One time I was having a classical music listening session with a friend of mine, and when he asked what we should listen to next, I suggested some of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He acquiesced, but not before mentioning that my choice was a very “mainstream” one. Whether I’m a classical poser or not, there are several moments in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that are — for simplicity’s sake — exemplary. Take, for example, the sudden thematic shift in the second movement, from an inevitable, definitive minor to an unhindered, lively major. Beethoven hinted at the possibility of such tonal fulfillment earlier in the movement, but it is not until this stark contrast that the extent of his creative vision is recognized.
It’s a grand old time. I stand at the edge of the dance floor, that ambiguous event horizon beyond which lies the vociferous, collective rampage of too many young people crowded into too small a square. That’s an alienating sight, especially to the likes of an introverted Pisces such as myself. Besides the massive swarm of individuals and their sick dance moves, perhaps the most antagonizing gesture is the rapid fire of ironic lip-syncing to songs with lyrics to which I have never given thought or bothered to discern. Sometimes a light shines out in the wilderness and a certain song plays, the lowest common denominator, that even the most reserved folks know and love (“SO BABY PULL ME CLOSER IN THE BACKSEAT OF YOUR ROVER…”).
I was at a party one time and I was introduced to someone through a mutual friend. “This is Nick,” my friend said. “He’s really into music and he plays the piano.”
“Cool, that’s sort of interesting! What do you like to play on the piano?”
“Well, I’m classically trained, and my favorite composers are Bach and Chopin.”
“Wow, you must be really sensitive and have an exquisite taste for the nuances of creating art, like Bach’s subtle suspensions and dissonances in ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ and other works!”
Or, some derivative of that story occurred, sans the closing remark. Being introduced as a musician of the western classical tradition often garners a vague, uninspired response of awe and not much further dialogue.
On Friday night, the Sphinx Virtuosi — in collaboration with (and under leadership of) the Catalyst Quartet — presented their Latin Voyages: Viajes Latinos program. The result was one of the finest concerts I’ve seen at Cornell. Coming up on its 20th anniversary, the Sphinx Organization places young Black and Latino classical soloists on the world’s most prestigious stages — not least Carnegie Hall, where since 2006 they have held annual residency. But while there is an activist charge to the group’s ideological foundations, it all comes down to the quality of performance, style and selection. In those regards the virtuosi transcended racial and cultural barriers, owning a space that would pass even the stodgiest inspection.
On Friday, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra brought its crisp, pristine sound to Cornell’s Bailey Hall. They were in the company of world-renowned baritone Christian Gerhaher and clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola for an all-Mozart program. It was just the hearth by which we needed to warm ourselves on a blustery night. The first half of the program was backboned by Mozart’s Symphony No. 36.