In front of Tafelmusik’s Ivars Taurins, I’m a criminal. Not that I have the luck to know him personally or professionally, but I was the culprit who was so eager to applaud in the end of one of the greatest performances of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor a few years ago that I had the ending silence Mr. Taurins so solemnly held with his still batons shortened. That performance of this unfinished masterpiece transcendentally finished with a repetition of the opening Kyrie.

Bach’s Mass in B minor Tafelmusik performed this Friday opens and ends with similar expansive solemnity and calmness, although the final moments of chorus (in particular the sopranos), timpani and trumpets are not without euphoria. The concert was deliberately paced for a period performance, but the exuberance easily came when it was called for. The conducting of Mr. Taurins, as usual, was a feast on its own. One of the great aspects of musician as a profession, is their privilege, when intelligently applied, of expressing their deepest personal feelings publicly without being improper.

So how about the audience? The next evening I attended TSO’s concert of Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 4 with Garrick Ohlsson) and Tchaikovsky (Manfred Symphony). The audience were responsive to the point that they applauded after almost every single movement, including the slow ones. This invites smiles from connoisseurs and snobs, but the fact remains that the “no applause between movements” rule was invented relatively recently. Applause between movements was probably even expected in Beethoven and Tchaikovsky’s times, as Alex Ross of the New Yorker discusses in details here.

Putting all those noise from impulsive applause and self-applause to rest, you may still find the gold so eloquently shining in the darkness of silence. I just finished Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s 1993 ethnography In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (about the Indonesian Meratus Dayak people). True to the spirit of the so-called postmodernism, the book is overly verbal and unnecessarily self-referential – I felt compelled to detoxify myself by reading Hemingway’s short story Indian Camp afterwards to have a moment of serenity. However, in retrospect, the book is indeed ethnographically and philosophically rich. There are a lot of wisdoms you may not find anywhere else. If only the author had been more restrained in her eagerness! Probably only if anthropologists are not such a lonely group of people!

I would usually be annoyed if my fellow audience keep chit-chatting or rocking their chairs during a performance (so did one 400-pound dude in a TSO concert of Sibelius’ rousing symphonies last year). But during the Friday’s performance, I was absolutely delighted by a neighboring young girl who kept whispering in her ageing father’s ear. The performance of Bach’s mass is clearly a very lively event for her (probably even more so than to many adults there). And I find myself rocking the bench to the rhythm of Quoniam Tu Solus Sanctus:

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I love Handel. This is a thought crossed my mind again last night when Karina Gauvin was singing arias from Alcina, the so-called “last great opera” of the composer, accompanied by the ever lively and energetic Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Gauvin conveyed a great sense of drama, particularly in the final excerpt, the Aria Ah! mio cor!(Act I, sc. 8), when the enchantress (or “witch” if you like) Alcina was heart-broken by the fact that she had lost her magic over boyfriend Ruggiero:

          Ah! my heart! You are scorned!

          Stars! Gods! God of love!

          Traitor! I love you so much;

          How can you leave me, alone and in

          tears, oh gods! Why?

Then she regained her composure and the dominatrix attitude returned:

          But can this be Alcina who grieves?

          I am Queen, an there is still time;

          Stay here, or die; suffer eternally,

          Or return to me.

But in the end, she realized with profound sadness that after all her lover was gone for good:

          Ah! my heart! &c.

How many times in our life has our sense of invincibility suddenly been defeated decisively by the feeling of vulnerability? Is this why this music about a fabled witch brought tears to my eyes? I love Handel – all the sadness in his music actually brings me strong physical pleasure and fulfilment.

Gauvin gave an encore, Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo (Act 2). The audience, most of them in their 70s, gave a warmer-than-usual response (Toronto audience were particularly cold this winter for unknown reasons).

I must admit my eyes occasionally wander around concert halls when I am not able to commit 100% to music. On the first half of last night’s concert when Locatelli’s music was played, I was looking at two people in the orchestra seats. One was a slender teen with dark curly hair and a big pair of glasses; the other seems to be his mother, a woman in her late 40s with glorious red hair and Margaret Atwoodish facial feature, impeccably dressed. They sat very close to each other, almost leaning against each other, and both were paying intense attention to the musicians (and supposedly the music). This kind of intellectual dimension of mother-and-son intimacy is so moving, if they are indeed mother and son.

Here is a recording of Joyce DiDonato singing Ah! mio cor!:

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