Last month we invited guest blogger Mandy Meisner to interview Principal Harp Kathy Kienzle in advance of her performance of Ginastera’s Harp Concerto—and we’re thrilled that Mandy has now written us this follow-up reflection on the October 1 performance of music by Bach, Ginastera and Paulus.
I am convinced that magic exists in the world. The kind that, as children, once washed our lives in wonder and possibility every day. It’s the same magic that, as we grew older, became harder and harder to find, until most of us stopped believing in it altogether. But in our hectic, digital, selfie-crazed time, in between the emails and the texts, the deadlines and the meetings, we still long for its return.
On the beautiful evening of Saturday, October 1, I filed into Orchestra Hall with a throng of the casual and refined. People speckle the lobby in an eclectic mix of diamond studs glinting under elegant hair, sturdy skirts and practical sweaters, and tasseled shoes peeking out of the slacks of silver haired gentlemen. Inside the auditorium chairs stand in obedient rows, their plush charcoal grey seats cushioning us like pearls in a fine jewelry box.
A live musical performance is a fleeting and unique experience. Unlike a recording, in which the phrases and lines can be heard over and over again in exact duplication, a live performance is never the same thing twice. Indeed, there is a huge difference between the same notes being played and the same music being created—which only a true artist can articulate with nuanced beauty and skill.
When the Minnesota Orchestra starts to play the First Brandenburg Concerto, though a smaller ensemble, the hall is filled with sound. At once the musicians are transformed. They sat down as mere people and become something else entirely, something you feel privileged to behold. Oboe and violin cry out to one another, pulling at us somewhere deep, and we become helpless to do anything but sigh and ache from it.
Stagehands scamper to re-set for the Ginastera Harp Concerto. I have never heard a harp concerto live before, and though I know a bit about the piece from last month’s interview with Kathy Kienzle, I am curious to hear the music and this instrument. I am surprised to see it colorfully strung in red, white and blue, evoking a slightly patriotic appearance. It is taller than an average man, its impressive girth counterintuitive to its delicate voice. The soloist, Kathy Kienzle, walks out. She is polished and calm, her garnet dress flows silently behind and I see flashes now and again of her glasses. She sits down and begins.
What can I write about astonishment? That it starts as crisp and tart as a green apple, then gives way into something mysterious—lush and rounded and dark. Her playing is hypnotic, swaying from the silken delicacy of a new lover, to the confident strength of a favorite one. During the cadenza my ears cannot keep up with the flurry of notes, they are like a thousand monarch butterflies—uncontainable and magnificent in their abundance. The finale is a steady heartbeat of an otherworldly march—intriguing and exotic—finishing in an unexpected last explosion followed by an end that leaves me stunned and grasping in the abrupt silence.
I can feel the anticipation for the last component of the night. The distinguished looking couple next to me are singers, associates of the late composer, and their faces blur into affection as they talk about what comes next. And what comes next is Stephan Paulus’ Mass for a Sacred Place. Instantly I feel the commanding merge of voice and instrument. The music becomes an omnipresent force. I don’t need to look to know that it seeps into every person, in every soul—a wordless understanding through a shared moment in time, sweeping us away to some place extraordinary.
I wonder how his family and friends must feel, to see their loved one resurrected in all the ways that count. To have his heart and mind—the best and most intimate parts of himself—alive and well again. And I think this must be the true meaning of legacy.
After the piece is done, after the encore is finished that leaves you heartbroken from sheer beauty, I look around to see the entire night reflecting back to me from this sliver of humanity, and change my mind. This isn’t the meaning of legacy.
It is magic.
POSTSCRIPT: During intermission I am allowed to go backstage to meet Kathy Kienzle. I walk past musicians who are regular people again, their abilities hidden behind cups of hot coffee and the electric light of cell phones. I find myself a bit tongue-tied meeting Kathy after listening to such a powerful performance. She is kind and gracious, still glowing from the stage. We both gush about the music, how unusual it is, how captivating. She talks about the stamina required for the piece, her preparations and the intricate challenges (the pedal action alone was very involved). But what I find most interesting is when she shows me her hands, palms up, which are surprisingly smooth. She explains if the calluses get too thick, it affects the sound of the strings, producing a “hard” sound. Who knew?