Sunday night at Le Poisson Rouge, the new NY club where lots of good music happens. Among much else, it’s the new home of the Wordless Music series, no surprise, since Ronen Givony, who founded Wordless, books classical music at Le Poisson Rouge.
I’m there Sunday to hear my friend Bruce Brubaker, along with Elissa Cassini, Susan Babini, and Ben Fingland, play Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Opening the show is Goldmund, who plays ambient music on piano, with electronics, and closing is Sylvain Cheveau, with more ambient music, mostly electronic. Messiaen comes in the middle.
I was fried. Drove in from the country, got caught in two traffic jams, and got stuck in a third when I took a cab to the club from my NY apartment. Somehow I got there on time, and Goldmund — such lovely sounds, such a delicate touch on the piano — calmed me down.
Then Messiaen. Good performance. Many in the audience crowd — 175 people in all, Ronen told me — had probably never heard the piece before, or even heard of Messiaen. That’s the kind of crowd Wordless Music draws. Ronen programs classical music and smart pop (indie bands, ambient, whatever; Sylvain Cheveau, for instance, has opened for Sigur Ros), but the pop acts are usually the draw.
For five minutes or so, while the Messiaen started, I heard some rustling, and some whispered conversation. Then silence. Silence for 35 more minutes, while the piece hung in its special kind of space. And then cheering — applause, whoops. The people loved it. The piece just conquered them.
So how wonderful is that? This proves, if you ask me, that nobody needs special preparation to like classical music. You just have to encounter it in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way. So shouldn’t performances like this — and I’ve seen things like it before — be a big and hopeful part of the future? And shouldn’t it be deeply rewarding to play a piece like this for a crowd who wouldn’t sit silently, and wouldn’t whoop, unless they loved it? More rewarding, in many ways, than playing the piece in a concert hall, where everyone sits in silence because they’re supposed to?
No, I’m not saying that the normal classical audience has anything wrong with it. But only that there’s something really wonderful about playing classic pieces for people whose silence and applause are completely spontaneous.
(One reason the Messiaen came off so well was smart programming. Messiaen, plus others who create something of the same mood. Draws an audience that might like Messiaen, and gets put in a spacae where they’re ready to hear him.)
(Ulrelated, but…when I went to the Poisson Rouge website just now, a VIctoria motet was playing. Such an oasis in the middle of a working day…)