The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Friday, March 13, 2009

Life, Exquisitely Examined

1:51 PM PDT, March 13, 2009

Like all good torturers, the malaise mentioned in an earlier post granted me a brief respite, during which I took a road trip to Chapel Hill, NC with my hub, who'd been invited to give a colloquium at UNC. I enjoyed every minute of it, my pleasure all the more enhanced by the blessing of complete, actual health. We drove through snowy skies and white-laden stretches of forest by late afternoon, the first real winter I’ve seen all year. Although we outran the weather on our way to town, when I awoke the next morning at UNC's lovely Carolina Inn and looked out the window, all the world was covered in ‘ermine too dear for an earl.’ I wandered about the near-deserted campus (classes were called off until noon) and took photos before the sun shone out and all the wonder melted away.

We met up with many old friends, and three days fled by in a delicious blur. Breakfast at the Inn on the morning of our departure capped the experience with a serendipitious chance encounter. I’d at once noticed the man across from me, whose unruly hair, visionary eyes and civil but strained forbearance with the over-attentive waitstaff presaged singularity. In British-accented tones just above a whisper, he eschewed the communal carafe in favor of a bespoke espresso, and specified fresh eggs made to order—perhaps a covert jab at the scrambled offerings of the buffet, which were pretty visibly heaped on my plate. Amused, I made some remark about the persistence of Southern hospitality, to which he replied with ironic resignation, and then surprised me by asking if Hub and I were with the orchestra. We soon discovered that we were conversing with the founder of the Arditti Quartet, which was visiting UNC for a concert and a master class. The group specializes in contemporary music of a rarefied, difficult, experimental nature, and is widely considered the best in the world at what it does. Hundreds of pieces have been commissioned by and composed for the AQ, most notoriously Karlheinz Stockhausen’s irresistibly weird Helikopter Quartett, which has to be seen to be thoroughly appreciated.

I like to define my life as 'Vissi d'arte,' but Irvine Arditti really, truly walks the walk. He formed the quartet in 1973 while barely in his twenties, three years before joining the London Symphony Orchestra, and is now the only original member. He and his group have recorded more than 160 cds. He lives perpetually on tour, never at rest. His skill as a violinist is breathtaking, as this John Cage piece will demonstrate.

Since I'm most at home with Scarlatti and Dowland, the conversation was as much an education as a pleasure, and all too brief. As he departed for morning rehearsals, Mr. Arditti noted that I’d find a lot of contemporary composers mentioned on his website, and gave both Hub’s and my hand a slight but cordial clasp. Since then I’ve been enjoying a new realm of music, and value the maestro's farewell gesture all the more. I hope to see the quartet in concert as soon as may be.

How I admire people who live big, dedicated, beautiful lives.


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