lynn harrell on inspiration

Cellist Lynn Harrell

After the previous blog post about the Brahms sextet had gone live, in which I wrote a bit about Lynn Harrell’s great sense of musical curiosity, John Fadial sent along this email from Lynn that he’d gotten after a previous year’s cello festival. Harrell had given a masterclass, and one of the younger students had asked him about inspiration in the process of playing music. Lynn didn’t think that he’d adequately answered the question in the class, and so sent the following to be shared with the student. I’ve edited it slightly for length and clarity.

“I’ve been thinking of that boy who asked me [about inspiration] in the question-and-answer. How does someone work on developing imagination? My family agreed, when I questioned them, that reading a great deal, putting yourself in the shoes of whom ever, and the same for different roles in a film. Cinema Paradiso moved me so deeply – so I questioned on why that was so. I had identified with the young boy, but also the old man. So, questioning one’s emotional response to what we experience can lead us to understand ourselves and our world so that we can express it through our music.

Music was always designed particularly after church music, to take its place in performance – like theater for those who listen. So therefore drama is a very important aspect. My daughter suggest instead of looking, observe. Instead of analyzing, empathize and feel. Traveling a lot and helps as well. Great songs and great opera are absolutely essential: the words in the situation with the music helps the process. It occurred to me for instance, that the final scene of the opera of Don Giovanni, it’s not only about being damned to hell I figure, it’s [also] about Mozart’s anger and defiance …

So much of this dreaming – imagining – is missing today because of video games, internet vines, the lack of face-to-face conversation, etc. When I was in the fourth grade the teachers comment on my report card was that I was a dreamer, that I would stare out the window and would be miles away. My parents asked what I was thinking about. I said I was thinking about being a professional baseball player and hitting a homerun in Yankee Stadium. The teacher of coarse, was being critical. My parents smiled, probably because they were, in their lives, proud that I was so called a dreamer as well as they. This is long before medical science came to realize that fantasy and dreaming is another part of human intelligence. Dreaming and imagining, stimulate those muscles. And like any muscles, working them makes them more flexible, stronger, and useful.”

on goodness

The past two evenings I performed on a Third Angle New Music studio series concert called “A Family Affair”. It was a concert centered around one of my colleagues in the ensemble (and in the Oregon Symphony), cellist Marilyn De Oliveira. Marilyn is quite a remarkable human being. She is one of the few people I know who is almost relentlessly positive in her outlook, regardless of what is happening both inside her life and in the outside world. She describes herself – somewhat ruefully – as a pollyanna. She is also, perhaps because of this worldview, a tremendous advocate for music to everyone. She, as she put it at a Q&A session last night, was brought up with the view that music has an incredible capacity to bring joy to every single person who encounters it. She is, quite honestly, a musical evangelical. And she’s one of those advocates who doesn’t tell you why music is good for you, she just, by her way of being and inhabiting the music, makes you also want to hear more, do more, maybe even learn more about music.

It’s so admirable, what Marilyn embodies. The audience at the concerts this week were also completely rapt in their attention to what Marilyn and her band of friends and family presented. It’s a rare thing, to be on the receiving end of that sort of audience focus. There really was a give and take that one always hopes for, but seldom gets in larger scale performances in the concert hall. For chamber musicians it’s more common to encounter, but these shows were at a level of interchange between audience and musicians that was way up in the 99th percentile. I’ll close by saying a heartfelt thank you to Marilyn for her musical kinship and friendship these past few years, and for inviting me to perform with her this week. It was a career highlight for me.

Obrigado, Marilyn!

Program:

CAROLINE SHAW | limestone & felt (2012)
JOHN TAVENER | Akhmatova Songs (1993)
ANDY AKIHO | 21 (2009)
SVANTE HENRYSON | Off Pist (1996)
KENJI BUNCH | Adventure Awaits (2017)
Commissioned with support from The Collins Foundation
GIOVANNI SOLLIMA | Lamentatio (1998)

Performers:
Marilyn de Oliveira, cello
Edlyn de Oliveira, soprano
Trevor Fitzpatrick, cello
Charles Noble, viola
Michael Roberts, percussion
James Shields, clarinet

seattle cellist toby saks has died

Toby Saks, founder of the Seattle Chamber Music Society and an acclaimed cellist, died early on Thursday (Aug. 1) — sending waves of shock and grief around the world as music lovers got the news. She was 71 when she lost a short battle with fast-moving pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis she met with bravery and calm.

Seattle Times obit.