Saturday, 12 August 2017

"Can you believe that such beauty exists?!"

You don't know what genuine fear is, until you perform solo with a musical instrument in front of a sizable live audience.

On Saturday night, I played part of a J.S Bach flute sonata to an audience at the Grey Lynn Community Centre in Auckland. This was my third public performance, and trust me when I tell you that it was a pretty terrifying experience. There were about 100 folk there, and it was part of a fund-raiser for the Auckland Buddhist Centre.

J.S. Bach is one of nature's true mysteries. A humble man from a family of musicians whose parents both died when he was ten ... he went on to become the greatest musician the world had ever known. His life was stitched with tragedy - ten of his children died in infancy ... and yet he created a vast body of music that transfixes with its power.

His flute sonatas are finely-wrought puzzles of intricacy. As a musician you play them in a state of awe, hoping to offer some kind of fidelity to the precision and beauty revealed there.

The flute uses both its own body and the skull of the flautist as resonating chambers ... so you find that your entire head is echoing with this sublime music.

I first started playing these sonatas long ago with my pianist father, who asked me why I chose the most difficult pieces in the baroque repertoire. 'Because they're there!' I shouted, modesty repeating the words of George Mallory when asked why he attempted Everest. We would often finish the fiendish first movement of the B Minor sonata - all 118 bars of it - a couple of bars apart, and this was accompanied by quite a bit of laughter.

Sarabande: JS Bach's A Minor flute sonata
To a fairly shy person like myself, the notion of playing this kind of music to an audience of skeptical Aucklanders kept me awake at night for some time before the event. During the actual performance, my fingers kept slipping off the keys with perspiration.

I asked myself why I did it, and I came to the surprising conclusion - surprising to me at least - that I got up in front of that audience because I found it so frightening.

But there was something else, more profound in this offering that helped me stand up there on that musical cliff edge ... something to do with the mystery of the music itself; its astonishing vitality and power after 300 years. It was chance to get up in front of a room of 100 people and exclaim in exhilaration ...

"Look! Listen!"

"Can you believe that such beauty exists!!"

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