Itzhak Perlman, Dung Ti Oolong and being in the presence of Graetness (Part 1)

December 12th, 2016

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love my Oolong teas.  This is a post I wrote a while back that I thought I would share with you here.  It is a two part post…I promise that there is a connection.

I had the great privilege of experiencing Itzhak Perlman live in concert recently and yes the experience was awesome.  Not awesome in the teen slang version of awesome – but awesome in the true meaning of the word – inspiring awe or admiration or wonder.  He played for us for only a short 45 minutes – but the experience moved me close to tears.  Now why would a violinist playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major move me close to tears.  Simple really – as I sat and watched and listened – I was clearly aware and conscious of a simple fact – I was in the presence of Greatness – and that conscious realisation is an emotional one.   It is a rare moment I think that those two moments collide – one, being in the presence of Greatness, and two – knowing it.

I must make a further confession – I have wanted to see Ithak Perlman perform for a very long time – ever since I was sent this piece written by a journalist from the Houston Chronicle many years ago.  It has stayed with me for all these years –

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches.To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an unforgettable sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.

By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap -it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.

People who were there that night thought to themselves: “We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage – to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.”

But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before. Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that.

You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before.

When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.

He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the [way] of life – not just for artists but for all of us.

So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left. (Jack Riemer, Houston Chronicle)