Saturday, September 26, 2009

Of the performances of a lifetime...

This week, a good friend and truly brilliant individual sent me an email that completely blew me away, days before the news contained within made an impact with my physical environment. As one of my only classical music loving friends, she's always on the lookout for things with strings and my implication in that world, and vice versa.

So imagine my astonishment when she dropped word that she had received two gratis tickets for the Leon Fleisher concert that happened last night as part of the new eXcentris music programming, a show that was like, $100 a pop otherwise.

A bit of background on Fleisher: He is one of the world's most renowned pianists, and has an incredible presence both musically and physically. He also had a neurological accident that has left his right hand unable to play for the last 30 years (I think). Very recently, new treatments allowed the use of both hands to come back to him. Until then, he had been playing left-handed repertoire only. Pretty crazy stuff.

The program itself was what initially got me excited, however. German romantics everywhere! (Who would have thought?) Schumann & Brahams & Bach. While Bach isn't a romantic himself, (well, at least not in terms of what we call his music) the piece Fleisher played was Bach's Chaccone de Partita No. 2 in D minor, arranged by Brahams for the left hand.

The story goes (and charmingly so, from Fleisher's direct account) that Clara Schumann, Robert Schummann's wife and ridiculously famous pianist in her own right, who happened to be Brahams' long-time love (who was a good friend of their family) had something happen to her right hand for awhile which made it unable for her to play with it, so as a gift, Brahams arranged this favoured piece of music for her left hand only.

Yeah. Now THAT'S pretty friggin' romantic. Imagine you are a gifted musician and are all bored in the house wondering what to do while the one hand heals up, when your life-long companion and family friend shows up with your favourite music arranged so you can actually play.....And this ain't just any music, it's BACH. Not an easy feat, and a truly creative and beautiful gift, gesture.

To her, at the time, and for all of us, now. Fleisher played extraordinarily, and I swear when you closed your eyes it sounded like two hands had to be playing, the interplay of notes being so richly intricate and woven together. It was unbelievable. And so poignant, I thought, on the part of Fleisher. What must he have gone through those 30 years? To not be able to fully play the instrument that you love must have been such a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, or I can imagine it would have been so. To have the faith and the courage to keep going and then to still embrace the left-hand only pieces after the recovery of the right hand movement is such as sign of his wisdom and his ability to develop within his particular set of circumstances. It was deeply, deeply moving.

Equally as moving, from a completely different vantage point, was the final piece of the evening, a Quintet by Brahams (op. 34) in F minor. Fleisher was joined by Michael Tree on Viola, Andy Simionescu & Pamela Frank on violin, and Matt Haimovitz on Cello.

The composition itself is staggering, a fiery source of heat, dragon coming back from a long journey looking behind itself to flare a few last puffs into the night air. Its intensity and richness added a certain kind of mellow complicity to the notes, and the combination between fire and snuff was truly marvelous to be present with. And the musicians played the shit out of it and had a joyous time doing so.

What miracles can happen within music. And in turn, within the self.

And the dudes playing are just these regular humans that have had these lives of heartache and difficulty and excitement and and and. Fleisher himself is testament to that, in terms of his struggles and situations. And to play anyway, or because of. The real connection comes from the human heart that carries the music deep inside, alongside all the other factors that make up who we are - our loneliness, our daily challenges, our desires, our letting-goes....

Truly unforgettable as you take it all with you, or at least the traces of.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I've been thinking often lately of breathing...

...and I think there's some pretty essential stuff going down with the whole respiring (is that the right word? can I just make it so anyhow?) process, more on my thoughts on it later. But for now, check out Rainer Maria Rilke's take on the matter, or one of his takes, potentially: (translated, incidentally, by Karl H. Siegler which definitely makes some type of difference in the matter)


Breath, you invisible poem!
Recurrent about what is its own
being pure exchange of spaces. Counterweight,
in which rhythm I appear as the event of myself.

Singular wave, whose
gradual sea I am;
most frugal of all possible seas, -
attainment of space.

How many of these snares of the spaces are a place
surrendered from where it was within me. At times the winds
are like my son.

Do you know me again, air, full still of what were once my sites?
You, at once smooth rind,
curve and leaf of my words.

(from Sonnets to Orpheus)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ginger is the new black

Tonight I was cooking with, amongst other things, one of my favourite objects/plants/tastes in the world, (that I know so far) namely ginger, which somehow got me thinking about where it actually comes from and what it looks like.

Turns out ginger is the root of the plant (or, most acurately, its rhizome) which likely everyone knows but me. I also believed (until a few years ago) that the moon glowed from within, and was shocked to find out its light comes from the reflection of the sun, so you'll have to bear with me.

The plant itself is beautiful, and there are like a billion natural remedies you can party with when spending quality time with ginger, which include its being useful for fighting seasickness, various cancers, diarrhea, colds and a whackload of other annoying and just plain nasty conditions.

Basically, I knew ginger rocked, but it actually rocks way harder than I ever could have imagined. It's like Led Zeppelin in the early years or something. Thank god for ginger!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Viva Viva!

So last night I THINK I maybe saw the best piece of art I will potentially see all year. Or at least, the best performance. But maybe art. But maybe performance….oh dear me. You see, the person responsible for the piece actually blew up my mind, so thinking has been a wee difficult since.

Picture it - Viva! Art Action’s second installation (installation being second time the festival’s been crafted together) and we’re all at Bain Saint Michel (5300 St Dominique) where the majority of the festival is going on. People are waiting for the first performance, from Belgium’s Gwendoline Robin, and I am thinking again about how much I dislike performance art in general.

Which is funny, because almost all of the papers I have ever written have been about performance, just by chance, and I find myself here at a performance festival, just by chance, and maybe I was on one of the selection committees, just by chance. But performance art is soooo annoying, and boring, and self-indulgent.

It also really isn’t. It also has this uber-potential, of the sort that Katamari has when it has gathered many objects, to reconfigure my sense of self or at least self-in-relation (which is likely what self is to a large degree) and make me stop breathing and change the ways in which or add to those that I spend time thinking of this and and and.

That said, a medium with such gobs of powerful responsibility and consideration is often one that suffers from too many people engaging with it, and engaging with it in shallow or less-than-thoughtful ways. I gotta say it, I think it’s true. And I think that, as an audience member, my role is one of active participant in a way that truly goes beyond what that mundane majority do when encountering art, which more-than-often includes myself. This requires a certain attentiveness that is at the best of times pretty draining and hard to find within oneself. Especially in my look-there-no-here-bam-bam-change-the-flickr-time-to-go-elsewhere culture.

But the stuff of the likes that Robin creates, executes, exhudes, helps surpass all of my issues of presence and of pretention or thinking-while-I-watch. She cuts through that dissonance like a knife, like the shards she broke off her rod of glass that she started her piece with. And let me say here and now that while I will describe her actions, that’s nothing in comparison to her actions themselves. Not one bit, not a whit, barely similar, almost opposite.

Imagine trying to describe a performance by your favourite musician. They played a bunch and they didn’t play a bunch. If you only use actions, you’re really not getting to the heart of the matter. Which you can’t really do, not just in words. Or else Gwendoline (I suppose) would have just written a little essay about her work and stayed in.

Basically, long and short, she came, she lit paper on fire, in her hands, and then a helmet, BOOM, on her head, after putting on coats and taping her neck (balaclava eyes staring out) and the coil on the helmet looking like a stove, spiralling round and round who would have thought that upon impact, the fuse wouldn’t just slowy weave its way to the centre of her skull no it didn’t there was nothing slow about it, she offered us no time to watch or ponder or panic she just

blew off her head.

And in doing so, she blew everyone’s head off as well. Trust me on this. I can attest, I have a mirror, what more can I say.

Gwendoline Robin knows about phrasing, and pace. The rhythm in her performance was of the kind that allows for momentum, breath, and a dissolving of outside concerns. One thing that makes much durational work seem overly this-or-that I think might be a lack of attention to phrasing. In this way, the body in performance, like the body in so much (music, physical comedy, dance) responds to space as much as it responds to mass.

There were 2 other performances that night, and you can read about some of it on the Viva! Blog, but to be honest, I needed to go home straight away after she had blown our collective minds. I would explain, but I doubt I need to. What else could you do? So much power, adrenaline and intention would have been enough in and of itself, but then I had to tend to my physical meltdown as well. Anything else would have been rash and impudent.

Of special note, Viva! has a 6:30 pm supper call every day during the fest, and last night it was beef stew (vegetarian options) and it looked seriously really good. Only $5, and a great way to hang out with folks/support the festival. Go go go! I will eat the stuff off your plate you don’t want.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Hail the spirit, that may unite us;
for verily in images we live.
And with small steps the clocks do pace
beside our actual day.

Without knowing our true place,
we proceed from working alignments.
The antennae feel the antennae,
and the empty distance spanned...

Pure tension. Oh music of the powers!
Do not our venial transactions
turn all interference from you?

Though the farmer toil and trouble,
there where the seed turns into summer,
he will never reach. The earth bestows.

Rainer Maria Rilke, from Sonnets to Orpheus

Of the architectural micro and macrocosmos, for to sleep on.

I am about to be fascinated (I can sense it) by this man's life work, one Christopher Alexander, who co-wrote the groundbreaking book(s) A Pattern Language which argues, in a non-argumentative way, that users know enough about buildings that they should be given a text from which to create and adapt structures from. An architectural bible, torah, koran, what-have-you.

Far too tired to write more about it, I would rather be in bed having dreams of the nameless qualities of fireplaces and living spaces, but I am sure to rattle on his chain in the days to come. A most marvelous enchantment to have been introduced to courtesy of one ever-knowledgeable and affable dear, dear friend of mine.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Faster comes the fall.

So perhaps it is due to having my own garden for the first time (photos of its splendor to come as soon as I can find my battery charger) or the rains that torrentially scared away potential beiges and yellows this summer, but I feel as if I have never seen such unfurling of green as I did this year.

Which is one of the reasons why the typical excitement I get from fall tumblings and autumnal rumbles has been replaced by heart-string pangs of wondering-where-this-death-came-from and how-can-the-trees-be-turning-colour-already. It was such a mild and lush summer this year that I find myself upset by the onslaught of hibernating, instead of growing, things and beasties.

At the same time, everything to its season, and all things must have a chance to rest. As well, if there was constant growth and constant green, maybe its magic would be less potent. I guess the surprise I have over my melancholic perspective on my traditionally favourite season's arrival will have to be mulched through like the last of the compost, to turn it into a finer understanding of the beauty behind everything in moderation.

It was still a pretty amazing and awe-inspiring season of growing bits though. Just saying...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

On Being and Doing

1. We are warmed by fire, not by the smoke of the fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship. So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.

But my soul is hidden and invisible. I cannot see it directly, for it is hidden even from myself. Nor can I see my own eyes. They are too close to me for me to see them. They are not meant to see themselves. I know I have eyes when I see other things with them.

I can see my eyes in a mirror. My soul can also reflect itself in the mirror of its own activity. But what is seen in the mirror is only the reflection of who I am, not my true being. The mirror of words and actions only partly manifests my being.

The words and acts that proceed from myself and are accomplished outside myself are dead things compared with the hidden life from which they spring. These acts are transient and superficial. They are quickly gone, even though their effects may persist for a little while. But the soul itself remains. Much depends on how the soul sees itself in the mirror of its own activity.

Thomas Merton, from the essay Being and Doing

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When the going gets rough, eat.

While at a friend's home tonight I was blessed by the chance to see a rare and beautiful sight, which is always a treat. His roommate, a lovely and (I suspect) ridiculously wise human being admitted to me upon my arrival that he was in a bad mood, and had turned to cooking in order to calm down somewhat. I admired the notion and related that this kind of activity always seems to help me out too, and then left him in peace as I felt perhaps he needed some space.

When I walked through the kitchen sometime later, I saw a veritable feast laid out on the table, lovingly and carefully, with only said cook at the head, no one else. With a little steak all for himself and a huge array of dishes beautifully presented. I had no camera so had to take a picture in my mind, one of self-care and gorgeous affirmation of sensual time away from the rattles and hums.

It's so precious to be able to even have a sense of what makes you feel better when low, and another gift wrapped by an entirely-different-sort-of-creature to be able to have the chutzpah to go ahead and do things that bring you joy in those moments. And how amazing is it that so many people I know, including (often) myself, have the resources to do so and deny ourselves small but important, healing moments.

Hats off to this friend, and his swirling leaves of cale and plate of beet. To leave stains on the hands as a reminder the next day.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Days where it truly IS better to just stay in bed (or, alternatively, go to sea)

You know the kind, where each and every single person, stranger and lover and in-between(er) completely confounds, confuses and annoys at turns. And there is absolutely no way that you won't do the same, smacking the emotional weak parts of every living thing under the sun with the slightest glance in their direction.

Not that this kind of day isn't important in its own right, a good, humble reminder of the feeling of frustration on the hands (and the weight of it against the heart). Indeed, sometimes I find these days downright comical in their never-ending spew of ridiculous miscommunications and live wire activitives.

Today in particular I felt at least a kindred tug-of-spirit from across a century and an oceanous mass of water, if not moreso, in the words of Ishmael from the opening chapter of Melville's Moby Dick. Seems like he can very much relate to the kind of day I had:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.

I suppose I need to take this alignment of sentiment literally and run away to the sea, even if I get rather cross at being too far away from my nut-bread and kitchen chair. Perhaps the Tookish part of me will win out and I shall lash out with the waves instead of at the waitresses.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On why things just aren't the same as they used to be....

Apparently, the early 70s and I are having a wee love affair at the moment, as the vinyls that I got my grubby little hands on yesterday will attest to. The first, a remastered edition of Neil Young's monumental 1971 concert at Massey Hall. The second, a 1972 recording, again remastered, of the unparalleled Nick Drake's Pink Moon album.

Listening to this stuff is like listening to pure magic, or walking through places long ago abandoned that have rooms and decay and wafts of things-that-were and and and.

Neil Young has always sounded like coming home to me, even if I didn't start listening to him until later on in life. And Nick Drake is somehow the same, but a different home, one that instead of actively living in, you visit after being away for a long time. Young is the homestead, Drake is the hearth-of-times-gone-by. Hard to describe, really.

All this to say I had no idea these albums were put out so close in time to one another, as the two have some similarities but ultimately seem to live in totally different realms. But how blessed I am that I can go traipsing through both, and settle down and watch the clouds, making patterns with each that are parts sentimental and fleeting, equally.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

hands that smell of green tomato.

For the Love of Rest.

Reading the 1951 publication, the Sabbath from the beautiful brain of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel right now, and loving every word, letting them linger, as the ideas he sheds light on ought to.

It's a simple story told in a simple way, but it reminds me of the stuff of heart and guts and the ways in which I avoid said organs and truths on a fairly constant basis, to be honest. It discusses the importance of a day of rest, to take time to be. Regardless of your spiritual/religious background or inclination, or lack thereof, I feel like the need for rest and for consideration is something we often universally choose not to engage with, while crying out for it all the more in places deep within ourselves.

I am sure I will be posting more about it, but here's a bit for now:

They who want to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. They must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling their own life. They must say farwell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of humans. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.