…deserve what you get
As my musical life has taken me back and forth around the world, I’ve noticed that certain religious orders and sects place a special emphasis on the value of classical music, for which we can all be grateful.
Given this, one quickly finds that each of these denominations have their musical quirks and sub-culture. This group won’t tolerate a female conductor under any circumstances, that one dislikes overtly emotional music and this one won’t play atonal music, while the same three groups might also exhibit exceptional work ethics, purity of intonation or beauty of sound respectively.
In my experience, there is one church whose members all seem to suffer the most appalling disregard for rhythm- they literally seem to have never produced a musician who can play in time with accurate subdivisions, in spite of producing instrumentalists of a very high technical standard who are generally very “musical” if you can separate “musical” from any coherent sense of rhythmic organization.
I was at a chamber music festival some years back and was playing the Schubert C Major String Quintet and the other cellist was a member of this denomination, and, in spite of his great sound and good hands, had no sense of rhythm at all.
It was a tough week to say the least- his attitude was also a bit snooty, which left the rest of us with less patience for breaking out the metronome for his benefit in rehearsal than we might otherwise have had. However, we worked hard, and worked him hard, and by the time we got to the concert, things were looking good.
However, on the night, when we got to the middle section of the slow movement, all hell broke loose. There’s a long, loud, passionate sturm und drang section with the 1st violin and 1st cello playing in octaves while the other three players churn out a relentless ostinato. Other cello guy totally lost the plot- he couldn’t line up his triplets with the syncopated rhythm in the inner voices. The 1st violinist and I were so exasperated we both went rather red faced with rage. The passage is so loud and the lines so long, the bow distribution is completely unforgiving. With the tempo wobbling, one of us would crack, and there was also an increasing likelihood that the whole thing would fall apart.
She and I started banging our heads like 16 year-olds at a Metalica concert to show the pulse. She glared straight into his eyes like the emissary of death and you could see her mouth moving with viper like precision– “one-two-thre-four-five-six!” and so on.
Well we didn’t stop, and the audience seemed oblivious to the close call. Needless to say, it was a little tense backstage….
A week later, I got a CD of the concert, which I waited some months to listen to. I nearly skipped the passage, but made myself sit there and listen.
Amazingly, all of that anger and intensity and drive had turned the passage into something really memorable. Yes, he wobbled a bit in the first bar, but the sheer furious power of the rest of us holding him, refusing to let it crash, made for an awesome effect. That passage sounded not only better than the rest of the performance, but also sounded the best I’ve ever heard it.
Strangey, I’ll have (and have had) many better experiences playing that piece, but it’s likely I’ll never be in a performance of that section that sounds that good again…
c. 2007 Kenneth Woods