2011-10-11 ...

I read this brief piece by Alex Ross, and then the Nick Frisch NYT piece he cites, and am struck by several things:

1. What happened with Ay Wei Wei earlier this year, and the shameful silence about it on the part of a major USian museum, which was also about to embark, if memory serves, on some sort of collaboration with the People’s Republic. And speaking of Ay, the news has been rather silent on that score of late, I think.

2.The not-so-veiled implication in Frisch’s article that institutions (including arts ones) in the US are prepared to forgive China a great deal because they have a great deal of cash. Pretty yucky. Especially now that the Occupy Wall Street people’s movement seems to be catching on. As Paul Krugman and now a bunch of others have pointed out, the mere fact that the OWS folk are attracting the ire of the bankers, and the politicians they bankroll, is enough to tell us that what they’re saying hits home. 

Had a lovely coffee today with dear friend T*** who is a very fine writer. We got to talking about something I’ve written about before: how in the US art and society in general have persistently failed to knit themselves together. He told me about some mutual friends, people really committed to the arts, just returned from a 6-month sabbatical based in Barcelona. While working and everything, they still managed to take some trips around Europe –I mean really, who wouldn’t? Both said that what they brought away from this experience was primordially how every European country they visited has incorporated the arts into its life AND its ECONOMY. 
To many, this may sound like a “DUH” sort of situation, but I think it’s close to the heart of at least one of the significant fault-lines that I see opening up in the US. 

Let historians and economists deal with the minutiae of this question: to me it is clear that to have a more humane country –with a lower infant-mortality rate and a far lower percentage of its people in prison, just to pick two salient examples– you MUST have a country in which people are engaged with dance, with theatre, with music, with poetry. 

And not only that -- I mean engaged AS PARTICIPANTS. Why? Because when you are trying to make a poem on something you really care about, suddenly you have something to lose apart from the miserable paycheck you more than earn. If you make an enormous paycheck which you can’t even imagine how to earn, the experience will give you humility. When you yearn to play the fiddle or the guitar like one of your heroes, in order to see if you are progressing you must really listen to yourself. From this you can learn both critical thinking and listening, as well as compassion. And, when you accomplish part or all of what you strove for, you get to experience well-deserved pride. 

When all this is part of a group or collective effort, as in chamber music, in a choir, or in something like the Venezuelan “El Sistema” youth orchestras, the critical thinking, the humility, the compassion, and the pride –most of all the love— are multiplied a thousand-fold … and you also learn the epiphany of collective effort. If you don’t know about “El Sistema”, google it. It should be part of everyone’s store of everyday knowledge. 

I live in the state of Guanajuato, in México. This is far from being a mushy liberal tree-hugger sort of state. Nevertheless, in practically every town –even the tiniest and most remote— there is a “Casa de la Cultura” -- literally translated, a House of Culture. In FIFTY-FIVE of them there is a PIANO. There are many things that can be improved, but at the end of the day the fact that this exists signifies that there is some sort of awareness here. There is also, just by the way, the Seguro Popular, which is completely gratis and which is basically free health insurance for people who can’t afford anything else. And you know what? I believe you can enroll in it even if you are a foreigner.


Enough about society and justice and all, that was my rant for the day. Things that 
are really beautiful here the last couple of days:

IT IS RAINING. We have been horribly short of rain this year. This is High Desert, geographically. Normally it rains –if one can talk about “normal” weather anymore, which I guess we can’t—starting in late May or early June. There is a gradual crescendo from a little afternoon shower during the first few weeks to a daily rainstorm in August; always in the afternoon to late evening. Then in September it starts to taper off, and there is a gradual decrescendo to late October. Then it Stops Raining –I mean Completely –until late May or early June of the following year. It’s not unusual that it starts raining late, but it always generates uneasiness. 

This year, as in 2009, it started late and never really got into its rhythm. Now, suddenly in late September-early October, it is starting to act almost like August. A couple of sweet slow rains that go on for hours: just what we need to fill the presas, the reservoirs; and our souls.

WHAT TIME DOES TO MUSIC: TO LISZT, TO URIBE, TO CABRERA BERG. Nothing new here, just that every time it happens, it feels like an epiphany, a miracle. I work on these pieces really hard, with the utmost concentration; I perform them, I record them at home, I meditate on them and then play again. And then I let them rest, in this case just for a few days … and ¡¡EPIPHANY!! All that patient incremental work suddenly bears fruit and they take flight. It is indeed a miracle. 
When that happens I think, Ay dios, let me just be in my cavern, holed up and listening, listening and playing, listening and meditating, playing and listening. 

Why o why is it so hard to Protect my Time? But the truth is that, while I must as always work to protect my own time, I would also feel fundamentally incomplete if I didn’t participate in the artistic community of which I am a part, and even in the community of my barrio, my neighborhood, which had absolutely no idea of what I do, or appreciation of it, however much I said about it … until they saw me on TV a couple of months ago. 

This DOES have to do with the voice of the interpreter, and centrally. I must write about this, it’s something about which I’ve thought so much. Rodolfo Coelho’s penetrating question a little over a year ago brought it to the forefront once again. What I wrote then got lost with Laptop Theft Number Four. A large part of the almost unmitigated rage I felt about that was the loss of some writing I’d done which was not recoverable. I guess I’m largely over that now, and so can start to re-stitch that particular lost thread. I’ll do it soon.

I leave you all with this quote from Arrau on the interpretation of Liszt, which Russell Sherman –another hero of mine— quotes in his amazing book “Piano Pieces,” jam-packed with wisdom, passion, and humor:

Claudio Arrau on Liszt: “Declamation. Uninhibited expression. One must not feel ashamed of playing this music. The idea that he can be ‘corrected’ by understatement is utterly wrong.
“Continuing: ‘In general, when actors in this country [speaking of the US] do Shakespeare, they almost always underplay. They act as if they are ashamed of their roles and lives. They think people will laugh at them. If they would go all out, all the way, they would find that people would not laugh but be riveted. They would weep. Certain performances must make you weep, either for the sheer beauty of it of for the depth of feeling.’ [From The Essential Piano Quarterly].”

I will go a step further, and say, One must not feel ashamed of playing ANY music. If you feel ashamed about it, or even NEUTRAL, you shouldn’t be playing it. Find a way to be utterly convinced and passionate about it, or find other repertoire.

CPE Bach: “Play from the heart, not like a well-trained bird.”