Can large groups of people hear a musical performance without electronic amplification? In the 21st century, where music follows us everywhere—elevator, airport lounge, restaurant, stadiums—it’s a question that hardly needs to be considered. And yet, at one point, it did.
On Sunday at 4pm I was reminded again why playing chamber music is what I love the most. Aside from its musical nimbleness—melody and accompaniment constantly changing hands—getting from rehearsal to performance with just a handful of players demands that each member of the group contribute to the process of creation.
By the year 1742, in frail health and almost completely blind, Johann Sebastian Bach, like Matisse, realized that he was in the final creative phase of his life. It was at that point that he gave himself an unbelievably challenging assignment—the complete exploration of a musical form—a form described by constraints.
In January of 1941 the French painter Henri Matisse underwent a risky and grueling operation for intestinal cancer. Though the surgery was successful, his recovery was difficult—and long. Matisse, weak and fragile, found himself confined to his bed—an unhappy prisoner of a new physical reality.
Last week I shared how writing Haiku on the subway—what I call “Subku”—has given me that gift. Observing my fellow subway riders and then crafting vignettes into verse turns a temporary distraction into a permanent memory.
One of great joys of living in New York City is people-watching. New Yorkers surreptitiously eye one another on the street, while standing at the curb, and in line at the bank. We observe parents and children, tourists, new lovers. We overhear conversations and are pulled in to the good ones—even if we don’t intend to.