Virtuous... or Virtuosic?
Which one would you rather be? If you had to choose.
To be fair, either one seems a little like... a condition. Would you rather be diagnosed with Virtue (nice and lovely and kind and patient and thoughtful and self-effacing and OMG) or Virtuosity (certainly very impressive, gosh, so flashy and yes, gorgeous, but do you really, you know, have a soul?)
When A Far Cry started working on our season-opener Virtue and Virtuosity, Robyn, who had come up with the program, emphasized how critical it was that the two words come from the same root... before diverging utterly.
And that just made me think a whole lot about angels and devils. Similar, even the same, if you go back far enough... before they became antitheses of each other.
Earlier this summer, I had the extreme pleasure of watching Good Omens, a screen adaptation of an iconic book co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett about an angel and a demon who have been stationed on Earth basically since Eden. They've grown up through the centuries together and become friends. In fact, they have decided to thwart the apocalypse because they just like the world too darn much. The angel likes his used books. The devil likes his fancy car. They both have come to like Shakespeare, and oysters. Their friendship ends up saving the planet (spoiler alert) but what is almost better is that they both become so much more interesting in each others' company.
Neither Virtue or Virtuosity is really all that awesome on its own. But when you put them together... that's a different story. It's so fun to combine the two because they're like oil and vinegar. Constantly negating each other, until you put them in a bottle, shake them up, and proceed to dress your musical salad with the delicious result.
I'm pretty sure that better-together vibe was what Robyn had in mind when she programmed, for instance, Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto (which I get to perform with Jason Fisher). Positively brimming with Bachian "virtue," it is also a crazy finger-twister, and lives in that interesting space between needing to give it your all while staying kinda nonchalant. Try to double down on the virtue in this piece and it falls flat and boring. Expose the virtuosity and it seems so very trite. But right in the middle, between the two, is something alive and fascinating.
Even more of a gorgeous mystery is the Beethoven Violin Concerto on the second half. Soovin Kim is playing it with us, and sounds just beyond magnificent; masterful and participatory. We're not doing such a bad job of accompanying him either. (Of course, no one is supposed to say that; that's not what a "virtuous" accompanist would ever admit. Ha! But we are trying to create a world around him that is rich, and deep, and full of meaning, so why shouldn't we be attempting to be awesome?)
Some of the most beautiful moments in the Beethoven Concerto are profoundly simple - and show up after mountains of complexity. A heartbreakingly intimate statement of the theme at the end of the first movement is accompanied by the whole group playing one pizzicato at a time, in silence. One the one hand, it's a moment of 100 percent virtue (everyone on stage merges their unique selves into a single, quiet, accompanying, pluck). On the other hand, to get it just right requires almost more virtuosity than anything else on the program.
What's this all about? Good Omens has a word for when things get complicated just like this: ineffability. Something ineffable is not really good or bad, per se. More like "super interesting and full of paradoxes on a cosmic level."
So, is it virtuosic, or virtuous? Well... yes!
It's also very fun, and downtown at Jordan Hall, and will be available to live stream at www.afarcry.org.
Have an ineffable time!
(PS: please do not tell Jason and me which one of us is who, as tempting as it might be)