Not surprisingly, I have many, many memories associated with music. The earliest dates back to preschool—singing “Bluebird, bluebird, through my window” in music class. But the one that’s the strongest, yet the most vague, occurs whenever only periodically, as it did tonight, as I listened to the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform.
I only stayed for the first half, because I wanted to hear the Mahler, and then the soloist. Now, I like Mahler. I’m not nearly as familiar with his work as with many other composers, but his symphonies are phenomenal, and the man could write a hell of a horn line. But tonight the LPO opened their concert with the Adagio from his unfinished Symphony No. 10, and as far as I’m concerned it was a big fat FAIL.
Weirdest. Piece. Ever. I did not get it. I did not like it. It was unlike any Mahler I’ve ever heard, though that’s not really saying anything.
But then. Leon Fleisher took the stage for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, and somewhere in the middle I was yanked into the past. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but you know that feeling of intense nostalgia—not the wistful or melancholy kind, but just a vague feeling deep in your memory somewhere? Mozart does that to me, particularly when played by orchestra or piano.
Mozart is the earliest classical music that I remember hearing. I doubt that’s true, since I started dancing in The Nutcracker at age four, I think, so Tchaikovsky probably came first, but it seems like the oldest memory. I think it’s from when Dad performed the role of Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte with the opera workshop at the university. I was pretty little, but we went to see him, and I vividly remember sitting in the dark theater and hearing the music. (Also, there were tights involved, and makeup to make him look elderly. A man in tights was just too weird for me to comprehend at that age.)
Anyway, this happens periodically, where I get that feeling.
Also, apropos of nothing, Leon Fleisher is just adorable. He’s 80 years old and vaguely leonine in aspect, and he sort of sings along with himself as he plays. It’s very endearing. But the most amazing thing about him is his story.
In 1965, after during a wildly successful performing career—which began, by the way, with his New York Phil debut at age SIXTEEN—he was struck by a rare neurological disorder that left two fingers of his right hand immobile. The gifted artist was suddenly unable to perform, though he continued to perform the repertoire for left hand only, as well as conducting and teaching. But then, nearly 40 years after the illness struck, medical science caught up with him, and his affliction was cured. Do you know how? Botox. Seriously. He began getting botox injections in his arms and hands, and eventually regained the use of his hand.
And there he was tonight, backed by one of the world’s great orchestras, and you would never know that he had a 40-year hiatus from the piano. Just goes to show that you can lose everything, or seem to, and you may have given up hope—heck, you may have given up hope DECADES ago—but hope is never really lost. Just ask Leon Fleisher.