Friday night I accepted a last-minute invitation from a friend who suddenly had an extra ticket to hear violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Palladium in Carmel, Indiana. It was part of the Bose McKinney & Evans Classic Series.
I don’t know much at all about classical music and I confess that I had never heard of Anne-Sophie Mutter. I accepted without knowing anything about the show simply because I wanted to spend time with my friend.
However, the concert itself was a sublime experience on many levels. I am in the middle of writing some theatre reviews but I want to write a quick post about this right now in an attempt to capture a few of the details.
The stage was bare except for the piano in the middle of it. The house lights dimmed a bit at the beginning, but not so much that the artist would have to squint to see the audience. Other lights came up to illuminate the stage, but the brightness was warm, inclusive. Light glinted off the polished surface of the black piano and, after the concert started, the equally polished, tawny wood of the violin, but it did so in a natural way. There were no sharp-edged spotlights or razzle-dazzle lighting colors, for example.
The overall effect of the staging was one of mutually respectful intimacy, which I loved. There was respect for the musicians, respect for the music itself, and respect for the listeners. The feeling of intimacy surprised me because the Palladium space is several stories high.
The artist wore a floor-length yellow silk gown with sparkling embroidery at the strapless bodice and mermaid hem. It was sexy, dramatic, and glamorous – a compliment to the audience and the music as well as a complement to her body.
I confess that I didn’t notice what her recital partner, Lambert Orkis, wore. Something dark and formal, so probably a tuxedo? Yes, I remember now that he had to flip out his tails when he sat down at the piano.
What I did notice about the pianist’s appearance (his costume, if you will, although I don’t suppose he was even aware of wearing it) was the delighted little smile that appeared on his face whenever he looked up at Anne-Sophie Mutter for cues. Along with the delight in that tiny smile were respect and pleasure and humble self-confidence. It made me feel happy whenever I saw it.
The two musicians left the stage and re-entered between each piece. Except for at the very end, when Anne-Sophie Mutter announced the name of the encore piece before they played it, neither musician said a word. However, she made eye contact with everyone – in the front rows, middle rows, far rows, box seats on either side, even the box seats way up near the ceiling behind her – and gave grave little nods to acknowledge our applause. This, too, added to the feeling of mutually respectful intimacy.
I don’t know if I was truly worthy of respect since I was there on a whim. (Courtesy, yes – everyone deserves courtesy – but I hadn’t earned any respect as a classical music listener because I simply had not heard very much.)
However, even I could tell that the music was definitely worthy of respect, and the way that Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis played it certainly was.
The program included four pieces:
The first was “Sonata No. 27 in G Major for violin and piano, K.379” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
It was beautiful. I know that “beautiful” is an over-used word but it is the only one that will do here. This piece of music was about beauty. It set the bar for beauty. It exemplified beauty. If I write “beauty” too many times the word starts to look odd to me, but then I remember how this piece made me feel, what it made me think of, and “beauty” is again the right word.
The second piece was “Fantasie in C Major, D. 984” by Franz Schubert.
“Ah,” I thought as I listened. “This piece is about communication in a partnership.”’
Then I thought, “Oh, Hopie, that’s probably dumb. Probably every piece of classical music written for two different instruments – in this case a violin and a piano – is about communication in partnership. How could it not be?”
But dumb or not, that’s what this piece made me think of: a successful relationship between two people.
There were two strong voices – two strong personalities – living together in the same piece of music. Sometimes they followed one another around; sometimes they spoke in a kind of unison; sometimes they spoke over each other; sometimes they politely waited for each other to speak. But neither ever overpowered the other. Both were changed by being in this combination but neither one was blended out of existence.
Then came an intermission. As the house lights came back up, my friend and I looked at each other and said, “Wow!”
After intermission, the third piece was “Partita” by Witold Lutoslawski. The second “l” in “Lutoslawski” should have a little line through it but I don’t know how to do that on my keyboard.
This piece sounded like science fiction. It made me want to laugh, but I didn’t laugh because I didn’t want to miss a word – I mean, a note – so instead I listened with my mouth open, and more tears streaming down my face.
(The first two pieces had made me cry, too. Even though each of the four pieces made me think and feel different things, the intensity of each experience made me cry. I tried to cry quietly, of course, but otherwise I just let the tears flow. I loved that the music was having such a cathartic effect on me. It was a healing and a blessing as well as an artistic treat.)
The notes in the “Partita” piece fell into place in a satisfying way but in a storytelling way rather than a lyrical way, if that makes sense. There was a lot that was unexpected to my ear, but I enjoyed it.
The fourth piece was “Sonata No. 1 in D minor for violin and piano” by Camille Saint-Saens.
This piece seemed to be about power and transformation.
In the middle of it I flashed on to the fact that it was Friday night and therefore all over the city at this moment in time there were many excellent performance artists doing their thing. They were drawing on years of developing their gifts in order to create amazing art for their audiences tonight. Their art could never again be experienced in exactly the same way because it was alive in a precise time and place. For a moment, I felt connected even to the cosmos.
Then I zoomed back into my own time and place in which I was being paradoxically both transformed and restored by music that was so exquisite I almost couldn’t stand it. I reminded myself to keep breathing.
“Please keep playing forever,” I thought.
But of course, nothing lasts forever.
At the end of the fourth piece, we all applauded madly until Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis came back out and gave us an encore.
“’Habanera’ by Ravel,” she announced.
It was brief but lovely – just right for sending us on our way.
The ushers told us that there would be a “meet and greet” in the south lobby so my friend and I hurried to stand in line. We didn’t have the money to buy a CD but the artists were willing to sign programs and have their pictures taken, so we asked for that.
The ushers also told everyone that the musicians had a plane to catch so no one lingered long at the signing table. Then a young girl spoke to Anne-Sophie in German…and the movement of the line stopped while Anne-Sophie chatted warmly with the girl and her family.
I don’t know German but I imagine that the young girl said something like, “Thank you for this evening. I hope to be a concert violinist, too, some day.”
I imagine that Anne-Sophie said something like, “I look forward to hearing you. Keep practicing!”
Everything about this incredibly gifted artist was gracious. I am very glad she included the Indianapolis area on her tour, and very glad I got to hear her and her recital partner play.
‘See you at the theatres!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.
© 2013 Hope Baugh