Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Goldberg Variations

Okay, now where were we.... One of the problems with the compressed news cycle is that it takes a few days to get back into the swing of things when you take a week "off". I want to add a few additional comments re: the weekend's Conservative Party Convention in Canada, and also hope to put together a more indepth analysis on how Michael Howard's Tories have managed to turn things around to the point that the (supposed) May 5th election in Britain might hold some suspense after all.

But let's start on a cultural note. Last night I had the supreme pleasure of seeing world-renowned British musician Joanna McGregor perform The Goldberg Variations at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. It is a wondrous piece of music requiring a virtuoso and acrobatic-like pianist to work, and McGregor delivered beautifully.

What made the evening all the more unique, however, was the context in which the concert took place. One of the most famous pieces at The Museum of the History of Science is a blackboard used by Einstein in a 1931 lecture that still contains the great man's etchings in chalk. In honour of his centenary, marking the anniversary of his 4 celebrated papers of 1905, the museum is putting on an exhibit of - wait for it - blackboards, entitled - wait again - "Bye, Bye Blackboard". Well, putting the obvious cheese factor aside, it is an unusual but wonderful idea. Throughout this year, various well-known Brits from Alain de Botton to the Bishop of Oxford to Rt Hon Christopher Patten have been asked to deliver lectures using blackboards, which are then to be saved for inclusion in the exhibit.

So - prior to the peformance itself, the audience was treated to an erudite talk on the piece to be played, contributing enormously to my subsequent appreciation of the music. Interlaced with the musical discussion (which often flew well over my head), McGregor spoke about the folklore of the piece, the famed Glenn Gould 1955 recording (and his return to the Goldbergs in 1981), the most moving passages, and how she went about learning and interpreting it. You can find much of the information at www.thegoldbergvariations.com. I couldn't help but think that the appeal of classical music could be easily broadened if an abbreviated type of this introduction preceded the various selections (VH-1 Storytellers, anyone?). Or maybe I just need to brush up on this knowledge on my own...

Anyway, one more nugget of trivia before I end here. McGregor ended her talk with reference to Bach's inclusion on the Voyager Interstellar Space mission's Golden Record, something I first remember hearing of in a West Wing episode. Check out this link for more information and the listing of Sagan's selection of world music sent beyond the solar system. Dark was the Night.


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