22 February 1999

Review of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio 

Urbana performance 11 February 1999 

It was during the Beethoven that I began to hear around the notes. I heard melodies passed from instrument to instrument and layered atop themselves. I was staring into the reflective black wood of the piano and suddenly I saw the bus that had brought the trio to town. I saw half-finished crossword puzzles, a couple of classical music magazines, and cassettes scattered around. I blinked and the room came back in to focus. On the balcony an earnest young man with glasses stared down. The cellist was plucking her strings in Beethoven's anticipation of jazz. And then I realized that later that night at the hotel the pianist and violinist would order a bottle of brandy from room service and watch The Paper Chase on TV, each lying in undershirts on separate beds. I understood that the cellist had a detached affection for these two and their shared habits, but that during rehearsal a disagreement over the speed of the tremolo might override any affection or respect. I saw them at a restaurant talking about the new Schubert box set. I saw them in agreement over certain French impressionists. I saw them discuss what wine to order. I saw the cellist after her cello had been crushed in the door of a freight elevator, and the others at her side trying to help ease her pain. I saw the pianist at home on a Sunday afternoon wearing jeans and a ragged sweatshirt listening to Motown and vacuuming. I saw the cellist in the late 60's. I saw the violinist masturbate slowly to Tchaikovsky's opus 35. I saw Beethoven dispatch a rival by sight-reading an upside-down score. I saw the page-turner playing darts at a bar. I saw the person who proofread the program notes shake her head at the pretentiousness of the person who wrote them. I saw the violinist's secret penchant for Cheetos. I understood that the cellist enjoyed having her feet tickled during lovemaking. I came to the realization that the pianist, beneath his tuxedo, was wearing ludicrous boxers with big red valentines. I saw the flat tire, the strep throat, the divorce, the angry note, the flowers, the fun rehearsals of pieces that were never publicly performed, the amazing recording sessions in Germany and the cobblestone streets they wandered after. There was applause and they were standing up to receive it. There was the sense that it was the instruments who were bowing, not the people. The page-turner carried the score offstage. It was exactly as it should have been. The performers had appeared onstage in impeccable formal attire and performed the entire program flawlessly. A 201-year-old Beethoven score had been fully realized. The performers had subdued all but the tiniest measure of themselves and had interpreted the score in unison, as though no centuries had passed. Audience members were standing up. I knew that the performers loved music and had chosen the right path, even though every bridge they had crossed had collapsed. Formal, labor-intensive, traditional European art music was the life they engaged. And they were friends. And they were quirky.

The music was complicated and delicate. I found myself unable to follow its plot. Instead I listened to its crescendos and its fortissimos and its accelerandos, seeking edges to touch. Twelve notes all told, although delivered in a variety of pitches, timbres, and volumes. The performers would remain friends until death. They would work together as long as possible. One of them would have children, another would write a book. There would be trouble with the hands, and hearing loss in two of their six ears. Eyesight would deteriorate, funding for orchestras would steadily decrease, but Beethoven and Shostakovich would live on.


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