A single fine, live performance in Colombia a window on a multitude of paradoxes

Brian Ganz, Steven Copes and Alicia Weilerstein on Jan. 14, 2011

I stood in my stall in rapture last night, listening to the most amazing interpretation I’ve ever heard of Brahms’ Op. 8, B Major Piano Trio at the closing concert of the Cartagena International Music Festival in Colombia.

I’m not sure I will ever hear it played in such a sensitive, viscerally connected, narratively taut, yet masterfully paced way again — by an ad hoc trio that fitted in scant rehearsal time between other concerts and giving masterclasses to young musicians.

The experience encapsulated the full, true, fragile, ephemeral attraction of the live concert. A live recording, as good as most are, can’t reproduce that special spark of the moment.

To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, live music is like a delicate, exotic fruit; record it, and the bloom is gone.

After the concert, all sorts of other paradoxes came floating up into consciousness.

I had travelled to the Southern Hemisphere to drool over a piece played by three people from the Northern Hemisphere (violinist Steven Copes, cellist Alicia Weilerstein and pianist Brian Ganz). I was in the New World listening to the quintessence of the Old World.

I was amidst the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country of 50 million, at a concert being broadcast live on national television, yet, two kilometres away, people were listening to són in one-room homes, surviving on a monthly income more or less equivalent to the cost of my concert ticket.

I took advantage of the relative pre-noon comfort outside to wander for nearly three hours this morning, thinking of these strange contradictions, thinking how silly I am to worry about them, yet, outside the walls of this beautiful 16th century city, the contradictions are physically present at every winding street corner.

On one hand, a festival like this is a sort of cultural trophy for the 1 per cent. It attracts high-end tourists. It can also be a feast of conspicuous cultural consumption for the sake of it — like seeing how many screenings one can catch at a film festival, or how many rooms of the Louvre can be scanned through in a half-day.

On the other hand, a group of professionals — from both North and South America — brought beautiful music to a place that may not otherwise be able to showcase the treasures of classical music. About 500 teens had the opportunity to learn in an intimate setting from some of the world’s finest musicians. An integral outreach program brought fine, live music to seniors and school children outside Cartagena’s scenic walls.

The delicious tropical lollypop I bought from a vendor in front of the theatre at intermission for 500 pesos (about 30 cents) last night added to her income. Our collective snacks, drinks, lunches, dinners and rooms extended the ripple of cash to the “popular districts” that tour operators do not even acknowledge.

The latter outweighs the former, I think. And the Brahms was merely the icing on an already rich cake.

In case you’d like to hear what the Brahms trio sounds like, here is a nice performance featuring violinist Maxim Vengerov, cellist Boris Pergamenshikov and Elena Bashkirova, piano:

John Terauds


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