Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sharing Art through the Storm

“When you hit a wrong note, it's the next note that makes it good or bad.” -Miles Davis

A music-loving friend of mine swears that one of the greatest concerts he ever attended never took place at all.

Not quite, anyway.

Instead, a violent thunderstorm came pretty much out of nowhere on a summer night, leaving the Saratoga Performing Arts Center without electrical power. The unexpected storm hit just minutes before the Philadelphia Orchestra was set to take the stage along with a guest soloist, the violinist Sarah Chang.

Forty-five minutes later, the audience was still waiting, hoping power would be restored and the concert would get under way. That’s when Chang stepped onto the stage, alone except for her violin and a couple of stagehands equipped with flashlights to illuminate her and her music.

The orchestra remained backstage. But Chang began playing Fritz Kreisler's Recitative and Scherzo.

Maybe the rain was still pounding on the roof and flooding the lawn. Maybe the thunder hadn’t been muted yet by distance. Chances are, though, no one listening that night could tell you there was anything at all in the air except the music.

The performance was brief, but it was delivered with both virtuosic skill and exceptional grace—a sort of “Thank You” card for the audience.

The ovation was huge. Then several thousand music lovers made their way through pooling rainwater and back to their cars.

Maybe the story ends right there. But for me it has a resonance that reaches beyond the moment. The then-20-year-old musician’s respect for the people who had come to hear her music also says something about the essential relationship between artist and audience.

Creating art (even if that means performing before a large audience) is in many ways a solitary and intensely personal pursuit. But the moment a creative work touches someone else, it also becomes a shared experience, a sort of collaboration and even, in some sense, a transfer of ownership.

Maybe Sarah Chang understood that when she offered her music as a gift that night, unamplified and in the near-darkness of a summer evening storm.

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