Yesterday, I attended the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Chopin’s Second Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. First, I must touch upon a truly virtuosic performance in Chopin. Yuliana Avdeeva, first prize winner of the Chopin International in 2010, more than showcased her mastery of Chopin. I had box seats directly behind where she was playing and so had a full view of her hands. She glided jointlessly between frenetic energy and graceful swaths of gossamer. I have never seen such finesse regarding Chopin, caressing the emotions endowed into his scores while also taming the fury of the technical grand jetés and grand pliés. Simply put, she is the best pianist I have ever seen and heard. All the more, I look forward to seeing Ms. Argerich perform live next March.
With all that, you would think Rachmaninoff was overshadowed. It was, however, a piece that struck me at the most right of times, when the notes could seep through my skin and rupture the veins. The notes matched a progression of events in my life, placed me on the shoulders of the fourth movement to carry me into the next stage.
The piece begins ominous and baleful with a fullness of what is best described with the lovely, Russian untranslatable, toska. For the unfamiliar, the word carries a width and breadth of meanings, all of them culminating in a deep, spiritual anguish. There is a disquietude in this anguish, a sprout of unrest growing in the shadow of a gravestone. For me, it was the loss of a… friendship? No, that doesn’t sound right, but I’m unsure of what else to call it. In any case, the toska resonated with what I had just been through regarding the loss.
Rachmaninoff then moves into the second movement which explodes with optimism and hope. Gone is the pain and brooding of the past. Somehow, following my loss, I felt invigorated, renewed. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the words spoken, but I felt stronger than I had in a long time.
Strength gained in such a way does not, however, last very long. In the third movement, a beautiful and romantic and, above all, wistful melody takes over the strings. It is sweet and melancholy without drooping into bitterness. It was in this state that I found myself at this time. I miss her, miss the person she is, miss our conversations. Tears frosted my eyes and I fought furiously to swipe them away as Rachmaninoff’s strings caused my reminiscing to deepen. And yet, I too feel no bitterness. That hurt has faded into fond memories, softened by time and rain.
Here is where Rachmaninoff, whom I already had great respect for, wrenches my spirit from the gutter of sorrow into the resolve of God. The fourth movement begins with a hearty chortle of strings before dissolving into quiet will. Here, Rachmaninoff share a moment of faith. Faith that God is not bereft of the promised hope. Hope that God has deigned to separate the future from the past, and that the future can mend what the past has rent. This faith and hope bursts into certitude in how best to move forward, and that, no matter the outcome, what is to come will be worth living for. My faith was unshaken from the ache and sorrow that ensued, but my heart was crushed. In the midst of it, it lingered in that blackened morass we call grief. From the confident resolution of the finale, Rachmaninoff exhorted me in a musical-notation equivalent to Galatians 6:9. I will not grow weary of doing good.
So it was that I left the symphony, stronger and enriched. So too was it that Ms. Avdeeva’s beautiful performance could not top a tale of my own recent past and subsequent future. Regardless even of my soul’s reverberations with the score, it was exceedingly beautiful. It blows my mind that so much of Rachmaninoff’s music was held with disdain by his contemporaries, even the great Stravinsky. Just the same, I see the corollary in my own life. Why should I care what others say of me? I know who I am. I know what I do. My heart is sure, supported by my faith in Christ and the spirit He gave me. Now, to wait and hope.