Thursday, May 24, 2012

Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival, 2012

This week New Orleans has hosted brilliant musicians from all over the world as part of the very first Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival, an endeavor spearheaded by friends of mine from the New Orleans dancing and musical community.  Tonight I went to the first evening concert.

Chamber music.  A chamber, a room, but somehow more intimate.  A space only the privileged few might enter, and to enter that small auditorium and be awash in unparalleled music created so close by felt intimate, and was a privilege.  When you listen to an orchestra from the mezzanine or balcony, most of the sound reaches you, the purely music part of the music experience.  But up close, you hear the touch of horsehair to heartstring, the breathing, the thud of heel to floor that punctuates music as a physical art.

And the physicality of music seems most evident in the playing of instruments that are people-sized or larger.  The pianist's shoulder blades jut out with a tension suspended in the breadth of the chord he pounds out from the keyboard.  Each knob of his spine is the next step in an arpeggio.  The cellist must hear the notes she draws from her instrument not only with her ears, but with her knees as they embrace its body, and in the resonant throb beneath her breast like a second heartbeat.  The cutaways in the back of her strappy black gown reveal the muscles straining to express the visions of the mind in tones that both rive the soul, and mend it.

Violin, viola, violoncello, the syncrony of their bows is a dance in unison, with now and again one dancer stepping out with a spring and a flourish, then merging seamlessly back into the chorus steps, until all diverge into reels of their own, only to rejoin suddenly, intuitively, into the shared pulse that moves them.

This is a music that speaks of Life.  Not just the life of a single person, though that's there, but LIFE as it is created in the space amid people.  The four on the stage.  The eighty in the room.  The hundreds, the thousands that brush against and bounce off of each other every day like Brownian particals in a sunbeam.  The billions that flush the face of the earth with living blood and hearts beating each a rhythm of its own.

The music is the briefest of conversations between strangers, as riffs call and answer from one player to the next.  It is the intimate discourse over years of friendship when a melody is split and shared, when each player expresses only some of the notes.  It is the reflection that comes alone in thought, almost unaware of the discourse that surrounds and informs it.  And it is the teeming of individual thoughts as they unspin unshared but simultaneous and harmonious... or discordant.

This music is life, each bar containing the unexpected, in spite of the illusion of notation on a page.  Anything could happen in spite of, because of, the best laid plans.  And as the music jerks into silence and you wonder if it can ever go on, with a gasping breath, sudden and literal, the musicians are jolted back into meter with all the drama of electrical cardioversion.

And as the magic unfolds, there is, all along, the page turner, solemn and correct, performing the stately, reverent ritual that marks the measure of each eternal moment, reminding all caught up in the endless ecstacy of a sublime phrase that this, too, shall pass.  Time is a process not to be stopped, and the most divine music is a march, slow or fast but always inexorable, toward it's end.

There are two Birdfoot events left.  Party in the Piazza tomorrow, 5/25, 5:30-8pm at Piazza d'Italia, Lowes New Orleans Hotel, 300 Poydras St. for $10.  The Gala Celebration, Saturday, 5/26, 8pm, Dixon Hall, Tulane University, $25 for adults, $10 for students.

Go, listen, live.