by John Stoehr
I wanted to share something with you now that I've been to a couple of chamber music concerts.
They take place at the Memminger Auditorium on Beaufain Street, where Kneehigh Theatre's dreamy-verging-on-nightmarish Don John is staged. During the concerts, there's no sign of the play with two exceptions — the white neon cross hanging overhead (similar to the one pictured) and its accompaniment, a mirrored disco ball. These are inconspicuous. You crane your neck to see them. But they are present and the symbolism they carry with them was a source of pleasure to me as I listened to Ravel's string quartet yesterday by the St. Lawrence String Quartet.
I should say right here that this performance was stunning. It's easy to take classical music for granted. And it's easy to take perfection for granted. We hear classical music at the mall, in the grocery store, in the elevator. Recording technology has made it so we aren't accustomed to hearing imperfection anymore. So when we hear perfection right before our eyes, it takes some effort on the audience's part to be vigilantly aware that perfection is taking place right before our eyes. Geoff Nuttall & Co. were that good.
As I said, stunning.
Even so, there's an added layer of pleasure and meaning here thanks to the presence of that white neon cross and a mirrored disco ball. What is the result of hearing Ravel's lush, creamy textures at the same time you see a cross? The impressionists aimed for just that — an impression. They didn't want to represent a thing, just imply it, evoke a feeling for the spirit inside the thing. In other words, to make it less concrete. It is no less with faith? Is Ravel atomizing, so to speak, the human condition? Is faith a means of putting it back together again?
And it's not just a cross, but a white neon cross? That to me says the low life. Things happen that respectable people don't want to know about, the kinds of people, frankly, who would pay good money to see a chamber music concert. Yet is Christ only for the respectable? Of course not. He is the symbol of redemption. The neon cross is like a reminder that there is more to what we see before us than what we take for granted. Perhaps it's a talisman for class struggle.
As for the disco ball, who knows? What do you think? -JS
(photo courtesy of flickr user cynner_sf)