sufficiently appreciative a fan to report that I found the performance moving.
I also valued a great deal many of the other comments that the spoken parts of the performance involved. Golijov, refreshingly free from self-important airs, discussed
the process of creation. He gave what I believe is good advice is many contexts.
Mr. Golijov counseled that the creator should not treat each piece as "so very important". He encouraged the creative artist to envision the act of creation as like baking bread--something one does every day, in hopes of eventually getting a really good loaf.
He said "it takes a lot of work to become even a good minor composer", and that he accepts or rejects commissions based on whether he can envision the song "in his head".
An interesting part of the discussion was involved when his friend, the conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony, explained how it came to be that this symphony had commissioned a Golijov piece. Golijov's own advice for how to create more good modern music was obvious but well-taken--as it can take ten commissioned piece to get one really good one, the secret is for more symphonies to commission more pieces. I wonder if the changes in how music is created and disseminated will one day affect this notion of commissinoed work.
After the concert, the composer and the players were supposedly coming out to the lobby, and I had a brief visualization of how I would look in my cell phone camera's lens standing next to the composer. But I realized I would feel much more at home in the Fort Worth Botanical Garden, and that if I wished to show an appreciation, a polite letter to the composer might be more expressive in any event.
I adjourned to the botanical garden for a forty five minute walk among Fall flowers. I passed the garden wedding in which the bridesmaids all wore above-the-knee denim skirt's and cowgirl boots while "Ode to Joy" provided the processional. I felt my own joy at seeing a zebra longwings butterfly, which is usually only found thirty miles to the north or in Florida or the Carribean, in one of those "oceania" examples of geographic species dislocation.
I really liked going to a 2 p.m. concert in a small auditorium in casual dress to hear
a solid program of modern music. I made a mental note to do this again, and then had a roast beef sandwich and baked chips at Firehouse Subs.
My Arkansas Razorbacks are now losing their football game, but it is all right. On a less good note, during my drive home, my sister called to tell me a nephew had run into a barbed-wire fence, and will require some medical attention. I am hopeful that he is all right, and I am hopeful that my cell phone will ring to update me soon.