Philip Glass – Violin Concerto No. 1 (1982)

I thought about writing about Philip Glass’ Cello Concerto today, given that I discovered it last year around this time, if not this very day. But there is such a thing as paling in comparison, especially when it comes to highly personal, profound experiences. And I have no illusion that Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1 was, is and always will be a very strong reminder to me why music is the closest thing I know to a religious experience, a sense of spirituality and meaning which surpasses the individual and ephemeral. My close friends know what this piece of music means to me, I have relentlessly told the story over and over and over. It has to do with one of the few moments so far in which I’ve felt that directing theater is indeed an open avenue for me, for expressing some of the images and emotions which float around in my head. The entirety of “Romeo and Juliet” unfolds before my eyes to this very day within the eight minutes and forty seven seconds of the concert’s second part. But I’m won’t insist on that – it’s constraining to the music, since this piece is only incidentally a soundtrack, while it is quintessentially art. I apologize if this post end us a bit more essay-like than desirable. You have been warned.

Consider this: one surface capable of retaining an infinity (not using big words in vain, bear with me) of images at once. Most objects have one face. One can study them from a myriad angles and allow oneself to be surprised by some of them, unveil hidden characteristics and so forth, but it is only one face in the end. Mirrors have that one face, true, but display upon that one face the faces of everything in front of them with endless generosity, in endless angles, nuances, figments and shards. It is a sense of wonder I have towards them which I have never truly been able to convey to anyone. But maybe I can, now, by tying it with the sense of amazement this piece of music gives me. Allow me to explain myself – somewhere in my head, the secret history of music starts with telling time. At the first audible beat of a heart, music is there, potentially. Music divides time, measures its passing for us on the one hand, while obscuring, dilating or contracting, morphing it on the other. Music is to time what mirrors are to space. There is but one surface, but within that surface, time isn’t a cold hard fact of physics any longer. And, like mirrors, it has a very peculiar ability.

I’m sure it’s very common for someone to sometimes gaze in a mirror losing themselves, feeling detached from the reflected image as if “the other”, gazing back through the looking glass simply ceased to follow the same time-line for a short while, as if “I” and “the other” are locked in two different seconds. The feeling is eerie indeed, capable of inciting a very basic fight or flight response. Not all mirrors and not all times can lead to such a disjointed experience, but some eventually draw one in. Such is the case with some pieces of music – a narcissistic phenomenon takes place in the midst of which one recognizes oneself like never before, and yet not quite – a tiny difference small enough to become truly significant. This is the uncanny. This is the “once in a lifetime” sinking feeling some pieces of art can kindle, spawning vertigo, a feeling of levitation, of faintness, of dissolution. Sure, music can send shivers down your spine many times, but how often does it happen that it knocks you beside yourself, picks a part of you up and shows it to you, still beating and very much alive? Well, for me, the only piece of music I can readily name which can do that is this concert. I’ve experienced music on many levels but never as completely and as intensely.

I’m reminded of a Carl Sagan anecdote, if memory serves. When trying to decide which pieces of music they should embed on the gold record placed on the Voyager probes, the NASA committee members suggested Bach. Sagan said “Now that would just be showing off.” Enough said.

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