Monday, July 27, 2009

Mozart vs. Rachmaninoff

Last night was the final night of the World’s Greatest Concerto series at the Colorado Music Festival at Chautauqua. It was an all-Mozart evening: the overture to Mozart’s last opera (La Clemenzia di Tito), Mozart’s last piano concerto (No. 27, in B-flat major), and Mozart’s glorious last symphony (No. 41 in C major, the Jupiter symphony). The pianist for the concerto, Orion Weiss, was wonderful, but he didn’t get the instant standing ovation that Natasha Paremski got for her Rachmaninoff: his was more the kind of standing ovation where one person stands up, then another, then another, rather than the kind where the entire audience leaps as one to its feet. He had played every bit as brilliantly as she had. But there weren’t as many big, thunderous, crashing sounds, just gorgeous cascades of notes, each one given its exquisite, meticulous, loving due.

I’ve judged quite a few book awards in my day, including the Golden Kite Award given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the National Book Award in the category of Literature for Young People. As a judge, it’s so hard to resist giving the award to a “big” book, one that leaves the reader shaken and sobbing, rather than a book that may be more exquisitely crafted but is on a smaller scale – and forget about giving awards to books that are funny. “Big” books just cry out, “Give me an award!”

As someone who writes “little” books, this irks me. There is really nothing little about “little” books! And there is definitely nothing at all little about Mozart! So I was one of the first to jump up after the concerto last night. As I walked down from Chautauqua to my car after that evening of divine music, it was with a grateful heart that I live in a world of such soaring, rapturous beauty.

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