Let us plumb boredom’s depths and further discuss the weather. I mean, really. Yesterday, in my ongoing quest for what I don’t want to know, I hit up the Accuweather site, and was confronted by a giant, ominous curving blue arrow directed precisely at my geographical location. Labelling letters read: “BRUTAL COLD.” I particularly enjoyed, in this weathermap, how even the letters themselves seemed to quiver and shiver, as if fonts too could freeze. (How I wish, some days, I were a font!) The man in front of me in the endless taxi line at LaGuardia turned during a gust and simply said “Wow,” like a great composer, summoning much heartfelt feeling out of little material.

The other night in Ann Arbor, it was cold enough that crossing the two-lane street from the concert hall to the hotel seemed polar-arduous, and I ended up not going out on the town, but sheltering in the hotel bar, gathering my thoughts for a talk on the music of Leon Kirchner the next day. The bartender graciously made me an unusual Cosmopolitan, and I had my nerdy but cute (Apple, of course) laptop out on the bar, and a copy of Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, and a score of Kirchner’s Sonata No. 2, and a notebook, and all in all I thought I did a pretty good job of showing that I was working. No, no, I’m not lonely, I’m just working here at the bar with a drink. This was the message I hoped I was projecting.

However, fate. A woman a mere stumble away down the bar seemed to feel I needed company, and when her companion would head to the bathroom (which happened strangely often) she would come over and chat me up. She was at the concert; she said how much she enjoyed it; she was a friendly Japanese woman who evidently knew a great many people who knew a great many musicians, and Lord! how I tried through subtle and gracious body language to indicate that I was not feeling terribly chatty! but her radar was not receiving on my frequencies. Her accent was a bit heavy (perhaps ever so slightly drink-induced, as I also was inducing drink) and though I would be reading studiously, triple-dipping into my books and notebooks, she would come up and start in like this:

… well my nephew who is 14 he has piano lessons and I was at a festival in Europe in Switzerland, you know, and my friend who took me knows the conductor who used to be there and so we went backstage and were talking and I met someone there and he was saying hello and he played Beethoven and…

Wow. My eyes, which had been previously delving into a complex score of Kirchner, and my brain, which had just survived a two hour concert including a very rhythmically challenging work of Meyer ($@#&#$*#$!, don’t tell Edgar I said that): both of these glazed and lost focus, like a donut wilting in the sun. I would smile and grammar itself (if not its logical underpinnings) seemed to flee and leave me flailing for utterable phonemes. I had my hand still on my score, as if to declare I belonged there, in the land of my studies and my notes, but she drew me ever further into her land which was like no land I had ever visited, an Eastern and yet still Dickensian world of strange coincidences, and people who know people from other lives, and conductors who love cookies.

I don’t want to offend any readers of Think Denk or put anyone off from saying hello after concerts and whatnot, but I hope it will not shock you if I say that occasionally someone launches into a story backstage and I find my mind wandering, for whatever reason. Call it artist fatigue, if you will; a casualty of circumstance. Often you are so preoccupied with what you &*()@#$ed up during the concert that you have trouble concentrating on the people before you. But I cannot say, in this case, that I was bored or lost interest; what she said was so Joycean in its manifold twists and turns and streams of association that I was actually flabbergasted and simply intellectually at a loss. And when her friend came back she would go back to her segment of the bar, and I would be left with my brilliant computer file, a miracle of productivity, consisting of:

Leon Kirchner’s Music

And these generic, hopeful but pathetic words now seemed stripped of even the possibility of meaning, rotating as they were in the vortex of the narrative the woman had left behind. And may I remind you, reader, that the woman came back several times, in installments if you will, resuming the story which seemed unresumable, like the Scheherezade of Michigan, telling and retelling, always leaving a dangling thread…

Finally, I had finished my drink and my cheese plate. Crumbs were delicately and casually spread over my scores and books. It was nearly time to go. My file had slightly grown. At that moment, a third party, who apparently worked at the hotel, came to speak to the woman and her friend, and the following dialogue ensued:

Hotel Woman: Hey.
Japanese Woman and Friend: Hey.
Hotel Woman: Were you at the show tonight?
Japanese Woman: Yes.
Hotel Woman: How was it?
Japanese Woman: It was really good.
Hotel Woman: Well, how did it compare to Spamalot?
Japanese Woman: Well…
Friend: I mean that’s not fair…
Hotel Woman: Nothing can really compare to Spamalot.
Japanese Woman and Friend: Right.

I stared at my now empty cocktail glass and at the relics of literature and “high art” scattered about me. They too seemed insulted, demeaned; the beautiful moment where Leon quotes Pierrot Lunaire in the Sonata No. 2, allowing it to emerge from the Viennese waltz, was open on the bar, and it sulked, knowing itself unrecognized … And I shudder to imagine what Saul’s novel was thinking! People have the power to compare anything, even the incomparable. I know Greg Sandow is going to come down hard on me for being an elitist fool, deaf to the decline of our way-of-thinking, but I had felt somehow (with no offense to the many good, presumably well-intentioned, people who have worked on the show) in my heart that Beethoven Op. 96, at least, if nothing else, could be seen by most people as objectively “better” than Spamalot. I saw Spamalot in St. Louis and should never have sat in the balcony because I considered throwing myself off several times. But, Spamalot lovers, I understand that there must be differences of taste, and in these matters there can be no dispute blah blah blah etcetera etcetera, and as I packed up my things and headed up to my room I tried to draw a whole moral from the evening but perhaps I would just lie down …. zzzz …

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  1. Jacque
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Both are round. Both are good.
    Both are performances. Both are good.

    Thus endeth the comparison, no matter what conductor your nephew knows.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Your talk in the Hills of Bloomfield the next day was funny and wonderful and this much quieter and saner Michigan woman looks forward to more Kirchner in June.

    Nerdy but cute is a good thing, no? Always one of my favorites.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Can’t a person like both oysters and clams?

    To continue the Michigan connection, both Bolcom and Goldfrapp?

  4. Penny
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Listening to your concert in Ann Arbor – there were times I forgot to breathe. I don’t believe that has ever happened to me while attending a musical.

    Being on the other side of the table, I had all sorts of deeply philosophical questions for you. Of course, they promptly left my head. All I could think was, “dear Lord, if I had just played that Meyer piece, I would need a stiff drink and either a bed or a completely irrelevant musical experience like techno music or perhaps something monophonic.”

    It was a brilliant concert!

  5. Anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    How can one live in New York and not see Spamalot in New York. I thought it was “Python funny” as jacque implied. There was once a musical called “Cabaret” in New York, one of the best things I have seen on stage, including 90% of presented Operas.
    So apples and oranges should not be compared. Is Beethoven op 96 “better” than Untitled VII by DeKooning? This “high art vs popular entertainment vs low borw” is so adolescent.

  6. Jeremy Denk
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Ouch. Adolescent.

    Just a reminder: I wasn’t the one comparing Spamalot and a violin/piano recital in the first place. And, if I get out there every night to be evaluated by critics, audience members, everybody … am I not allowed to evaluate in turn?

    For example, Beethoven Op. 96 is a 97.2 on the Absolute Scale of Great Art, while DeKooning’s Untitled VII is a mere 87.3.

    Kidding aside, I would indeed make a distinction between Python and Spamalot as I saw it.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Adolescent?! Come on, it must at least be sophomoric. I mean, how many adolescents even know who Beethoven is these days??

  8. An American in Berlin
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    From my cold little corner of Berlin, I thoroughly enjoyed this most hilarious post.

    “How I wish, some days, I were a font.”

    I can’t say the Germans are very funny, so I’m glad you’re around to make me laugh.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Off-topic, but I want to say that I brought my 7-year-old son to your concert with JB in Princeton last night and I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier introduction to classical concert-going. He’s too young to stay for the whole concert, but we heard the Schumann & Beethoven; what a pleasure! I got my MME at IU while you were there – never met ya, but heard your name. Thanks for blogging and for the wonderful concert last night!

  10. Priscilla
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the laugh 🙂

  11. Tim
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    It was simply boorish of that woman to A) ignore your signals and B) critique within earshot. Beside, an insult that comes from ignorance still stings.

    Artists at every level suffer from the perceptions of the listeners.

    I’m a percussionist, but also a “drummer” when I work in bars.

    I can spend hours of practice time learning new rythyms and develping 4 way limb independence. I then spend hours tuning my drums for maximum dynamic range and then harmonically tune my tom toms. I study the room before playing so I can manage my dynamics. I try my best to cultivate the a psychic link with the bass player.

    So, what happens every time I play something that I feel brings all of these elements together?
    Some yahoo wants me to play Wipeout (rudimentary warm-up exercise) so they can decide if I’m a good drummer.

  12. hari
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    apples and oranges, indeed! it drives me nuts when people make comparisons like that. my friend does that to me all the time and i want to shake her. she’s “phantom of the opera” obsessed and i can’t even see an off-b’way comedy without her comparing it to that show. singers too; i wish she’d let me enjoy a singer without comparing it to death with sarah brightman, another of her obsessions. oh well, nobody’s perfect; we’ve all got our quirks.

  13. Kathleen
    Posted February 7, 2007 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful concert in Philly last night! You truly are my new favorite pianist! (Nice to meet you afterward at the signing.) As I posted on Josh’s board, your “artistry is breathtaking; sublime”. 🙂 Looking forward to hearing you again. K.

  14. Anonymous
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Hi Jeremy,
    On this kind of boring afternoon (can you do anything sophisticated between a dress rehearsal and a concert?) I visited your blog, and there it was: The déja-vu:
    You, sitting in a bar, eating, drinking and reading (Bellow instead of Bulgakov), and a woman comes over and “chats you up”. >blush, remember last summer in V.<
    “how I tried through subtle and gracious body language to indicate that I was not feeling terribly chatty! but her radar was not receiving on my frequencies.”
    But you must give me credit for my slightly more sensitive antennas. lol

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed that post very much; the little dialogue is a gem. 😉

    Too bad I never have listened to any of Kirchners works… Strange: we in Europe seem to have our own Contemporary Music.

  15. Bill
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    A few random thoughts, if I may…

    “People have the power to compare anything, even the incomparable.” Everything is comparable, if you go back far enough, OR, have a few drinks. 🙂

    SMAMALOT… I never watch anything with the word “SPAM” in it. Period. Yes, I know it’s so closed minded of me, but I’m simply tired of all the stuff I get in email that I consider spam. So, to go to anything with “spam” in it automatically makes me want to heave.

    “Can’t a person like both oysters and clams?” I’m not sure that’s possible. Maybe, but you’d have to have lots of water readily available.

    “Beethoven Op. 96 is a 97.2 on the Absolute Scale of Great Art”… well yes, although I rate it a bit higher.

    “…while DeKooning’s Untitled VII is a mere 87.3”. My favorite painting of all time is DeKooning’s WOMAN I (first time I saw it, it was LOVE and yes, I even want it in my living room to bring balance and peace to my life). When I saw that work, I was sure… I am gay. I thank DeKooning for clearing that up for me (along with a few other things that I will spare you).

    “what she said was so Joycean in its manifold twists and turns and streams of association that I was actually flabbergasted and simply intellectually at a loss.”

    Joyce has the same effect on me…
    “…the sea, crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the fig trees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes and when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes yes yes.” – James Joyce…Ulysses

    Oh my! What do I do with that? :::blushing:::

  16. Lane Savant
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I, personally, think that Beethoven’s
    seventh would be greatly improved by the addition of one or two four armed rock drummers in the fourth movement.
    As for unfair comparisons, quoting Molly Bloom on Jeremy’s site is cruel.

  17. Anonymous
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Bill, That was a marvelous post and I now have a crush on both you and Jeremy (though if you are gay you won’t appreciate my girl crush but take it as a compliment).

    If we’re going to get all breathless and Irish and literary and High On The Scale Of Greatness, I’m going to pull a Yeats out of my hat:

    Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,

    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

    Good when Bostridge sings it, but more than good enough read on its own.

    Art puts the savor into life.

  18. Bill
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely love Yeats! I could read him for hours… good on cold winter nights, sipping hot cocoa, with one of my cats cuddled up next to me, with perhaps the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in the background. Actually that’s a bad idea. My mind would be on the symphony. No, Yeats demands moments of quiet contemplation and reflection.

    btw… I take crushes from anyone! Indeed, most of my very best friends are women. 🙂

  19. Anonymous
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Think Denk – the blog that brings Yeats lovers together…

    My cat likes Maria Callas, we could listen to Tosca after Wulfie.


  20. Bill
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Maria Callas as Tosca. It’s simply beyond words. An amazing artist and woman.

  21. Regina
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I saw the concert last night in Philly — the cold was so penetrating I cannot believe you were thawed out enough to play the piano, which you did, magnificently — hopefully, if I ever do meet you, I will never, ever bore you with nonsensical conversation about “people I know in the classical music world” etc. nor would I EVER compare Beethoven to Spamalot. YE GODS — what is this world coming to????

  22. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    The expression is EGADS not ye gods.
    and god forbid we even discuss the sacred cows. It is a sign of a sclerotic culture to revere the past and produce nothing new.

  23. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The expression is EGADS not ye gods.
    and god forbid we even discuss the sacred cows. It is a sign of a sclerotic culture to revere the past and produce nothing new.

  24. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I was at your recital last night and there’s no way you can compare the program to SPAMALOT.
    It’s ignorance on that person’s part. On what’s the basis of the comparison if the person ever went to the recital that particular evening, we don’t know. Whether it was spamalot or a classical recital, comes to a conclusing comment; did the person enjoy it? or no matter what musical and any programs out there, the person decided already that nothing compares the SPAMALOT.In this case either you rest your argument or try to convince the person to be open.

  25. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Wait a minute, my grandma always said Ye Gods!

  26. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I love reading your updated profile in last night’s program. I never knew you like to cook and make coffee! Be careful of kitchen accidents….

    I’m sure all your readers here would love to read the updated one in your website. So please, post the new one.

    Thanks for letting us know of your recording plans, tours and concert schedule.

  27. Anonymous
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    your concert in Ann Arbor un-worded me; i was compelled to discover your blog immediately afterwards. good thing too. it reminded me of life outside of AA, beyond the confines of grad school.

    thanks for the concert. it was remarkable.

  28. May
    Posted February 9, 2007 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    The Anonymous is always the same person?

  29. Bill
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Throughout history, so many great works have been done by “Anonymous”. Thank you “Anonymous”, for contributing so much to our culture and world. 🙂

  30. May
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    All the great works I can think of are associated with a name but…never mind.

  31. Anonymous
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    You are welcome. Remember, I am watching you
    No, not all anonymus postings are the same person.
    Anonymous VII

  32. may
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Anonymous, when I was forced to switch to New Blogger many of the past comments were transformed into anonymous. I wrote to Blogger Help twice but nothing was done to fix the problem. Now I have set my mind in peace, after all I generally remember who wrote what.

    If I were the owner of this blog, I’d rather know who are the authors of the comments (to put it nicely).

  33. Anonymous
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Why will Jeremy wants to know who are the anonymous? I am one of the anonymous because I am not a blogger like the rest of you and if I want to post comments, I don’t need to be a member. Names are not important, he doesn’t know us anyway even if our photos or names are posted. I read the comments/responses to his blog more importantly than knowing who posted it. I am more free to post if I’m anonymous, no gendre, no name…..

  34. Anonymous
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I was at your recital in Ann Arbor…it was amazing to say the least. And, definitely very cold…I walked around for an hour prior to the concert. Bad idea. But thank you and Joshua Bell for the lovely performance, it was quite the enjoyable and inspirational experiance. 😀

  35. Anonymous
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jeremy. This was very interesting. I am a Spamelot lover myself. I thought this blog was quite entertaining and humerous.

    I have been to concerts like the one you talked about and I know how you felt.

    PS: I was at your concert at the Howland center in Beacon a couple weeks ago. hehe it was quite entertaining I enjoyed how you changed your concert program and the Liszt sonata was sublime

    Good luck, I’ll read the rest of your blog soon.

  36. Anonymous
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    by the way, I was that kid in the front row with the light blue shirt and the black pants if you noticed me 🙂

  37. Geigerin
    Posted February 10, 2007 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    >My brain, which had just survived a two hour >concert including a very rhythmically challenging >work of Meyer ($@#&#$*#$!, don’t tell Edgar I said >that)

    I figured that that was why you and Josh laughed (wryly) when I said I loved the fourth movement of the Meyer! I’m guessing that took a lot of work to put together. You guys made it look so easy!

  38. Anonymous
    Posted February 11, 2007 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I attended your performance in Clearwater,Fl in January. It was brilliant. The Beethoven was beautiful, Neither one of you overpowered the other. I told my friend who attended the recital with me that I would have been face down on the floor cross eyed and exhausted after performing Edgar Meyers piece. Thank you so much for coming. It was at least warmer than some of the other places you have been since then.

  39. LAME-O
    Posted February 13, 2007 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for the birthday autograph. I wish I could’ve made it to Ann Arbor that night.

  40. Chris
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Um, I don’t *think* anyone mentioned this (might have missed it), but wasn’t it oysters and snails? If we’re making reference to the movie Spartacus. And was it Gielgud or Olivier in the tub who had this line?

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