In the past couple of weeks, two musical events of a somewhat homespun nature have reminded me that the soul of great music lies not in such commercial principles as starry names and big crowds, nor even in note-perfect renditions of a score, but in the dedication, love and joy the performers bring to their task and the magical realms they weave for their listeners in sound. At any level, music-making, to be any good, must be a labor of love that draws the audience in and lets us share in the triumph, and that is precisely what emerged on both these occasions.
The first was a house concert hosted by my friend Jim, who decided on the spur of the moment to offer his living room as a venue for three talented musicians to try out a new program. The second was a concert performance of Handel's Rinaldo, uncut, with piano accompaniment, given at my local church by the New York Opera Forum. My friend's living room accommodates something short of twenty-five seats, and though the church is somewhat larger, it was, alas, less than a quarter full for this event. From a commercial standpoint, one might have thought it a waste of the artists' long hours of preparation to perform for audiences that, combined, would not have filled a single row at the Met.
When the young violinist Colin Pip Dixon introduced the Kreuzer Sonata by reminding us that its dedicatee had declined ever to attempt the piece on the grounds that it was unplayable, then proceeded to play the bejesus out of it; when Ivy Adrian, at the keyboard, drew a whole symphony orchestra's worth of sound from Jim's parlor upright, with the rest of us so close behind her we could almost imagine we were playing this incredible music ourselves, surely Beethoven was well served.
When Tonia Manteneri all but literally raised the roof of the church with a whopping high note, from a spot barely twenty feet in front of us; when, in the Rinaldo–Almirena duet "Scherzano sul tuo volto," Marilyn Spesak and Karole Lewis traded exquisite and ravishingly voiced pedal-point effects that seemed to suspend time, or Spesak and Manteneri faced off in a war of notes more viscerally thrilling than any hyper-realistic 3D movie battle; when Richard Nechamkin, at the piano, transported every person in the room far from big-city cares to Almirena's serene and bucolic garden; when Tyler Wayne Smith, a countertenor I'd never heard of, sailed through Handel's formidable hurdles unscathed, in a voice of rich resonance and expressive warmth — surely these earnest performers' labor was not lost.
And when a casual operagoer cannot help laughing in sheer delight at the vocal fireworks; when an entire audience leans in to the keyboard as one with the pianist in a particularly intense passage, or exerts all its collective energy to will a singer through a particularly challenging passage, then cheers him to the rafters when he succeeds, the musical gods must be smiling as beneficently on these anonymous efforts as they ever smiled on the top box-office draw at the greatest opera house in the world.
These names may never be household words in the music industry, but in my book, the thrilling connection they made with a small handful of music-lovers on those two memorable nights rendered them worthy present-day votaries to the same muse that inspired Handel and Beethoven so many years ago.
LOUISE T. GUINTHER