Sarah was ninety years old. It took me a while to see the reference to the Genesis 17:17. It took me some twenty years to trace the title of this piece back to the Old Testament. Sarah gave birth to her son Isaac at the age of 90, Abraham, the father, being 100 years old at the miraculous birth of the boy. Neither father nor mother did believe God when he announced to both that Abraham would have a true heir and that he intended to establish a Covenant with Abraham and later with Isaac – the very origin of the Jewish religion. But God kept word and the miracle happened. A singular event which has its parallel in the New Testament: the miraculous birth of Jesus by a virgin of the name of Mary.
Fear – that would be too strong a word. Reluctance, yes, that describes it better. I feel an intense reluctance to listen to works of certain composers, to expose myself to their music despite my curiosity. What exactly do I expect? Being disappointed by music that may seem boring? Being horrified by dissonant sounds hurting my eardrums? I don’t quite know, but what I know is that once I summon my courage to explore the music of one of these composers, I usually do not have to confront disappointment or post-traumatic stress disorder.
A flying carpet. I close my eyes. Lift off to the sound of… that will remain a secret for a while. Heading towards the land of the Turkmen. A magical mystery tour is about to begin. Going farther east. The endless empty steppes of Central Asia, There – minarets! Samarkand. A wealth of culture. Following the Silk Road. Bliss. A promise! Modernity. Blistering skyscrapers. The sea. Traders. Dhows and container ships. Interaction, connection. Past and present. New sounds, new rhythms, innovation. Curiosity.
Chamber music is chamber music, but then again it is not. Nothing is like it appears, especially not if Arnold Schönberg is involved. In 1906 he wrote a fascinating piece he called “Chamber symphony for 15 solo instruments”. It is futile to discuss, whether this title makes any sense if you care to listen to the recording of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group under Sir Simon Rattle. Two things will happen then. Upon the first bars you will be tempted to ask: What, this is Schönberg? Of course. And you will concur with me that this piece is exceptional.