I have said that music transports me to Other Places. Indeed, all art has that potential for me, for internal travel. It’s one of the great joys of art. As I write this, I’m listening to a live broadcast of this evening’s concert from the Swedish Radio Choir‘s (Radiokören, or RK) concert, one that travels particularly far and wide–and deep–in my heart and mind for a whole lot of reasons.
The note from chief conductor Peter Dijkstra:
Tonight at 1930h I’m doing a concert, live on Swedish radio SVT2 and on Webradio (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=3989, at least in the US) , with the Swedish Radio Choir and Orchestra with an ‘alternative Passionprogram’:
Ligeti – Lux Aeterna
Bach – BWV 12 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Poulenc – Stabat Mater
Right at this moment, the radio host is interviewing Maestro Dijkstra, and hearing both of their voices, I feel almost as though I’m in the concert hall watching them chat onstage, myself. I’m quite sure I recognize the lady’s voice as that of the same well-spoken broadcaster who interviewed my husband when he was conducting on that same stage at Berwaldhallen at this time of year a few years ago for RK’s Vårkonsert, or Spring Concert. Peter Dijkstra had fairly recently signed on as RK’s chief conductor at the time, and was in town part of the time rehearsing the choir; it’s amazing how quickly the miles disappear when we hear familiar voices or sounds–and the Radio Choir’s distinctive choral sonorities are certainly a part of that equation for me, as well. Their recordings have been for decades among those most widely recognized worldwide for consistently outstanding quality and depth in an incredible range of literature.
So here I sit, listening to music sung by a beloved choir and conducted by a truly fine, familiar conductor, and despite being at my desk in my own house, I am traveling to worlds and galaxies far beyond the view of my window. The György Ligeti piece is a perfect vehicle. It’s best known for being that magical, eerie and ethereal sound heard in the famous scene of approach to the monolith in Stanley Kubrick‘s seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and on a personal level is memorable and imaginatively inspiring even more directly because I have heard a couple of groups conducted by my spouse, in both rehearsal and concert, of this famously difficult piece. Each time, the piece itself transforms the performers as they work to ‘get inside’ and master it, and in turn is transformed by their performances, by the acoustic and atmosphere of the place where it’s being sung, and by the expectant and electric energy of audiences who are constantly challenged and awakened by its dramatics, both distinctive and subtle.
Johann Sebastian Bach and a great many of his works are widely familiar to audiences all around as well, and both in spite and because of their very familiarity bring us to an array of places remembered and imagined each time we hear them sung or played. The more famous and oft-played a composer’s works, the more variants we’re likely to come across in style and interpretation, in levels of technical expertise and period accuracy, and especially in the performances’ potential for transportation. I find it profoundly intriguing to see and hear how deeply performers can immerse themselves in the math and mystery, the dancing joy and bottomless grief and resounding laughter and historical drama of Bach, and to experience the accompanying journeys offered to me as a listener. I go to places of Biblical and Apocryphal history, yes, but also to more abstract aspects of the music and the texts: to dark forests and sunless night, and to soaring starry space; to drought-quenching fountains and streams; to realms of green and warm and welcoming respite and meditation.The Stabat Mater of Francis Poulenc, in his characteristic tonalities and performed here with exquisite power and emotional richness (and with a supernal soprano soloist’s voice soaring over the top of the intense and wildly beautiful waves of the choral singing) pulls us into a specific story, but is nonetheless large enough in its musical generosity to allow visions of many other places and states of being. This, too, is a strength of music and of outstanding moments of swimming in it–that it allows us to transcend what is and see, hear and feel what may be.
Music can fill me with passion, and it can also empty me so completely of passion that it lulls me into the abyss of restful peace where I feel nothing can touch me at all.
The images in this post are not based on any of the music in this program at all but rather are documentation of one of the small worlds I myself created a little while (well, a teenager’s lifetime) ago. I wanted to make a place that would act as a safe haven, fantasyland, and visual lullaby for the baby boy my sister was carrying. More than seventeen years later, our younger nephew his brother still has the same little woodland clearing in what’s now his room and seems not to be overly anxious to erase it under a more sophisticated or grown-up paint scheme and decor. So I suppose that perhaps it still offers for him adequately what I myself will never grow too old or mature to want: transportation to other places and planes, times, spaces, moods, hauntings and hopes and happiness. I hope that the luminous-paint stars that I sprinkled on that bedroom ceiling still light up after the lamps are turned off at night.