arts & music

Playing in Time(less)

by Laura — October 12, 2015

I walked in to the concert hall just as he was recounting his first lesson with Dieter Weber where he was to have prepared Beethoven’s piano sonata, op. 110. He had just played the opening chord when he was stopped by the irritated maestro who told him that he was playing it all wrong. Irritated himself but unrelenting nonetheless, he played the chord again in a dozen different ways, all to no avail. It amazed me to hear the changing qualities of the single chord played in so many different ways. Nothing seemed to change in Mr. O’Conor’s posture, breathing, poise, or movement, yet each moment was different from the one preceding it. I wish I could remember what exactly Weber said that finally clicked to produce the “right” sound but it doesn’t matter; I heard it and it was just right. It was pure, full, rich, sustained, and exactly what the 110 called for. Time seemed to stop in those half and fermata notes, but not in an abrupt, static manner. Rather, it was as if those notes were merely suspended in time and space. From the vantage point of a listener, I didn’t experience the usual angst-ridden sensation of keeping time juxtaposed with listening for and enjoying the sounds being produced. I felt suspended, too, in a way, as if I didn’t know what was to come after those sustained notes. And when he finally emerged from those held notes to play the running sixteenths, all of the music came as a delightful surprise to me, even though I had played and heard the piece a thousand times before.

In this vain, I experienced a similar sensation when he demonstrated the opening of the Pathètique a little later on in the lecture. Remembering the moody teenager that I had been when I played this particular piece, feelings of impatience, rebellion, and aggression came flooding back. Yet hearing it played again, 25 years later, I heard a sense of unimaginable conviction, steadfastness, and above all, a simple sense of time – the same kind of suspended time that held no quality of urgency, measurement, or finality.

My own teacher was an ardent believer in the equal importance of musical rests to musical notes. He often commented that I wasn’t playing my rests, that I wasn’t giving them my full due as I was to notes – a commentary that consequently made me only count harder and more accurately. Little did I know then that that was not what he meant at all. He wanted me to embrace the breaths in between the music, to become suspended in the space that bridged non-notes to notes; it’s too late to ask him now so this is what I surmise anyway. And this is exactly what I heard in Mr. O’Conor’s playing – a seamlessness and a timelessness. Although he was playing faster than my teenage self would have, it curiously sounded slower in a way because of the vast amount of space and time that his notes and spaces created. A true musical feat and a magical display. I walked away from the hall, marvelling and wondering: how do we create such moments in our day-to-day lives? In our art? In our human interactions?


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