In the early-falling dark, golden leaf-stars drifted down, skittering against the windshield, plastering themselves to the shining blacktop. They blew into shallow drifts against the steps of Memorial Hall as theater-goers hurried out of the chill wind, turning their umbrellas right side out, eager for the warm light. Inside, the mood mixed relief (the storm was not for us, this time) with somber anxiety (this storm is going to hurt a lot of people we know) with anticipation (we are about to hear one of the world’s finest orchestras) and a lashing of potent privilege (we’ll be the first in the U.S. to hear this commission), and the crowd buzzed quietly. We settled early into our seats; the Mariinsky Orchestra into theirs, rank after rank of chairs filling the stage. Silence, all awaiting Maestro Valery Gergiev and the two featured trumpeters for Matthias Pintscher’s Chute d’Etoiles, Part 1. Only the fricative rub of rosin on bow strings disturbed the quiet. We were “gathered together in the name of music,” as Emil Kang of Carolina Performing Arts said in his introduction. Music to drown a hurricane; music to outlast death.
Carolina Performing Arts co-commissioned, along with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Pintscher’s work as part of its grand investigation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The composer (b. Germany 1971) worked with a two-trumpet theme from The Rite, but perhaps more importantly was inspired by German artist Anselm Keifer’s (b. 1945) Chute d’Etoiles. Keifer has often used lead in his paintings/constructions, and its qualities of density, malleability and muted reflectivity are all evident in Pintscher’s music.
Listening the the 10-minute work, I felt very much as I feel grappling with our Keifer at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Time compresses and expands. Lines shoot toward the viewer, arrowing in, then race away. Velvety murk muffles and confuses. Space opens out. Something resolves itself, but remains a mystery. Traces glow in memory. Now when I see Keifer, I will hear muted trumpets, beckoning, calling up infinite distance.
There was more, of course–Shostakovich, and R. Strauss’ Heldenleben, dedicated to the memory of Bill Friday–but it will have to wait. Tonight the splendid orchestra will play the grand mad Rite, and I need to get there.