Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
August 1, 2012
I’m fresh back in town after spending far too long on the road: two full months in wonderful places. I’ve been in New York, Italy and San Francisco, and – thanks for asking – it’s been glorious all the way.
But, as ever, it is great, grand almost beyond believing, to be back in this blessed place.
And yes, I really mean every over-the-top word of that.
It is sometimes hard to keep in mind what a wonderful place this is. And, just to be clear, although I love pretty much every inch of the Roaring Fork Valley, I am thinking, right this moment, specifically of Aspen.
It was, after all, Aspen that drew me here and Aspen that has kept me here all these years.
And although it is easy for a ham-headed nonentity like me to throw a lot of stones (pun possibly intended), we should never lose sight of the extraordinary essence of Aspen.
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That extraordinary essence of Aspen was made strikingly clear to me just after I got back to town, when I had the great good luck to attend a Music Festival concert at Harris Hall.
Now, just to throw another gratuitous rock or two, I have to say that neither the audience nor the setting was quite the same as I remember from concerts 30 or 40 years ago.
The audience – just like me – was far more geriatric than the youthful concertgoers of several decades back. (In fact, it was probably many of the same people, just 30 or 40 years older. Again, like me.)
And the glossy surroundings of Harris Hall were certainly very different from the flapping, fluttering canvas of the old Music Tent.
But those differences only served to highlight what had not changed.
The concert was a special event, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Aspen Physics Institute.
The three highlighted performers all first came to Aspen as the children of physicists.
Before the first piece, a Mozart sonata, violinist Stefan Jackiw and pianist Orli Shaham recalled memories of their summers here as children – floating leaves down the creek in impromptu “races,” wandering away from the physics talk to discover the music.
Certainly, their musical gifts run too wide and too deep for anyone to claim that it was their Aspen experience that sparked their interest in music. But I am not thinking of what Aspen has done for these brilliant musicians. Nor, for that matter, of what these brilliant musicians have done for Aspen.
I am thinking instead of what an astonishing place Aspen is – a place where world-class physicists come with their families, to exchange ideas and occasionally climb mountains; a place where world-class musicians are nurtured; a place where these two great tent-poles of human art and intellect are raised high and honored, taking the human mind and spirit out to its furthest frontiers and then challenging mind and spirit to go further still.
Now if that all sounds a bit misty-poo, well, so be it.
I listened to the glorious music cascade off that stage and let my mind wander to images of aspen leaves swirling down into the rushing waters and brilliant minds sending ideas swirling up and out into places not yet imaged.
And I felt that this really was a sacred place.
After Jackiw and Shaham played the Mozart duet, Shaham played Brahms’ “Klavierstücke” for solo piano.
In her introduction to that work, she noted – in a moment that touched me, as well as many others in the audience I am certain – that one part of it always reminded her of the wonderful Robert Harth, to whom she dedicated her performance.
And the web of Aspen connections trembled and rang far and wide.
As did her magnificent performance.
Then, after coming back to earth with a bump during the intermission, waiting on the long line at the men’s room (a rare development and perhaps a testimony to the geriatric nature of the audience – again, myself included), we were launched into the astonishing second half of the concert.
If the first half was brilliant, the second half was something more.
The piece was a Mendelssohn string octet, featuring Orli Shaham’s brother Gil, along with Stefan Jackiw.
I will not pretend to know enough about music or even to appreciate music well enough to describe the performance in any meaningful way.
I will simply say that sheer joy flooded off the stage and swept the audience before it.
And Gil Shaham, the eldest and most renowned of the evening’s three featured performers, played with the kind of determined delight that poked my misty-poo moments full of holes.
Not that the music was any less glorious, any less sublime. Just that Shaham played with such glee – an Israeli-American pixie – that there was no room for any misty-poo seriousness.
Just a surge of delight.
I tried to sort out the pieces:
First, the two Shahams, brother and sister: Gil debuted with the Israel Symphony at age 10, Orli won major awards in her teens, both attended Columbia University; their father, Jacob, was a renowned theoretical astrophysicist in the study of neutron stars and a professor of physics at Columbia; their mother, Meira Diskin, was a cytogeneticist (and I’d tell you more about that if I had any idea what it was).
Then Stefan Jackiw: He made his professional debut at age 12, with the Boston Pops; he’s a Harvard graduate; his father, Roman Jackiw, an MIT physics professor, is well known (among those who count) for his discovery of the axial anomaly, also known as Adler-Bell-Jackiw anomaly; his mother, So-Young Pi, is a physics professor at Boston University.
All seven of these astounding people were here in Aspen.
And now, here were all three of their children – Gil, Orli, Stefan – brilliant, supremely talented, and happy to be here. In Aspen.
Wow. What a town.
(OK. That felt good. Next week I’ll be back to cranky.)
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