Monday, November 16, 2009

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra played Toronto tonight and the more Oriental the more sublime. In the end I was quivering and wondering if it's still possible to live, to really live, quivering like this somewhere.. in China? of all places?

The music was so open, the silences so profound and I thought, oddly, of Ed. McDowell's "To A Wild Rose," from "Woodland Sketches" and Ellington.... Cecil Taylor crossed my mind and Puccini.... "Find the distinctive melody" he wrote in his notes... and tonight I heard it. I heard Turandot melt.

Tears and sniffles made the Chinese man lean forward, thinking I might have H1N1. Talk about irony. How long to total integration? About one generation. The young Chinese man in the men's room confirmed this: "I got it till they played the second half." Right. He got Rachmaninoff's ambivalent East/West stuff (I prefer Dostoevsky, who really had a Russian soul to that fool Tolstoy who wrote a thousand pages just to set one stone, one great idea on history* in its setting).

The Rach-3, as Olivier so stupidly said in one of the most moronic movies ever made, "Shine," is, of course, the musical acrobatic act that tore poor David Helfgott's mind. Right. I'd call the movie a piece of shit if I didn't believe so strongly that that kind of language shouldn't be used in public and, secondly, if I thought the movie was anywhere near deserving of the insult. What was I saying before I so comically and artfully digressed? It was pretty good.... which is about all you can say about a slob like Rachmaninoff. I mean, it was better than I've ever heard it. The dynamics were far in advance of anything I've heard recorded but who wants to hear a crazy lout who can't decide if he's Oblomov or Stolz?

Still, the Russian insanity was infinitely better than the German noise the pianist, Yja Wang, played as a second encore just to throw a wet towel over the more excited of us in the audience so she could go call her broker.

For me, it was all in the second half. Xiaaoduo Chen, soprano, Meng Meng, soprano were extraordinary, as were the three musicians nan Wang on erhu, Jia Li on pipa and Xin Sun on guzheng. Together with the orchestra under Long Yu, they made a sublime bucolic masterpiece of sound and silence that quivered and made the soul grateful to be alive, especially grateful to have been born an artist. To sweep the floor under the feet of the master who wrote this would be an honor.

Now.... where the hell in the program is his damed name?! I'm serious! The list is there for the night before and the night after but... ah! It's Qigang Chen: "Iris devoilee" (minus an accent or two)

Correction... the first crazy Russian (better) was Mussorgsky (Prelude to Khovanshchina) and the second was Rach-2, not the impossible Rach-3 upon which so many minds have been flayed and left to rot.

My bad

*from memory: “All great events take place in the unconscious and a man who participates in an historic event never understands its true import: the moment he tries to realize the significance of his actions, his actions become sterile.” (this explains the galleries of our day)

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Updates to "Thank Yous (and R.I.P.s)" below:

Update: Jo-Ann Robinson died in the winter of '06 after a long fight with Scleroderma which took out her original kidneys, her transplanted kidney and a list of other organs I don't have the heart to mention. Jo-Ann was a beautiful person. She left a 14 year old daughter.

Update: Jennifer Choo-Chee got a transplant a few months ago! Just half a year earlier she was given no hope whatever of getting onto the list because she had too many antibodies in her blood. They are making great strides in transplantation: now they can even transplant organs of different blood types. A better solution is the living donor transplant swap: people who aren't a good match for their loved ones get matched up with others and they swap organs. Living donation is best. It can be scheduled, the living organ is never put on ice, the donor can now be up and about much more quickly now due to the new keyhole surgery pioneered at Toronto General Hospital.

Update: My beloved uncle Jerry Mayer died on May 1, 2008 due to a perforated bowel. He is deeply missed. Jerry got a transplant 23 years ago and it worked very well for a long time before he had to go back on dialysis just a few months earlier. Jerry was born in a plywood shack on Fort Road in Edmonton and his father died before he was born. He was orphaned at 11 and went on to study Linguistics at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, where he received the Governor-General's Gold Medal for scholastics. He earned his Masters and Doctorate in Pennsylvania and taught first at the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin and then, until his retirement at Fordham University in the city he loved, New York. He leaves a longtime boyfriend and many devoted and loving family members. He was planning to get back on the transplant list for a second go. Jerry wasn't through with life even if life was through with him. For ten days he fought cascading multiple organ failure with an astounding will and, just as we could see the blood come back to his face and feel the heat from three of his four extremities he gave up the ghost.

Update: My friend Eric Layman, author of "To A Stark And Clean Place" and "The Brightest Fire" died only a few days before my uncle Jerry. Eric died from complications related to emphysema. We never discussed a lung transplant. We ought to have. There are a couple of excellent eulogies here in the Globe and Mail and The Canadian Jewish News, where he worked. There's a small Wikipedia entry here. Eric's integrity was awesome. His life and death taught me that you can have any one thing you want so long as it's one thing. Eric wanted art through poetry and he was honoured for it. Between one and two hundred met to celebrate his life last summer. A man who speaks his mind is rare: when we lost Eric, we lost a whole city. I will try to find out where to get his books and when I do so, I'll post the link here.