Every so often I bulldoze this blog out of the political diatribe and social injustice business to discuss something more agreeable. Today I’d like to discuss laundry and magnificent music.
I live in a Manhattan apartment building. Once a week, grumbling about what a tedious pain in the neck it is, I drag my laundry down to the laundromat in my basement to wash, dry, fold … I’m sure you know the drill. But a couple of weeks ago, through a serendipitous accident, something wonderful happened in the laundry room.
On a bulletin board usually reserved for offers of baby sitting, house cleaning, and dog walking, somebody had posted a few concert tickets with an invitation to take them. They were to a Friday night performance by something called the Duo Sitkovetsky. Since I wasn’t doing anything that Friday night, I helped myself to a ticket.
I showed up t the appropriate auditorium in Carnegie Hall (there are several of them) and waited to see what would happen.
What happened was magical.
Alexander Sitkovestsky, a violinist, and Wu Qian, a pianist, performed works by Schumann, Prokoviev, Desyatnikov, and Grieg, worthy of the main concert hall – except that the main concert hall is too big for the intimate music of a two people.
I should warn you before I go any further that I am not a music critic, nor am I musically educated. When I read some music reviews, my brain hurts. Classical music criticism, in particular, has its own language, with which I am even less conversant than wiring diagrams for superhetrodyne radios.
Some phrases (used in reviews of other artists) leave me scratching my head or gnashing my teeth: “deeply eloquent virtuosity,” “…the lines are sleek and urgent…” and “…balances unflinching control, fluid bowing and sure-fire intonation with extraordinary depth of vision.”
So what can I tell you about the Duo Sitkovestsky? I can say that there was something unique and beautiful about the way Wu Qian’s piano and Alexander Sitkovstsky’s violin harmonized with such chocolatey perfection, at least to my ear, that the music seemed to come from a single instrument.
I can tell you that (with one exception, which I’ll come to) the music was so delicious I almost felt that I could eat it. To have done so, were it possible, would have been like slowly munching a filet mignon, or a perfect piece of ... well, I've already mentioned chocolate. Cheese cake also comes to mind.
The advantage of attending a concert rather than simply listening to a recording of one is that the audience sometimes gets a visual treat, too. Sitkovestsky didn’t merely play his violin. He sometimes leaned into it, eyeing its bridge like a cat stalking a mouse. To continue the metaphor, sometimes, he seemed to be pouncing on the mouse. At other times, playing with it, letting it run for a few inches, then catching it and pulling it back to him.
By contrast, at least from where I sat, Qian’s performance seemed to emanate a kind of cool sense of control and timing. If Alexander was the cat, Qian was the cat’s human, calmly enjoying and putting out musical playthings for the pet to pounce on ande conquor.
If I have one cavil, it was the choice of one piece, called Wie der Alt Leiermann for Violin and Piano, written by a contemporary Russian composer, Leonid Desyatnikov. The fact that my musical taste never progressed much beyond the first half of the 20th Century may have something to do with this, but the piece brought to mind a story about Lenin attending a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
At the end of the concert, Lenin was brought backstage and introduced to Stravinsky. “Very nice, Comrade Igor,” said Lenin, glaring with a hint of annoyance at the composer and giving him a fishy handshake. “Next time, give me some music the workers can whistle to.”
Sorry, gang, although I never liked Lenin, I’m with him on this one.
All the same, everything else I heard was so magnificent that I wanted to feast on more. I wrote to Diane Saldick, Duo Sitkovestsky’s representative in North America, in part to ask her where in the United States they would be performing next.
“They will not be appearing in the USA in the coming months,” she replied.
Too bad. They deserve to be heard more by American audiences.
Diane Saldick also let me know that Qian and Alexander met at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London “when they were very young” – which couldn’t have been too long ago, since they’re both still in their twenties. They recently married.
And that’s my New York story for the day, except to say, “What a city!” Where else in the world can you go to a cellar to put your underwear in a washing machine, and end up listening, live for the first time, to a chamber music concert in Carnegie Hall, by two brilliant young musicians?