Silently, But With Feeling

by pieces of moments

After a long week the day dissolved into a most peaceful, snowy quiet of night. I think you tend to notice silence more in the city whenever you have the chance to actually hear nothing. At home in the Midwest one of my favorite things is how the gently rolling landscape looks at night with a smattering of snow. It’s a physical representation of silence.

Tonight after actually enjoying my stumble home from the bus stop through the 8 inches of winter goods that had fallen all day long I stood in our courtyard and realized that there wasn’t a sound at all. I can remember one other time when silence struck me so vividly here in the city. It was during my first year out from grad school and my life was pretty much a disorganized mess of too much work (yes, if it’s possible, even more than I have now) and no play. At the time I was teaching piano lessons out in Chestnut Hill, so once a week I had to make a mad dash for the train after being in the office trying to squeeze 80 hours of work into 50 since 40 wasn’t much of an option. Then, after teaching for nearly 3 hours I would take the train back into the city and then eventually home. It was insane. I was insane. On one of these occasions I had experienced a particularly rough day and decided to walk home once I got back into the city. Sometimes, after jostling for space with hundreds of other people all day long you just need to grab the opportunity to have a few square inches of the atmosphere to yourself. Halfway across the bridge over the Charles I unexpectedly heard nothing but the wind and the river and somehow immediately felt lighter, like things were a tiny bit better. It only lasted about 15 seconds but it seems like 15 minutes to my silence starved ears. It was like that this evening, though certainly preceded by much more pleasant circumstances. Upon decompressing my shoulders by finally dropping my, somehow, ever heavier bag in the living room I looked outside onto that silent winter wonderland, that progeny of our “state of emergency” storm, and seriously contemplated going back outside to take a walk and enjoy the quiet. I had to convince myself to dismiss the mental suggestion being far too late for that kind of thing. It really made me wish I was in a cabin out in Western Mass. If I was I would have gotten some hot chocolate and just sat there in the silence looking at the remaining snow flakes dance around.

Western Massachusetts in winter

Earlier tonight I had the pleasure of pushing aside the sounds of the day and the city in favor of something much more subtly beautiful – the sounds of Alfred Brendel’s interpretations alternately ringing throughout and whispering in hushed tones in Symphony Hall. It’s been a long, l-o-n-g, time since I have attended a hard core Classical era concert such as the program he had set for tonight: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Of course, those last two were crossing over into the Romantic toward the end of their lives, but, nonetheless, it was pretty solidly Classical. The concerts I attend most often are far more centered either of two extremes: 20th/21st century music or the Renaissance and Baroque, so it was kind of a shock both to hear so much music in such blatant sonata form and also a shock to realize how shocked I was. I abruptly realized that I just don’t listen to much typical Classical era music, it’s not because I try not to, I just haven’t in a long time. Now, Mozart I can give or take any time, it doesn’t ever interest me that much but it’s certainly not unpleasant. Haydn I enjoy very much, and Beethoven, ah, Beethoven, who I love and loath alternately, as one should (seems the proper response given his personality). However, I’m much more a fan of Beethoven’s last works than his early or middle period stuff – just personal preference. The Schubert was the real highlight of the evening for me. I love Schubert and, as with Beethoven, especially his last works. I suppose it was also fitting that Mr. Brendel chose Schubert’s very last composition for the piano (his Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960 for those who are wondering) for his last appearance ever on stage in Boston. It was a beautiful concert. The way he is able to play so unbelievably quietly, yet with so much control and sounding so clear is, to put it mildly, astounding to behold.

I have never been to a farewell concert before. It was truly a moving experience beyond the music to watch him up there nearly 80-years-old, having spent the last 60 years on stage and now methodically rewinding to his previous days one world stage at a time. We all wanted to be there to witness it and we were willing to come out during a snow emergency to share the moment together. He gave three encores. I can only imagine what thoughts must be going through his mind every time he steps on stage for this last tour. Every performance, every piece of music, every note brings him closer to the last one. He obviously didn’t want to leave, and we didn’t want him to go. But, eventually after they turned up the house lights for the last time so he could see us all he nodded to everyone, even those far above in the top balcony, raised his hands up with a look as if to say I know…but I have to retire some time, and disappeared stage right into the silence.