Attending two marvellous concerts this week set me off thinking about the benefits of a live performance as compared with listening to music on the radio, a CD, or any of the various i-media that are proliferating around me as I write (I apologise for ‘harping on’ about music too frequently, but this is a subject that seems to get my few remaining grey cells functioning).
In the first concert, consisting of chamber music, after some brief introductory remarks by one of the professors at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, we were treated to brilliant performances of Brahms’s string sextet op. 18 and Schumann’s piano quintet op. 44. Both of these works are rightfully much loved, displaying the rich genius of each composer. As the music began, I settled into my seat with a sigh of satisfaction, as, I think, did most of the audience.
In my student days, almost longer ago than I care to remember, when more or less the only way one could hear music was by means of 33 r.p.m. vinyl records, I loved both these (and other) chamber works, and would play them on my gramophone constantly in my room as I studied. One of my friends, who was originally from Scotland, was puzzled by what seemed to her my curious love for music. But she pricked her ears up when she heard the second movement of the Brahms sextet. “Why, it’s just like ‘Loch Lomond!” she exclaimed, and proceeded to sing the song. Now, there’s no denying there’s a certain similarity, and for all I know Brahms may well have got the idea for the movement from the folk song, but this much I do know: Brahms wrote it in a minor key and the folk song is in a major one. You don’t need to be a great musical maven to know that singing major on top of minor isn’t going to work. But that’s what my friend invariably did, laughing at my distress at the disharmony thus created (strangely, we are no longer in contact). However, her memory lingers on, and whenever I hear that beautiful, haunting music I am reminded of Sylvia singing ‘Loch Lomond’ and laughing at me. I won’t say that she has managed to spoil the music for me forever, but the association has never left me.
The second concert consisted of two hoary old favourites, both by Beethoven: his first piano concerto and his fifth symphony. Who doesn’t know every note of the fifth symphony backwards and forwards? When I hear it on the radio I hardly take any notice of it. In the concert hall, however, it’s a very different matter. Suddenly, you see how the whole orchestra is involved, how themes recur at various points, how they are bounced back and forth between the different sections of the orchestra, how even the humble piccolo has a solo passage, echoing the flute, and how the tympanist (in this performance it was a woman) has her work cut out, setting the beat, giving emphases where and when needed, and what important roles are played the brass, the double basses, and the celli, each in their turn.
But the main thing is that sitting in an auditorium means that you can focus on the music and are not busy at the computer, or reading, cooking or driving, as I usually am when I’m listening to music. Music is medicine, I saw on one of the TED lectures, and I can believe that’s true. But for me music is meditation, and it is music alone that can transport me to a higher sphere and put me in touch with the divine spark that exists in the universe.