Saturday, September 02, 2006

nature versus nurture


There are not many concert halls out of which you can walk straight from the general rehearsal onto a glistening beach. Perhaps San Sebastian is the only one.

At one o’clock I rip the last chord of the Haydn symphony from my instrument, curl into my bathing suit in the ladies’ toilet and run to the beach. As soon as I feel the prickle of sand on the soles of my feet I feel soothed.

For a while I sit and warm myself, watching the parade of tummies and cheeks peep and loll over boxer, support, slip and string and bikini bottoms. People are everywhere: Two-pieces and laptops walking to work, shop assistants’ slacks rolled up on their lunch break, sleek executive surf gear and one-pieces pumping out their aerobic class. When my skin has recovered from the air-conditioning I leap towards the crystalline hoops where I let myself be taken by the ocean. My arms are in the air, my face in a grimace of exhilaration as the surf batters my tired lumbar region and suddenly I see our chef bobbing up and down too, his trunks ballooning around him. It is strangely intimate to be sharing these waters with him, though it should be no more so than sharing sound-waves or the curve of a phrase. Perhaps it is because we are both being tossed by the same force of nature greater than ourselves, and in that we are almost obscenely equal.

After my aquatic massage I walk back through the fleece and fizz of the tide to the beach, drunk on receding concentric circles. There I eat my jamon and tortilla lunch and listen to the water in preparation for the evening’s concert.

Unlike Mozart, Haydn is not a God. To me, he is a real ‘Mensch’. His music is so human and so vulnerable, so witty and often downright silly without having to be that of a pathologically scatological genius. It is soulful without having to be spiritual, and its very simplicity touches on something profound. That night, for the first time in a while, our chef lets the music play us. Our limbs, like his, are caught up in arcs of abandon as our spirits ride on the surf of the shifting harmonies. The sound is free and the gaiety infectious. In the ‘Clock’ symphony, the tick from the bassoons and basses is charmingly mechanical whilst the violins – miraculously rid of their desire to play a tune ‘beautifully’ - float like an ocean breeze over the top.

Then, in the second half, comes THE SERIOUS COMPOSER. Suddenly the waves have abandoned us and we are back in our hardwood concert hall with three thousand people listening to our already renowned interpretation of Mozart’s 41st symphony. The regular tempo changes make me feel as if the backbone has slipped out of the body of the score, and the harmonies, rather than being established and let go of until they are ready to move on, are insistent and constantly driven. There are dramatic pauses that make me feel seasick. We are no longer playing together, we are following our chef who is carving out his vision.

The audience love it. The applause is deafening. People are whooping and whistling. We bow together, our chef modestly mingling amongst us and raising up the score to show his appreciation of the composer. We walk off stage and I am one of only three, it seems, who feel that the concert has been a schizophrenic exercise in nature versus nurture.

Back to the waves, say I as, bemused, I make my way to bed where I send myself to sleep with the ultimate nature versus nurture story: We need to talk about Kevin....


Blogger granny p said...

I am consumed with envy for someone who can get inside this music by playing it...Spend time in myself trying to work out in non-musical terms the profound difference between Haydn and Mozart. The one deep airy somehow effortless...(oh to get into the sea afterwards! - perfect.) The other... Heard 41st at Proms 2 weeks ago. As a non-musician am stunned each time I hear that last movement - seems to me one of the most extraordinary pieces of music ever; what did they make of it at the time.. How does it seem to musicians then? Wish I could have heard your band's version.

Have to say too again how I love to read your inside views of playing - chefs - cellists - orchestras - COMPOSERS! Thanks

11:42 AM  
Blogger joeri said...

Personally, I'm fonder of symphonies 29, 31 and 33. But I do have a 41 on cd as well (the Gardiner / English Baroque Soloists one on the Philips label).

2:13 PM  

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