I’ve been feeling so much today that it’s taken me all day — a quiet, pensive drive to LaGuardia Airport early this morning; a flight to Dallas (concerts in OK and IA this week), during which I read a glorious forty pages of a wonderful new (to me) novel by Junot Díaz; and getting under the covers in my rather beautiful suburban-Texan hotel, now — to find space and words to write anything down. Sometimes these moments where it is imperative to speak feel like the very ones where someone’s hand is around your throat (or is that just me, and my throat?), and today has been one of those choking-feeling days. But here it goes.
Two years ago I sat weeping on my couch, Anya in my arms, as it became clear what was unfolding: this violent, blinding, terrifying night that, in clearer terms than ever before, spoke to the kind of bigotry that is both so sweepingly foundational in our country, and yet also, painfully, so personal and precious to millions of its people.
We were to have our very first concert of our Boston Beethoven Cycle just two days later. But I couldn’t stop crying. After some time to think (over a cathartic, almost wordless lunch at Myers+Chang, our pain quelled in little flashes by dumplings and heat), Ari and I decided that it seemed too painful an implication to cancel the concert; so we bolstered ourselves, made a discount code (ODETOJOY, if I’m remembering correctly: the way that mundane things become truly poetic, sometimes, will never cease to break my heart, which is probably why I love Beethoven as much as I do) to encourage people get up out of their own tear-soaked beds, and resolved to go through with it .(wrecked though we were). When Ari and I parked on Comm Ave to go and play that night (quartets with our wonderful leftie friends Gabe Boyers & Sarah Darling; as well as our beloved, broken-Americana, uncomfortable, dissonant-ecstatic solo Carters), I cried quietly for the whole walk from the car to the art gallery, even as I unfolded my Yamaha music stand and put those Opus 18s — 1 and 2, these two pieces I had loved and waited for 30 years to play.
I was so emotionally wiped that I don’t remember everything about that night, but this I do: it was a small audience of close friends and concertgoers we loved; and in this intimate space together, the gratitude and sense of hunger and necessity for what we did was palpable, profound, and sustaining. I went back to weeping after the concert (we all did). And yet there was something transforming in being able to share, from our weakened, vulnerable hearts, these Beethovens we loved; and in making space to connect - to how we felt, to how the people around us felt. Without, somehow, any ability or need to change it: the idea that feeling itself is meaningful and enough.
This is not my version of that Bernstein quote, which I hate (especially after multiple thousands of readings, since musicians at some point decided to to post it every time there was a school shooting) approximately as much as I hate hearing his music over and over for a year. (I will listen to “Tonight” on loop for 30 years — god I love that and all of WSS — but come on, not all of it.) It is more this: that our humanity matters. That our weakness and vulnerability and deep, unapologetic caring - about each other, about the state of the world, our country, and our communities - matter. That our willingness to admit and live inside this vulnerability and caring is one of the things that gives us, as musicians, an unusual and irreplaceable way of moving through the world. An unusual responsibility and an unusual, important power.
So much of what these elections come down to — this one, today, and that heartbreaking one two years ago, and the ones as we go forward — is indeed about caring. About whether we look at other people and deeply hope and attempt to feel what they feel, to adjust our behavior and ways of living to cause them less pain, to make the world more equitable and just for all those who have voices that are silenced or too quiet for other people to hear. WE can hear. So we must hear. We spend our lives deepening our listening so that the tiniest nuances of color and pitch and sound will mean something: will have an emotional effect that opens up space for our audiences, our colleagues, our selves to feel. And so I guess what I’m saying is that — hopeless as we felt that night heading into the first Beethoven concert — this artist-human alchemy of ours, this combination of listening and empathy and willingness to feel that is so personal and strange, so maddening and paralyzing to so many of us, sometimes, as musicians, is a gift in these scary moments. And to give freely of this gift is a responsibility — a direct means to supporting humanity and human dignity — unlike any I have ever known.
There’ll be more Beethoven before long: in 2019 on our Boston Cycle, we start the complete Lates — a wild landscape that I hope will (as the 18s, 59s, & 74/95) give our listeners ways to hear and feel into parts of themselves they otherwise might not access. And yet — emotional defense and gratitude for this this thing we get to do, in the midst of all this election-wrought pain, aside — I can’t help but hope, as the returns trickle in, that we will be playing the Heiliger Dankgesang as Beethoven originally wrote and captioned it: as a Holy Song of Thanksgiving (to God, he says) after recovering from a grave illness; the heart-stopping miracle and stillness of that sacred chorale, and the alternating music that LvB marks “sentendo nuova forza” (feeling newfound strength), visceral and ecstatic, human and desperate in its joy.
Indeed, there is nothing more human than that slow movement of 132, or than this wild, terrifying moment in our country right now. And whether or not things begin to turn blue again, our responsibility as artists and as human beings remains the same: to hear, to give voice, to listen and support and effect change to the fullest extents that our different privileges and gifts allow us. The work and the profound responsibility — as with our own work every day, sitting down at the instrument to make sounds more beautiful and personal than we did yesterday — will continue forever, as long as we are on this earth and willing to connect with and care about other people.
Moment of joy that night - hugs with beloved friends in the audience on November 10th, 2016, at the inaugural concert of the Boston Beethoven Cycle (and two days after the heartbreaking trauma of the 2016 presidential election).