Subject: notes on a concert
Date: March 23, 1999
From: Raffy Kazakov

So what if some musician touched God with his playing on a particular night and he was not alone―there was an audience and maybe some critics? Does it matter if the audience heard or not? Is it more or less of an occasion if the critics wrote or did not write about the event?

Being the sole inhabitant on the kooky planet of "Rafaelia", these are questions that occupy my mind... The immediate reason is Jan Garbarek's concert on Friday with the Hilliard Ensemble in NYC. The concert was in an untypical venue―St. Ignatius Loyola Church, an impressive high vaulted cathedral on 83rd Street and Park Avenue. The show was so underpublicized that I thought that it was kept in secret by the organizers. Nonetheless, the church was quite full. The acoustics of a place like this make for quite a different experience than the amplified wall of sound of a regular concert. The interplay between the four voices of the singers of the Hilliard Ensemble and the saxophone is carried on a very delicate web of air which requires complete silence, unruffled stillness on the part of the audience. This was free flight without a safety net.  I remember straining my ears during the performance not in order to hear (the volume was just right for one to hear all right) but to mentally "amplify" the sound, to soak my nerves in it the same way that one does when listening to a high quality recording through a pair of headphones: the sound caresses and engulfs the ear membranes, it turns in on itself, and if the body of the listener is receptive enough to receive it, it enters the tissues like a lover's kiss...

Alas, experience comes to us unamplified most of the time, epiphanies are rarely broadcast. One has to train the mind's membrane to pick up the vibrations, and through experience and sensitivity fill in the missing overtones, the whispers and fluttering vibratos which one knows are there yet one's ear is too weak to catch.

Great art is an experience of collaboration. You cannot expect to have it all handed on a platter. The enigma of subtlety, the arousal of the unspoken, the subterfuge of mystery make both seductions and art exciting.

The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek made full use of subtlety and understatement. This was music so rich and sinuous that it begged to be listened with eyes closed, the visuals to be supplied by the mind's eye (hopefully not of four middle-aged Brits singing and one middle-aged horn player blowing...)

The performance was the world premiere of "Mnemosyne", an upcoming double CD of this unlikely duet (four guys rooted in classical and sacred medieval choral music and one virtuoso horn-player who comes via jazz and improvisational contemporary music.) The music on the CD spans 22 centuries―from the ancient Greece to present-day original Garbarek compositions. The release date for the States is April 27. Needless to say I'll have it in my CD player that very same day, fervently hoping that Garbarek will redeem himself with it for the almost elevatorish endeavor "RITES" which I returned to the store I bought it from for a full money-back refund (God bless the sunny side of American consumerism!)

A final thought that was floating in my mind during the concert: "Art is a gift, a precious priceless gift..."  It seems to me in certain cases the amount of you pay  is almost besides the point. (I was thinking the same after I saw Kusturitza's latest film "Black Cat, White Cat".) Great art sets you free and it is free, no matter whether you paid $20 (Kusturitza), $35 (Garbarek) or $40 million (Van Gogh).

The wispy evanescence of the experience and the impossibility to shackle is to me a constant reminder of the miracle of being alive, and the responsibility to enjoy the miracle to the fullest.

Anybody has any thoughts?



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