Gotham Diary:
31 July 2014

Last night, we went to Mostly Mozart, and I came out feeling almost as pepped-up as I am by a Remicade infusion. I needed that! It had been a little too long since I’d taken a seat in a concert hall.

Good to know. My “retirement from the audience” was never intended to be total, but by letting my subscriptions lapse I lost the convenience of regularly-scheduled events. (Which had become an inconvenience: there were too many events.) Now I have to plan ahead and purchase tickets online. This is no longer the ordeal that it used to be. Now I know that two months, in the summer, is too long a break. I need to sit in a big room with a lot of other quiet people and listen to good music, well-performed. There’s plenty of that in New York, but I’m picky.

Many picky people are looking for the unusual, but my pickiness operates on a different plane. I’m not drawn by programs of seldom-heard compositions performed by musicians I’ve never heard of. I want to hear music that I know, but played as if I’ve never heard it before.

I got what I was looking for last night. Louis Langrée, who has just renewed his contract as Mostly Mozart’s music director, sprang through the Jupiter Symphony with an energetic grace that was truly Olympian. The pace and the volume of the music seemed to be physical symptoms of the conductor’s gift for music, as if Mozart, instead of writing his music on paper, had taken the more divine route of imparting it directly to Mr Langrée’s mind. The fact that I knew where every note belonged did not at all detract from the urgency of the performance. The thrill lies in the microscopic but cumulatively exciting differences between knowing what ought to happen and hearing what actually does happen. When I was new to concert music, I regarded these differences as mistakes. They certainly can be. (Wrong notes are always wrong.) But I learned that concerts were more interesting if I allowed the conductor try to persuade me that he knew better than I, or that, in any case, his alternative to my “correct” idea might be well worth hearing. More, as Ray Soleil says, for me.

Do you want to hear what the best bits were? I don’t really see any reason to add to Anthony Tommasini’s brisk paragraph of praise, except to note that the repeats were taken in the first two movements, making for a more substantial performance. People who don’t want to sit through repeats often argue that recordings have made them unnecessary; we all know this music now, and don’t need to hear the basic exposition twice in order to appreciate how the composer develops it. To this I can only reply that if I love a piece of music enough to pay money to cross town and take a chance on a performance, and the performance turns out to be a good one, I am only too happy to have two helpings.

Everything that I have said about last night’s Jupiter performance could be said just as well of any other performance, anywhere or anytime, merely altering the reference to the newspaper review as appropriate. All I can do is find new ways of saying it. That’s worthwhile, every so often. But doesn’t make for a viable routine. Whether from age or wisdom, I have discovered not only what I like but why, and these seem no more likely to change than the color of my eyes.

Although I paid close attention to the Jupiter, my mind drifted throughout the performance of Mozart’s Twenty-Third Piano Concerto that preceded the interval. Richard Goode was the pianist, and his imperturbably ego-free manner suited the music so well that I fell into a complete funk, trying to describe it as I listened. The word “genial” came to me, just as it did to Anthony Tommasini. But there’s a mystery to this concerto. It is neither as exciting nor as dramatic as its neighbors in Mozart’s oeuvre, and yet it stands, in comparison with the four concertos that begin with an identical dotted rhythm (the Sixteenth through the Nineteenth) as a work of stupefying sophistication. It’s as though by not trying to make a particular point, but just noodling his way through a clutch of pretty tunes, Mozart burst through the temporal bounds of style and created something that might, here and there, be taken for a counterfeit piece of neoclassicalism, perhaps of Edwardian vintage.

Complicating my reverie was the profound familiarity of the music. I won’t say that I can’t remember not knowing it. But I associate it with the pussy willows and damp air of the spring of 1967 — a long time ago. In other words, it brings back the willowy and damp sentiments of late adolescence, of feeling that I was growing up at last and that this music by Mozart sounded the note, melancholy at heart, of my distinction. Here I may refer to the allusion made in last night’s program notes (written by David Wright), to Chopin. When I was nineteen, Chopin was somewhat too “emotional” for me, so I put Mozart in his place and heard Mozart as Chopin. That’s how he sounded last night as well.

What I couldn’t quite figure out was why the music didn’t sound simply bland. It can indeed sound very bland, especially when summer orchestras relax and coast through it. Mr Langrée’s Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra was no relaxed summer band, to be sure. And Mr Goode, while certainly relaxed, wasn’t coasting. He was poring, perusing — everything right up to but stopping short of probing. This is not music to probe, but music to play. Let it not be overlooked that he was playing.

And now I’ve gone and devoted my daily budget of words to a topic that I was going to glance over. Earlier yesterday, I spent several hours reading DBR entries from August, September, and October of 2011. I have gotten that far in my review of the site from its beginnings in 2010. The August entries were mostly brief missives from Fire Island, and of no interest to me now. What interests me now is more the solid stuff that I hope to gather up, prune and edit, and at least warn me away from repetition, when I set ought to order my thoughts on a somewhat larger scale. I’ve been tickled to read a few entries that look like molecules custom-designed for the embrace of what some readers doubtless regard as the pathogenic ideas of Hannah Arendt. There was none of that pleasure yesterday, though. I came away from the review pretty much sick of the sound of my own voice.

As I read, I copy each entry’s link into an Evernote note, and follow it with a telegraphic abstract and perhaps a quotation. The word that comes up most often in the abstracts, sadly, is “twaddle”: “Housekeeping twaddle”; “Photography twaddle”; “Blogging twaddle”; “Culinary twaddle.” As Pat Buckley once said in answer to her son’s questions about fashion, “Does anybody really want to read about this stuff?” That was the rather red-faced impression that I took from yesterday’s batch of old entries. I’m afraid that, when I get round to the third quarter of 2014, this entry will be summed up as “Concert twaddle.”

Daily Blague news update: Hole in the Mold.