A Portrait In Smithereens

At night, when sleep is slow to come in a somewhat strange bed, you listen tensely to any sort of noise and try to decode the shades momentarily cast by car lights on the white of the walls. That is how I realized she was there, waiting on the threshold of the door."You sleeping?" she asked timidly."No," I replied. "You know, it's that silver-haired conductor…" For me there are three conductors: Celibidache, Bernstein, and Karajan. As she has a knack for exactness she adds: "The one who behaved so badly during rehearsals." Also the knack for politeness. I understood who she was talking about, and I was glad she had woken me up from an incipient insomnia so that I watch him on TV.The master advanced with difficulty amidst the members of the orchestra. He stood tall, with a silver mane that was once raven black and rounded off his torero looks, sending racing the pulse of the spectator ladies, already bedazzled by the romantic tumult of the young conductor. His countenance was leonine, a mix of Beethoven and Goya in his twilight. He raised the baton. Quand dire c'est faire. The first measures of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet could be heard. The service of unrepeatable intensity. Legend turned myth, as a journalist put it. Once a jazz pianist. German training. Zen doctrine. Adverse to anything that means music conservation, its transposition on magnetic or video support, with due exceptions, eventually accepted. Vituperations against those who did otherwise. Unabated recourse to ten or eleven rehearsals before a concert, and to reiterated corrections. The spectators seemed to hold their breath, caught in the heat of the moment like insects in a piece of amber, and then freed by long applause and ovations.Who had first mentioned him to me? Yes, the French teacher with whom I prepared for admission to college. I don't remember how he cropped up in our discussion. Something in connection with the use of past subjunctive, the part participle, and translations from Barthes' Mythologies. She had seen him at the Romanian Athenaeum. She had managed to get tickets with considerable difficulty. Rather crowded. Sick, awkward until he started to conduct. Bruckner. Where had I heard him before? The Seventh, on the radio? She stood up as she had not found a seat but lost nothing of the feast, and the nerves and the discomfort had vanished fast. It was worthwhile. Every bit of it. The enthusiasm characterizing the early 1990 would not have done without that moment. Then came the film, the photos, the TV shows and the CDs. Especially the CDs. Bruckner again. The awkward feeling experienced in the attempt of trying to talk about. The regret of not having heard The Firebird or some Brahms conducted by him. Especially Brahms. The poor man, he did not know how to make the best of his orchestra. As to the Requiem by Mozart I believe that German reviewer who paid him the greatest compliment by exclaiming: "That's it!" A little better for a neophyte with Wagner. As I read someplace, his Wagner was released from the Teutonic grip, to be benefit of lyricism. Overwhelming gravity, diluted and at the same time exacerbated with the Funerary March, or drama making room to hope in the overture to Tannhauser. Now I understand how Baudelaire came to write that thank you letter. The eternal matter of catharsis. And I did not copy the disc although I had the chance to do it. The nostalgia – corny? – of unrepeatable moments. Like the confusion of a teenage girl coming from the provinces, like the night when mother woke me up to see him on TV, like Celibidache himself. 

by Simona Brânzaru