Each of us is trying our best to keep occupied at home during this coronavirus lockdown. Music has played a crucial part in helping me to cope.
I’ve written before about the treats being offered for free from the Metropolitan Opera, the Digital Concert Hall of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Bolshoi Ballet and so many others.
There are also many ‘home’ concerts, concerts being streamed online. “Be an Audience of One”, screams the headline of the Moscow Times as it announces the launch of the ‘Armchair Concerts’ of the Moscow Philharmonic. The concerts are filmed at the Tchaikovsky Concert hall; a host introduces the performers, composers and music, and then “you sit back in your armchair, or desk chair, or dining room chair and enjoy a beautifully filmed and recorded concert.” The concerts are archived on YouTube for your listening convenience. It seems surreal to watch the concerts played to an empty hall, but the top-drawer performances are spell-binding enough to make you oblivious to all else.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (LA Phil for short) is also keeping abreast with our locked-down times. It has launched a series “At Home with Gustavo”, referring of course to their charismatic conductor, Venezuelan-origin Gustavo Dudamel, the wunderkind product of his country’s incredible El Sistema programme that has now been emulated in so many parts of the world, rich and poor.
In his bilingual (English and Spanish) introductory message, Dudamel says: “For me, and I imagine for a lot of you, music has been the thing that brings people together, even when we are apart. It’s important maybe now more than ever that we find ways to connect and find comfort and inspiration.”
In radio broadcasts from his home, he talks the listener through his favourite recordings and why he loves them so much. “Stay home. Stay Safe. But most of all, stay connected and inspired,” he says in conclusion.
The LA Phil has also begun a series of videos called “LA Phil at home”, featuring its musicians of the orchestra give performances at their own homes.
I was delighted to find on this new list of episodes a duo that needs no introduction to Goan classical music lovers. Many you will remember the piano duo recital by Gavin Martin and Joanne Pearce Martin several years ago. Joanne Pearce Martin is Principal Keyboardist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and is married to Goan-origin concert pianist Gavin Martin, with a musical partnership spanning several decades.
In case you wish to locate their performance, go to the LA Phil homepage. Select ‘videos’ at the ‘Watch & Listen’ tab and the latest upload you find will be ‘LA Phil at Home: Joanne Pearce Martin and Gavin Martin’. “The LA Phil’s keyboardist and her husband treat us to a little Mozart”, declares the blurb over the video.
Joanne introduces the viewer/listener to the work the duo will perform in their two-piano studio (with a heart-melting cameo appearance with Lica, their pet dog in lockdown solidarity with the Martins).
They perform the middle movement (Andante in G major) of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K. 448. It is eight minutes of a tonic for the heart, soul and mind, played with much feeling, sensitivity and mutual empathy, a true partnership in every sense of the word. Mozart’s part-writing has musical phrases sometimes tossed back from one instrument to the other, at other times they seamlessly complete each other’s sentences, in some cases developing the musical argument and conversation further and undertaking modulating journeys through the most searching keys as only Mozart knew how, tugging our heartstrings along the way.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote the sonata (one of his few compositions written for two pianos) in 1781, at the age of twenty-five, for a performance he would give with fellow pianist and composer Josepha Auernhammer. There is reason to believe that she had a crush on the young Mozart. On 27 June 1781, the same year he composed K. 448, Mozart wrote about her: “Almost every day after dinner I am at H: v: Auernhammer’s – The Miss is a monster! – plays delightfully though.” He qualified that compliment by continuing in the same breath “however, she lacks the genuine fine and lilting quality of cantabile; she plucks too much.”
I did a little research into the work, and was surprised to find several references to K. 488 in particular as an example of the “Mozart effect”. Apparently, research by the British Epilepsy Organisation has revealed that this particular Mozart piano sonata “improved spatial reasoning skills and reduced the number of seizures in people with epilepsy.” The April 2001 edition of Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine assessed the possible health benefits of the music of Mozart. Performing the K. 448 piano sonata for two pianos to patients with epilepsy brought about a decrease in epileptiform activity. The features of this particular Mozart piano sonata in eliciting this response were thought to be its “tempo, structure, melodic and harmonic consonance and predictability.” I am sure that such considerations would have been furthest from the mind of a twenty-something Mozart but he would have been gratified to know this, all the same.
Gavin and Joanne and Wolgang are just a click away from performing at your home. They will make your day!
(An edited version of this article was published on 15 April 2020 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Navhind Times Goa India)