‘I’m playing at the theatre at the end of March,’ our 18-year-old son Federico, declared during the winter months. After 15 years of performing, he had, or rather we had become so tired of recital dates and all the preparation involved, one more didn’t raise any eyebrows. We figured, like always, obsession would set in, projections about being the best in ….whatever. And, there would slowly, leading to the performance itself, be no room for greetings, thank you’s or even decency. We knew, as the performance date approached, offensive remarks would become more common, neurotic behavior would peak and perfection would be at stake. Everything, everyone else sat on a lesser plain. I took in a deep breath and resigned myself to what would be.
Fedy was selected to play a sample of his best repertoire for a matinee concert at one of the main theatres downtown. The conservatory selects a few musicians towards the end of the school year to represent the ‘up-and-coming’ generation of musicians. Usually those chosen to perform have won contests around Europe or been selected to solo with local orchestras, which means they play violin, piano or maybe harp or cello. He plays guitar so it was an unexpected honor to be invited.
All seemed standard modus operandi with some big exceptions. First, Federico was approaching 18. Oh yes, the year he had always said he would go live somewhere else. 18!? There it was staring at all of us. And here he was, toward the end of his high school career. What? He had only his ability to play guitar? He had started a rock band, notable for its originality, but….. Fear crossed his face and we watched as he took a look at what may lie ahead? Enormous questions appeared on his forehead and panic set in. ‘Was classical music what he wanted to do?’ ‘Could he even do it himself?’ Life was upon him and playing the rebellion would no longer help.
Second, the unthinkable happened. He fell in love – something he vowed not to do because his guitar would never allow a rival. To boot, she knew nothing about music. After a few surprised responses, on our part, over spending so much time with his new girl, we just let go. If he decided not to perform at the upcoming concert, performed at half his ability, or even gave up classical guitar, that was his business now. Our insistence and even direction had exhausted itself. He would have to take the reins.
One month to go, two weeks, two days, the night before. Yes he was intense on practicing and serious about his preparation but what we were seeing/experiencing was not a fraction of the torture of days gone by. Was this really all we were going to have to bear? I was perplexed but had no more energy to push the river in a direction it wanted to travel alone. I stayed quiet.
The morning of the performance arrived. I drove Fedy to the concert, a role that had got me in trouble in the past. Fighting would set in and then blaming after the concert that I was the cause of his dis-concentration. But without a second thought I put on my Sunday best and was off. The city on an early Sunday morning was delightful. I parked, walked to my destination and even had a coffee with and an honest-to-goodness sense of enjoyment.
The director of the conservatory greeted the parents immediately with a knowing smile, even giving the mothers an orange gerbera daisy. We probably all looked rather exhausted. Raising musicians, or most-likely any artist, is tough. Fedy said good morning too. What? Good-manners? Oh yes the new girlfriend was here. ‘That pulls out some charm,’ I mused under my breath and took my seat.
Fedy was first on the program. He prepared three pieces. The first, a slightly slower gorgeous tune by Weiss (1687-1750) which showed us the beauty of his strings and long fingers which willingly followed his intense resolve. The second, by Legnani (1790-1877) was much more striking, sometimes playful, but daring in its pleats and bursts. His last piece was by Barrios (1885-1944). This is a name I have seen on his sheet music only in recent years. It’s what you might call radical and strikingly difficult. But more it’s an enormous challenge to communicate its laborious qualities without being heavy or demanding on the listener. Yet we, all the audience were right there with him You could hear a pin drop. Federico aced the notes and the music itself. But more he was inviting, in his music, open, available for everyone to enjoy. My eyes filled with tears and his too. He bowed deeply, then came back for two more encores.
I slowed my breath feeling too emotional to sit up straight. ‘Smile,’ I reminded myself. ‘Just be nonchalant.’
We all quieted down and waited for the next performer – a pianist, considered the best in a noteworthy list at the conservatory. And he did not disappoint us. Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, and lastly Sergej Prokofjew with a piece teasingly called ‘Sarcasms.’ He was brilliant, intense, finger movement beyond belief, stunning. His face was red, his fingers too. His glare, oh yes, I knew that gaze. His panorama was music only. But where he was looking was not just at a combination of notes. It was a terrain beyond all else. We clapped again and again at his brilliance. He looked at us as he bowed yet he was not there. He was alone, deeply involved with an esoteric exchange unreachable by mere mortals. He was commanding, yet commanded by a pull to…be complete. Yet, where was this place anyway?
The third performer is what I carefully call a protégé, 10-year-old Alida Shahrazad Igbaria. Her mother is from North Europe. Her father is Arab. He came to town to direct the country’s only Muslim Mosque. It’s a religious center that has gathered fame because it’s the only mosque in Italy with no separation based on nationality.
Alida’s black hair was pulled up in a pony tail that dangled down to the back of her thighs. I noticed she had on a mini-skirt, black leather at that. What a difference from the bobby socks I saw last year.
Her playing was brilliant and heavenly, leaving us all amazed and giddy. Surprisingly, she played quintessential masterpieces as if she were not quite aware she herself as the musician. She frequently smiled at the audience as if she too took pleasure watching herself play. Her pieces were short, friendly and pure. She was indeed a musical genius. Yet her youth still kept her own involvement in the music at bay.
Our thoughts, everyone’s thoughts went back to Fedy as he joined the others on stage for mutual bows. His pieces were perfectly selected, perfectly staged and perfectly delivered. In these last 15 years, he had indeed learned how to perform. He knew how to communicate and he executed his talent perfectly. He was technically excellent. Maybe he was not the most brilliant in a strictly musical sense but he was the best presenter – a communicator of music, administering an expression for which we could all access, together!
Was it his new girlfriend to offer him a balance? Maturity? Reflection?
Flashes of frustrated exchanges and feelings of failure raced through my mind. No matter, this morning was not one for groaning. It was one to celebrate life. Ah yes, that friend of ours who takes our hand through it all and shows us what we are – an expression of Itself. Maybe the challenge is not so much to see the citadel but to concede to the participation of others, everyone, in the seeing.
Thank you son! Bravo!