Pelleas und, oops, et Melisande

Feb 1, 2011

It has been months and months since I last wrote on this blog. Many notes have been played but none written in far too long. In fact it had been so long that I forgot my password for this site!!!  I want to jump back in by writing about a highlight of the fall season for me. The one that changed my life is the run of Pelleas with None other than Sir Simon Rattle. There are moments in one’s life where you can feel something changing within yourself. This was one of those moments. The rehearsal period was fairly extensive, about two weeks worth and there were only 5 performances. It’s really hard to know where to start but I’d love to examine why these particular rehearsals and performances were so wonderful.

Let’s start with the conductor. Simon Rattle communicates music through his hands, face and body as though he were a Stradivarius violin. This in turn allows us musicians to play similarly. He inspires with every gesture and glance, the seriousness or levity of the music. In rehearsals he is a great communicator and serious musician but you could also tell he was a generous person. I guess it didn’t hurt that he offered us a wine and cheese reception after the last rehearsal. Bribery always works with orchestras! His rhythm and stick technique are wonderful but mainly he communicates through every pore, the essence of music.

Debussy’s masterpiece Pelleas et Melisande is something quite elusive to many and, I must admit, not exactly my favorite opera before this moment. I knew it was beautiful but I didn’t know it had the ability to move me the way that it did. I ask myself, what was it about these performances that changed me. The color, tension, resolution, peaks and valleys of the work came alive to the point that I believed I was apart of some strange, alien, musical organism. I know this sounds strange but I remember the moment in one performance where I lost myself in a wave of energy that took me out of my body. It was wonderful. The vibration of the music and the spirit with which it was played created an atmosphere where this was possible and I was overwhelmed by a level of emotion I had never felt.

I had the pleasure about a month ago to also sit on a panel with Ara Guzelimian and Michael Gilbert for the League of American Orchestras and one of the questions was, “What makes a great concert?”  All of the following were offered up. Good playing, good music, great energy etc. These are all true and yet there is something more that is a bit indescribable. The troubling part is that it only happens in that particular moment and one cannot recreate it at any other moment. It is a wonderfully present experience that makes one feel very alive and is more special than the present that is fleeting and average. I suppose scientifically and simply it has something to do with dopamine being released in the brain when we hear lovely tones but I think that it is beyond that as well. Suffice it to say the performance was amazing and was as close to” love in sound” as I’ve ever been. Many of us that were there for these performances including the singers, audience, chorus and conductor, felt that something special happened on those beautiful evenings.

Go, download Pelleas, and while on your computer, read the libretto once, then go listen to it again. You may realize that the beauty of not knowing why you loved something, as I struggle in these words to describe it,  maybe makes us more human.   As Goland says,  Je ne sais pas… Je suis perdu aussi.    How can I tell? – For I too am astray.



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