Last weekend Izzy and I attended a performance by Itzhak Perlman.
Can you find her in the picture?
I love live musical performances...there is something about the experience which goes beyond plain listening. There is something intimate, energetic, and unpredictable about the moment. There is something magical. At some point in the evening I usually look at the people sitting behind or down the row from me (not in a weird, conspicuous way...only in a weird, inconspicuous way). Their faces glow, they lean forward. They appear to be spellbound, like children on Christmas Eve--younger, open, believing.
When I saw the program, however, I will admit my shoulders slumped.
What I'm about to say next should be put into proper context: if we were to compare the world of music to the ecosystem of a pond, for example, then my knowledge of that subject demotes me to the status of tadpole.
But franchement, dear reader: the sonata...?
It has to be one of the most cerebral (and I don't mean that in a good way) forms in all of music. With few exceptions, there is little about the sonata which endears itself to the common listener. Rather, it over-intellectualizes, it wrinkles its nose as if it smells something less brilliant. There is no heart to the piece, and where there is no heart, there is only poorly guided logic.
Because as any musical peon will tell you, a cerebral composition left to its own devices, abundant in genius yet lacking in heart, is going to end up sounding like some self-important boor rehashing the minutae of his weekend, fascinating only to himself, while you sit there having no interest or place in the conversation.
But don't tell Itzhak Perlman I said that!
Because he was amazing. He was warm and accessible. He played the violin like you didn't even know he had a violin. The instrument seemed like an appendage, so familiar to him you practically forgot it was there.
And the audience loved him.
Here's what it's like to be Itzhak Perlman, here's what it's like to have world renowned, musical prodigy cachet: whatever you do, everyone's going to think it's hilarious. You know? Be careful if you lick your finger to turn a page of music--you just might bring the house down.
At the end of the concert, Mr. Perlman played several encores and told the following joke, which got more laughs than all the episodes of Seinfeld put together, plus all its reruns:
Tchaikovsky had a friend in Russia who was convicted of a minor crime and given a very harsh sentence.
(At this point people were already laughing, as if crime and punishment is a running gag in Russia, as if the punchline was superfluous...)
They hoped the punishment would be reduced, but he was forced to serve the duration of the time. In condolence, Tchaikovsky composed a song for his friend and called it "Chanson sans Paroles."
C'mon. You have to admit. That is pure comedy gold.
Although I've been telling the joke for days now and all I get is a blank stare.
p.s. Sorry if I offended anyone with my indictment of sonatas. Remember what I said about tadpoles and the pond...