The New Yorker’s Arts Issue

Earlier this week, I had lunch with New Yorker writer Alex Ross, whose new book The Rest Is Noise is an excellent history of 20th century classical music. Ross has an article in this week’s New Yorker about how the Internet, commonly held to have had a deleterious effect on the music business, has lead to a revival in the classical music business.

What really struck me in the article is a passage Ross quotes from the blog of pianist Jeremy Denk about the experience of playing Oliver Messaien’s “Quartet for the End of Time”:

Somewhere toward the middle of the last movement, I began to feel the words that Messiaen marks in the part, I began to hear them, feel them as a “mantra”: extatique, paradisiaque. And maybe more importantly, I began to have visions while I was playing, snapshots of my own life (such that I had to remind myself to look at the notes, play the notes!): people’s eyes, mostly, expressions of love, moments of total and absolute tenderness. (This is sentimental, too personal: I know. How can you write about this piece without becoming over-emotional?) I felt that same sense of outpouring (“pouring over”) that comes when you just have to touch someone, when what you feel makes you pour out of your own body, when you are briefly no longer yourself—and at that moment I was still playing the chords, still somehow playing the damn piano. And each chord is even more beautiful than the last; they are pulsing, hypnotic, reverberant . . . each chord seemed to pile on something that was already ready to collapse, something too beautiful to be stable . . . and when your own playing boomerangs on you and begins to “move yourself,” to touch you emotionally, you have entered a very dangerous place. Luckily, the piece was almost over. . . . When I got offstage I had to breathe, hold myself in, talk myself down.

Denk does an excellent job of conveying simultaneously the the way it feels to be overwhelmingly moved by something and the very impossibility of expressing that feeling. Also in this week’s magazine is a relatively interesting piece by Sasha Frere-Jones about why indie rock is so white.

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