Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2010 / 8 Teves, 5771
I Must Change My Life
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | We cannot know his legendary head...
yet his torso is still suffused
with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze,
now turned to low,
gleams in all its power....
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced...
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
--Rainer Maria Rilke,
"Archaic Torso of Apollo"
Went to the second of the season's chamber music concerts the other night at the
I didn't think I could spare the time on a weeknight -- deadlines loomed -- but time was never better spent. For the music met the test of any true work of art, which is that it send out Rilke's imperative: You must change your life.
The program was Pan-American so the first selection was as unavoidable as it was enchanting:
One vision-memory succeeded another:
The beach at
The softly crashing waves.
The rustle of worthless pesos back in the '70s, when any American with a few dollars in his pocket was a millionaire courtesy of the exchange rate.
The one ticket in the loteria nacional that would change everything.
For sophisticated critics, Ponce's music is insufficiently abstract, dense, minimalist, teutonic -- name your favorite curse. Sophisticated: a word akin to sophist.
The third movement of the string trio (Cancion: Andante expressivo) is indeed a song sung slow and expressive, as sad and noble as a long ago time still burning us with its gaze, demanding: You must change your life.
You can hear it all in Ponce's music, Todo el
Then comes the Rondo -- scherzoso, and business picks up. You can almost hear the Gershwin-like taxi horns around the Zocalo.
Funny -- funny strange and funny just funny -- how you remember just where you were when you first read a great book. In this case,
Why must they have the musicians at such concerts deliver an always too-long introduction to each composition and composer? What ever happened to Concert Notes? It's the same mistake announcers on some classical music stations make. My, they do go on. But it's worse when musicians do it. When they can play so well, why waste their talent talking?
Interspersed on the program was some work of composers who are Mexican in name only. The pieces could have been written at any up-to-date conservatory. Like so much of modern music, they are more modern than music, more exercises than compositions. There's nothing wrong with exercises; they sound beautiful overheard in the hall of a music school, or listening to a symphony orchestra warm up. But they should not be confused with the kind of art that speaks, and lets you know: You must change your life.
The high point of the evening, since a Pan-American program must include America, too, is the Dvorak quartet. (No. 13 in G, Op. 106) Naturally, the most American number on the program would be by a foreigner. We're a Nation of Immigrants and all that. It's a truism, but at the heart of every truism is a truth.
Then the players walk away, and the audience disperses into the cold, now music-charged night air. The concert ends. The music doesn't. Neither does its power, its demand, its imperative. I really must change my life.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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