I’ve been in D.C. all week being super-nanny while my wife sings with the National Symphony Orchestra. (Full disclosure: I seem to be the only one in my family adding the word ‘super’ when describing my abilities as nanny). The piece she’s singing is David Del Tredici’s Pulitzer-Prize winning insanity Final Alice, scored for full orchestra and amplified soprano. It really is the craziest piece I’ve ever heard, a full hour of the most lush, most bombastic, most tender music, all while the soprano speaks, sings, and screams the last chapter of Alice in Wonderland. Hila (my wife) is just awesome in it, and I think I can say with no bias whatsoever that the people in the audience were thinking the same thing I was as she finished her performance: I can’t believe a human being can do that. Best of all was at the audience Q & A after Thursday night’s performance, someone asked her how long it took her to memorize it. (She sings everything from memory). Her answer, “I think about a month” brought gasps from the audience, and I just sat in the back, smiling. What they don’t know was what it said about the difficulty of the piece, because she memorizes everything else in just a couple of days.
I’m really not saying all of this to brag about my wife, but that it reminded me of a couple of things. First, great musicians are capable of so much more than I could ever believe possible. I’m going to start pushing the envelope a little with the next pieces that I write, and see just what I can get away with.
And second, it is SO much more effective when performers sing/play/conduct from memory. I have always felt that the written score is a really lousy way to communicate a musical idea, what with it’s black and white notations and it’s ambiguous markings. (Forte? What is forte? In relation to what?). I think that once the music is internalized, and played from the heart and mind, it takes on a completely different life, a luster, a shininess. It just comes alive.
Oh yeah, did I mention Hilary Hahn was also on the concert, playing Paganini? Oh. My. God. What a musician. It was, as David Del Tredici said, truly the night of ‘power women.’
Here is a picture I took with my iPhone immediately following the performance Thursday night. (That’s Hila with David Del Tredici and incredible conductor Leonard Slatkin, and of course the players of the phenomenal NSO).