This week promised to be a fun program. A new piece (well, new to me, and the PSO), a cello concerto, and Sibelius. And I approached this, well, a bit whistfully.
The highlight of the concert was the Haydn Concerto with Lynn Harell.
From the start, as the orchestra was playing, you could see Lynn
showing his sense of humor. Not merely sitting as the orchestra
played, but actively looking around, peering at the violins and other
strings as he waited for his part of the concerto. And when he did
play, it sung of joy and freedom of creating music. His cadenza was
full of humor, with many little vignettes throughout. And even the
breaks when the rest of the orchestra played were done with humor,
including a cello twirl when one of his sections completed.
Was this proper for such a distinguished venue? Certainly, it is a
difference from the practiced virtuosity that we see from our parade of
soloists, most of home seem as talented as the next. A part of me
wants to rejoice in the expression of being human, which is much more
than talent, it is joy, the opportunity to enthrall and enchant and
engage, all of which takes more then just skill. And another part
reminds me that the classics is more than the performance of something
written on paper.
A friend of mine complained about classical music is that it is the
rememberance of dead white males. This is also something said about
much of literature and the arts. The reality is that classical music,
as well as what we consider the "classics" of literature and the other
arts represents the best of their type over centuries, each work having
to prove itself not only against its contemporaries, but the body of
work that came over the centuries before, and the work produced by
those who came afterwards in the centures that followed. The works
that survive this competition, are those that have had something to
contribute to a canon that spans centuries.
But the real question is: does the experiencing and study of the
works of centuries have any virtue? Why not just take in the arts and
works of the moment, of the day? Does the evolutionary selection of
the best of time give anything beyond that created by the here and now?
At this time, I am preparing myself to go to Afghanistan as part of
the NATO efforts there. And like many young men off to war over the
centuries, part of me is in anticipation, part of me nervousness
wondering how I will fare being tested in a war zone. Like many of the
officers and men that I will be alongside, I have been reading the
classics. I’ve read Thucydides, reviewed the campaigns of Alexander
the Great, the retreat of Xenophon and the Peninsular campaign. A
little closer to contemporary times, I’ve read T. E. Lawrence, David
Galula, David Halberstam, H. R. McMaster, John Nagl as well as learning
the craft that I will practice when I am there. And the question is,
does all this make a difference? Is the only thing that matter are my
own skills and beliefs, or can the ancients (or not so ancient) say
something and transmit hard earned wisdom that has been tested through
the ages by thousands of years of other young men who have gone of to
war and lived long enough to tell their stories? As I sit and write
this while taking a break from the myriad of details that come with an
upcoming leaving from home, I can only say, I will learn.