Those who, like I, go to a more than a few different festivals during the summer (there is a more indelicate term for this) know the phenomenon of a “host family.” Like viruses, we musicians invade the homes of our hosts (ostensibly for the purpose of “playing concerts”), raid their provisions, make use of their facilities, and then flee for the next fully-stocked home. I imagine like viruses we occasionally leave our hosts feeling a bit dazed, not exactly tip-top, and it may take 7-10 days for them to recover from our “visits.” Advice for these hosts: no need for the doctor; simply bed rest and lots of fluids, and try to stay away from musicians for the time being.

Sometimes, like in certain species of tree frog (I am entirely making this up), the host and hosted develop a symbiotic relationship in which the virus appears to be viewed benignly by the host. I am not kidding. Thus the other day I was practicing Bach partitas in one of the most beautiful, vast, serene rooms imaginable… wood everywhere, curving, graceful staircases, enormous, magisterial fireplace, subtly Asian furnishings, windows looking out over hills to distant water… and, as I say, I was invading this space with Bach. On his way to the shower, my host apparently paused. I noticed him, then, wandering around (extremely aimlessly) in a towel, with a camera, up and down the central staircase of the main hall, then off into the distance, then up close–so close that he was soon filming me from behind, right behind my left shoulder, at which point I became vaguely self-conscious, and began missing quite a few notes in the gigue of the 5th Partita. Then came the magnificent moment, the perfect response to my blooper: in a saucy voice, still filming, he said: “close.”

“… but no cigar” would have been superfluous. A host who knows when you are missing notes in a complex work of Bach is rare, and a host who is willing to say so, point-blank, in a towel: rarer still. Then, he began bearing gifts: at some point he came in with an espresso; would I prefer a cappuccino?; an impromptu extraordinary lesson in foaming milk ensued (which began “when I was trying to stop using coke back in the 70s…”); at a later point he asked me if I wanted some pasta (his wife, in another room, separating herself gracefully from this delightful folly); I declined; minutes passed; he then emerged, grinning, with a beautiful steaming bowl of noodles emanating the summery scent of fresh pesto; I did not decline but eagerly dined. I expected him at some point to bring out frankincense and myrrh. I was a pampered practicer, and, somehow, I managed to play through all the Partitas, and the diversions served merely to focus my inner lens. Each new movement seemed a miracle, even the ones I knew to tedium, and his delight in the “mathematics of the staircase, and the house, and the music, like playing out the house” was contagious. Like a virus, contagious delight: lubricant of the universe.

They are gone now, leaving us the house to ourselves–often the privacy can feel like a blessing, but in this case (?) a loss. I sit here, foaming milk in that special newly-learned way, and ponder symbiosis, and the sad fact that I must get off my butt and do some serious practicing.

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    Posted August 24, 2005 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jeremy,

    Appreciating the mild pun in “Think Denk,” I wonder if you know that Audi was so named when the German carmaker Horch combined with others, and took a Latin translation as its moniker. (Horch = singular imperative of horchen, a slightly archaic German verb for listen.) As you’re clearly a careful listener, a bit resonant.

    Thanks to the fortuitous (sp?) mention in Alex Ross’s column, I’ve been able to catch up on your blog, after hearing you play a couple of times the last week in Marlboro. I was terrifically impressed with the Elgar quintet, all the more so now that I understand you are a man for Bach too. That first movement was a minefield, and I suppose that you and the four young women hadn’t had heaps of time to work on it. Bravo.

    Looking forward to more of your thoughtful and articulate writing (and eventual performances).

  2. Erin
    Posted August 24, 2005 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Another lovely entry!

    Thank you.

    I think in this case you were most definitely a symbiont, not a parasite.

  3. h
    Posted August 25, 2005 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    hilarious 🙂

  4. Matt Heller
    Posted August 26, 2005 at 1:43 pm | Permalink


    I also discovered your blog thanks to Alex Ross’ article, having met you earlier this summer at Spoleto USA. I also later blogged about our performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at my own site.

    Thanks for your very wise and witty blog, and it was a great pleasure meeting you!

  5. ramashka
    Posted August 26, 2005 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    WOW! Everyone is reading New Yorker. Everyone is so educated.
    Hey Denk!
    By the way, have you seen the cover of this week’s New Yorker — what’s up with that?

  6. Anonymous
    Posted September 6, 2005 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I have recently been introduced to your blog and was warned that it could become addictive and now having read some of your entries, I could not agree more.

    My son, Ian, was invited by his grandparents to attend your concert here in Maine and he was mesmerized by your fingers and the music. When he arrived home he was so animated in his description of that evening, I was proud and amazed that a 9 year old could be so excited about classical music. He enjoyed so many members of the orchestra that night and is eager to see you again! For his birthday he is receiving tickets to your performance in May with Joshua Bell, so he can share his experience with me.

    I am sorry that I did not get to meet you in person as I was at jazz dance class, but am eager to see and hear you in the near future.

    In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy your writing!

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