Monday, June 22, 2009

November 02, 2006 (2): The Unbearable Being of Silence

Last night Peter Serkin gave a recital of the works of Toru Takemitsu preceded and followed by a single composition by J. S. Bach. Takemitsu was one of those composers who drew your attention to sounds, rather than notes. I first encountered this when I heard a recording of "The Dorian Horizon." The one chance I had to hear this work performed live, all the subtlety of the sounds was crushed into dust because UCLA had engaged a publicity photographer to shoot during the performance. Every click the camera made destroyed the mood that Takemitsu had labored to create.

Yesterday I wrote about John Cage, who did more than any other composer to try to teach us how to listen to silence. Unfortunately, too many of the people in Serkin's audience never learned this lesson. The sad truth is that there is something about silence that brings out the urge to cough or sneeze or break the silence, one way or another. Perhaps too many of us are just frightened by the absence of sound the way we are frightened by the absence of light. Nevertheless, Serkin did not do a bad job of training his audience. He he could not always keep them quiet while he was playing, his stillness at the end of each piece at least kept them from applauding until he relaxed his pose. One way or another, he was going to make his audience listen to the silence, even if it was not always the silence embedded in Takemitsu's score!

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