Tuesday I met Charles Curtis, whose Waking States series of concerts I’ve been attending, for lunch in a cafe at the Ansonia Hotel. Lots of cello shop talk, beginning with our student experiences and working our way to the present. He’s created a very rewarding professional life for himself in which the majority of his playing and teaching (at UC San Diego) is centered in progressive, experimental music.
He loves this music. And who could ask for a better life than doing what one loves? We talked briefly about the advantages of a university position, including the fact that it provides a financial security which enables an artist (whether musical, theatrical, visual, literary, or whatever) to do his or her art without being concerned with how many tickets are sold. Each Waking State concert, for example, is attended by about 50 people. For a mainstream classical recital, that would pretty much be a disaster, if the concert had to pay for itself and provide a significant fee to the performer(s). But that’s not a concern for Charles, as it isn’t a concern for most concerts I play. So the success of the concert isn’t measured by how many people come. What makes it a success is that it’s music the performer(s) love(s), heard by an audience which really wants to hear it.
The evening brought dinner with my “quasi-siblings” Kath and Steven (I lived off and on at their house during college and immediately after and became a part of the family) at a wonderful Greek restaurant near Carnegie Hall, followed by a very mainstream concert, “Richard Goode and Friends.”
It was a really delightful program. Goode opened by performing Beethoven’s Bagatelles, Op. 119, twelve short pieces I had never before heard. This was followed by the Brentano String Quartet and violist Hsin-Yun Huang playing the Mozart D Major String Quintet. After intermission was Beethoven’s Elegaic Song Op. 118 for vocal quartet and string quartet, and the Mozart E-flat Major Piano Quartet brought the evening to a close.
Talk about loving what you play! Goode, whom I’d never heard/seen in concert before, radiates both joy in music making and affection for the music. His playing is insightful, musical, and technically impeccable. His main “friends” for the evening, the Brentano players, are also fine, enthusiastic artists, whose playing I very much admired. It was a shut-my-eyes-and-listen event, for I found first violinist Mark Steinberg’s swaying distracting. My companions were seated in a different row. When we found each other at intermission, it turned out they had been irritated by the cellist, who had the piano moved after they quintet had sat down, who had to stop one movement when her D string popped and had to be retuned, and whose breathing my friends found to be overly audible and distracting. On their way out to the lobby, they were discussing this and a gentleman near them asked, “Are you talking about the cellist?” Once that was confirmed, he continued, “She looks high maintenance. Probably orders her salad dressing on the side.”
OK, OK. But she plays great. If the playing is wonderful, I don’t care how much someone moves, snorts, sings other or has the furniture moved.
Another interesting reaction Kath and Steve had was to the body movements of the quartet members. As I mentioned above, I spent most of the concert with my eyes shut, really just opening them when the combination of the pre-dinner martini, the wonderful food, and the glass of wine threatened to induce sleep, so I didn’t spend much time watching. Kath wondered if there was some one-upmanship among the players as to whom could look most involved. I have no idea, but it is interesting that she sensed this, for it can happen, whether consciously or not.
It was not just an enjoyable but also a very interesting program, with the inclusion of the rarely performed Bagatelles and Elegaic Song. I thoroughly enjoyed it.