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October 26, 2010

A couple of recent concert experiences here in Edmonton have had me thinking/musing on SOUND experiences that have been so unique and memorable that they have stuck, or will stick with me for years.  Sounds that lodge in my memory with a vividness that I at least THINK I can describe in words.  It has me thinking that if I have a half-dozen or so of these sound experiences that have profoundly shaped my musical experience, then others must have their own data-base.  And so, I would like to begin a collection of these SOUNDS, and hope that you will contribute.

These SOUNDS do not need to come from a musical context.  There is in fact no requirement that they appear in any particular context.  Many of mine may.  Yours may not.  The only line that I would like to draw is that the SOUND experience is a moment in time, and not in fact a particularly memorable performance of a particularly memorable piece by a particularly memorable artist.  These performance memories, of course, have their place– they are just not what I am trying to hone in on here.  It is a hard line to draw, and may in fact become fuzzier as this catalogue of sounds grows.

So here are a few of my most memorable sounds:

THE CHORD in the sixth movement of John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus.  It is an extended moment where a hundred or so wind, brass and percussion players scream out a massive explosion of sound.  I have heard John describe it now on two occasions as “the loudest unamplified chord ever played in a concert hall.”  When I hear him describe it this way I think “Oh, come on…”  And then it happens.  The waves of sounds that converge on the listener from 360 degree surround sound are massive.  The dissonance is so thick that it becomes imperceptible.  It is just a barrage of sound waves that engulf the listener.  The first time I heard it, at Northwestern University, it was stunning.  Last week when I heard it in Edmonton, it was thrilling.  My body surged forward in its seat, wanting to drink it in as long as it would last.

THE UNISON D in the final interlude of Wozzeck, played by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, conducted by James Levine.  I had been Assistant Conductor on Wozzeck at Santa Fe Opera over the summer prior to the Met’s mounting of the opera, and so was very very familiar with the piece, and tremendously impressed by it.  But I had no inkling of how devastating a single unison note in the orchestra could be as the opera nears its end.  At the end of the final orchestral interlude there is a LONG single note that is sustained by the entire orchestra– a D that builds and builds and builds.  As I experienced the opera at the Met, I could just SEE the massive weight of this note pile up upon Wozzeck, already severely weakened by his life in the opera, until the sheer SOUND of the D simply crushed him.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as he crumbled beneath this musical force.

JANINA FIALKOWSKA touching the piano in Chopin’s Piano Concerto #1.  Now, maybe this veers into the realm of a memorable performance, but I think it is more than that.  Her playing, her handling of the piano, her drawing of sound from the instrument had an ease and transparency that was breathtaking.  At one moment I would have sworn that her hands simultaneously produced 3 distinct layers of sound– a foreground, mid-ground, and background– that all shimmered effortlessly.  The serenity that she exuded as she sat at the keyboard is something that I am ABSOLUTELY unfamiliar with!

STEVEN  BLIER at the piano at Wolf Trap this summer.  While Janina Fialkowska seemed to need to touch the piano to make it sing, Steven apparently only needs to breathe on it to bring it to life.  Really, he sat there, looking at the instrument, and it twinkled to life with an ease and gentleness that was magical.  The next moment he would look at it with an arched eyebrow, and it would erupt into the most violent and physical stride piano that I have heard.  I guess this is now a collection of sound moments that have lodged in my brain, but they transcend the individual pieces that Steven was playing, and are some of the most memorable SOUNDS that I have heard.

PLEASE add your comments to this posting.  I am MOST curious to experience (however vicariously) your own sound memories!

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