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Dispatch from the Used Book Cafe

Tonight’s joint performance at the Used Book Café by Hilary Hahn and Chris Thile was an essay in the satisfactions of virtuosity. Any concert-goer who can no longer thrill to the sound of lightning-fast fingers should go his or her way and leave the rest of us to our fun. For sure technique is not all. And for sure the steps to acquiring a technique that can thrill are becoming more brutal and inhuman to mount by the year. And, also for sure, much that is essential to extraordinary music making is often lost on the climb. Some may even grumble that Hahn and Thile fly only so high as they do because they travel light.

But tonight, sitting through solo and duet renditions of Bach, Tartini, Bob Dylan, Fiona Apple, and others, one happily forgot the old complaints about virtuosity and sat back contentedly in the rush of arpeggios, trills, tremolos, and scales. One smiled at the clear joy Hahn and Thile took in collaborating with a fellow musical athlete of the first caliber, someone who could play along tight no matter how blazing the tempos dared. This isn’t to say the country whiz kid winging his way through the classics and the conservatory prodigy tentatively testing the waters of folk music always made for an effortless couple: Thile’s Bach got pretty runny, and Hahn’s bluegrass was a little green. But the super-abundance of talent on display more than made up for the moments of musical awkwardness. Hahn and Thile charmed and dazzled through the evening, and we all cheered. Both artists have new CDs out, and let’s hope they both sell lots and lots of them.

P.S. On a more somber note, Tower Records is officially breathing its last. I’m not up for a eulogy tonight (lectures yet to prep); but the “Going Out of Business” signs in the windows of the grand store by Lincoln Center are making me feel a little bummed.

Comments

Comment from Galen H. Brown
Time: October 11, 2006, 10:24 am

Re: Tower Records–on the other hand, this is probably a good time to stock up on all those CDs you’ve always wanted but were too cheap to buy. Most things are at 10% discount right now (books are 20% off) and the way these things tend to work that discount will only increase as the weeks go by. And if you have obscure taste, the stuff you like might still be around. I don’t know what the schedule is, though.

Comment from Jerry Bowles
Time: October 11, 2006, 11:12 am

I thought Thile’s Bach was pretty damned impressive for a guy who plays progressive bluegrass for a living and Hilary did a dynamite turn on a Bela Fleck number and some other fun stuff, too. The kids were more than alright. Call it extreme virtuosity, and clocking in at over two hours, more than generous considering they were performing for charity. The Used Book Store is run by a wonderful cause called Housing Works: http://www.housingworks.org/home_f.html

It was great to see a couple of impossibly talented youngsters close up and in an informal, just jammin’, setting. Thank goodness David and I got to sit in the VIP seats and didn’t have to stand like some of the old ladies.

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: October 11, 2006, 12:15 pm

Thank goodness David and I got to sit in the VIP seats and didn’t have to stand like some of the old ladies.
Careful Jerry, don’t pull a George Costanza…

Comment from Seth Gordon
Time: October 11, 2006, 12:30 pm

Jerry, David – you couldn’t give up your seats for old ladies?

Mmmm… I’m a bit burnt on speed. I think for those of us who grew up on metal – particularly during the “Shred Wars” years of Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Angelo Batio, etc etc etc – lightning fast playing is a bit of a “so?” at this point. The thrill is gone, baby. There’s only so many insanely fast guitarists one can see before they all (no pun intended) become a blur. That whole scene got to the point where you had to do something really really ridiculous just to get noticed.

—–

So Tower records is closing down. Quick, someon come up with some convoluted spin explaining why P2P piracy had nothing to do with their bottom line dropping out from under them.

Comment from David Salvage
Time: October 11, 2006, 5:58 pm

Agreed: Thile’s Bach was very impressive. Overall I found his classical playing far outstripped Hahn’s bluegrass. But, yeah, pretty damned good time.

Comment from Jon Szanto
Time: October 12, 2006, 4:05 am

About 4 or 5 years ago Chris came to play a special program with the San Diego Symphony, courtesy of the conductor who knew him from his even-younger years at a SoCal music institution, the Idllwild School of the Arts (originally under the auspices of USC). Chris had had some connection during his earliest days, absorbing all the classical music that came through there. On the concert he did a movement from a Bach suite that had all the (disbelieving and jaded) symphony cats with mouths open.

But the best thing is that he is a creative, open, and totally down-to-Earth human being, and a total blast to back up. He had a hilarious comment: one of my dear composer friends did a couple of orchestral arrangements of his songs so that the orch could back him up. Having come from doing these tunes with his trio, he said afterwards (refering to the very fleeting “Ode to a Butterfly”) “Man, that was like pulling an elephant through mud!”.

Or something.

Great guy, great talent – glad you got to see him on the Wrong Coast.

Cheers,
Jon