Not long ago, a few soft bars into Ravel’s Bolero, conductor Larry Rachleff of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, presiding at Veterans Memorial Auditorium – in the shadow of the Rhode Island State House designed by Charles Follen McKim – stopped the orchestra, turned around and offered a silent cough-into-sleeve-please lesson to a member of the audience who coughed during an early flute solo. Rachleff resumed conducting, but many had not heard the cough, and (after reading of the incident in Channing Gray’s review in the Providence Journal) I thought that Rachleff had gone too far.
Last night, during the orchestra’s July 4 pops concert at India Point Park, the audience chattered, private fireworks popped and my son Billy romped on my stomach while I lay on my back in the grass listening through the obstacles to Sibelius’s Finlandia and a host of other pieces, including John Philip Sousa and Tchaikovsky. I did not get up to chide the audience, the private fireworks or even Billy. They all pressed their vain assault on my attention to the music throughout the performance.
It was not optimal listening but it was a quintessential musical experience, in that it broke the back of the obstacles to pleasure. Maybe I was really just in the right frame of mind. The Philharmonic, whether under Rachleff or, as last night, resident conductor Francisco Noya, was as always brilliant. My son and his allies in the audience failed to distract me, as they would certainly have managed to do had it been anything but music – say, a good novel.
In short, you can’t beat music. It surmounts every obstacle. And in this music is like architecture. The distractions of a busy street, for example, cannot sway a lover of buildings from the contemplation of a beautiful marble balustrade or a set of animated brackets upholding an ornate pediment. Maybe this is because music and architecture, compared with other art forms, are more intuitive and less reliant on analysis for enjoyment.
No wonder Goethe made that dazzling observation, “Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music.”