Something More Than Hail To The Chief

A bit of music for the soul...

Yesterday I tried to suspend (or at least slightly temper) my default cynicism. I was doing OK until I scrutinized the program for the inauguration, and noticed that just before the actual swearing in, a quartet of classical-music superstars would play a new piece by John Williams entitled “Air and Simple Gifts.”

I expected another obligatory high-culture interlude in a day overstuffed with ceremony, and braced myself for the Anderson Cooper review. So what a surprise it was to hear these musicians – cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill – unite to elegantly and wordlessly set the tone for the event. As they navigated the sloping hills of the initial theme, these four seized Williams’ notions and gave them a sense of purpose. What came across wasn’t notes and chords, but the sound of possibility, translated into all languages at once. A perfect prelude for Obama’s address.

Sometimes just the particular tone of an instrument can communicate everything. That’s how it is with Yo-Yo Ma: His notion of how the cello should sound is primal and pure, and so perfectly balanced that even across great distances its nuances resonate. When he leans into a phrase and invests it with an abstract notion like “hope,” you can’t help but hear it, taste it, feel it in your bones.

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#1 from Joe, Chicago - 01/23/2009 5:33

I heard on the news this morning that what we actually heard was a recording. It was too cold to properly tune the instuments.

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