October 16, 2011

The Unanswered Question

I'll be the first to admit that since I've been living here in Evanston I haven't visited downtown Chicago nearly as much as I should have. One of the first bits of advice I received as a new grad student was to take full advantage of "our little metropolis" to the south, but always--as the demands of life and school begin to pile up--I find I'm frequently too busy or too exhausted to muster up the wherewithal to devote a full afternoon/evening to experiencing all that Chicago has to offer.

Last night I had to make an exception. The CSO put on a program of Ives and Strauss that I couldn't possibly miss, AND they were featuring one of NU's clarinet faculty performing a bass clarinet concerto. How often does the bass clarinet get a feature? Well...like...NEVER. It was a once in a lifetime experience I couldn't pass up.

Though many of my fellow brass geeks might be shocked to hear it, even with a big "warhorse" like Also Sprach Zarathustra on the program, I was still most excited to hear Ive's The Unanswered Question (a personal favorite I'd not seen live in at least 13 years) and Three Places in New England (an iconic work with which I was previously unfamiliar).

Except for an annoyingly disruptive couple one row in front of me who were laughing (mostly) silently but hysterically throughout The Unanswered Question, the performance was transcendent. The piece is performed by three "characters": a string section--representing "the silence of the Druids--who know, see, and hear nothing," a trumpeter who asks "the perennial question of existence," and a quartet of flutists who "seek the invisible answer, but abandon it in frustration, sot that ultimately the question is answered only by the silences." (I'm quoting from Wikipedia there) The strings began their etherial chorale so softly I felt that if I were to close my eyes I would no longer be able to hear them, and each time the invisible offstage trumpeter entered with a new statement of the "question" he used a different horn or mute, creating the impression of a single question being asked from a series of perspectives.

I hate to sound overly mystical here, but I've occasionally felt that there's a quality about Ives' music that seems to well from some eternal state of being in the universe and reach into the core of my soul like a magnet seeking its complimentary pole. I suppose it's not just Ives' music (though his offers an especially poignant example), works from a few composers, artists, dancers, and writers occasionally resonate within me in this manner. And it's the same quasi-religious feeling I get when I watch the sun rise, look out into the radiance of the milky way illuminating a dark sky, watch the form of a drawing take shape out of a blank piece of paper in front of me, or gaze upon the profile of my beloved in a moment of clarity and warmth.

I guess it's primarily a sense of timelessness I'm talking about here. Always was, and always will be. Permanence...

Ok...I guess that's enough gushy babble for one afternoon, and I should be getting back to writing my midterm soon anyway. As a parting gift, here are a couple interesting sights from the last day and a half.

First: the largest orb weaver I've ever seen in person...

And second: a Sunday morning sailing class going on just as beautiful autumn light begins to break through a cloudy morning...

1 comment:

  1. You choked me up.....again. You have given me a great many gifts today.