We were nearing the end of the concert. She was sitting in the first row in another section of the audience but through the reflection in the shining, black side of the grand piano I could see her hands. Curling her fingers and straightening them, bending her wrist this way and that, closing her palms and opening them – she couldn’t sit still for a moment.
The piece finished, applause followed, and then her name was announced. She stood up and walked upto the piano, turned to the audience and took a bow. Tatiana Galperovich was petite and her short, dark hair made her look boyish. She gave a short, hesitant smile – perhaps her eagerness to make music made these formal gestures seem unimportant – and sat down to play.
There were no notes – only the piano and her, playing a Russian composer Alexander Skriabin. Her hands, restless a few moments ago, were gliding effortlessly over the keys, the way a ballerina performing Swan Lake floats as if on water. Then came her famous loop : her left hand traced a graceful arc as it played, paused, and played again.
We sat in a trance, mesmerized, listening to the chords and following the sinuous movements of her hands. No soul in the audience had a separate existence in those moments; we were all a part of the vibrant energy radiating from the bowels of the grand piano inside a small chapel in a small village on this mild winter evening.
When it ended, when the magician lifted us out of her spell, a cry rang out from the audience : “Bravo!”. A very unusual reaction from an audience of a formal concert like this – unusual, but not surprising.
Back home, my wife walked upto the piano, lifted the cover and began practising. And I gravitated towards my bookshelf and picked up Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music and began reading. ( Background of the scene : the narrator, a part of a quartet, is in the middle of a concert, playing his Violin – the Tononi – and the piece is by Haydn. )
I love every part of Haydn. It is a quartet that I can hear in any mood and can play in any mood. The headlong happiness of the allegro; the lovely adagio where my small figures are like a counter-lyric to Pier’s song; the contrasting minuet and trio, each a mini-cosmos, yet each contriving to sound unfinished; and the melodious, ungrandiose, various fugue – everything delights me. But the part I like best is where I do not play at all. The trio really is a trio. Piers, Helen and Billy slide and stop away on their lowest strings, while I rest – intensely, intently. My Tononi is stilled. My bow lies across my lap. My eyes close. I am here and not here. A waking nap? A flight to the end of the galaxy and perhaps a couple of billion light-years beyond? A vacation, however short, from the presence of my too-present colleagues? Soberly, deeply, the melody grinds away, and now the minuet begins again. But I should be playing this, I think anxiously. It is the minuet. I should have rejoined the others, I should be playing again. And, oddly enough, I can hear myself playing. And yes, the fiddle is under my chin, and the bow is in my hand, and I am.