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.


  1. how are you going kit?I've just finished the jockey tortilla flat by john Steinbeck.That was such a huge humor.No I've started to read the science fiction by Rene Barjavel to name Le Grand Secret. What are your favorites on books now?

  2. Tortilla Flat is one of my favourite books of all time!!!! Steinbeck at his best.

    I am reading Moby Dick right now, actually, and a book about women in performance art in Canada, and the Sabbath (slowly, very slowly) which I highly recommend to one and all.

    Hope you are most well!!!