For Princeton University Concerts today, the Takacs String Quartet played for a stage-full of people who came to meditate while listening to Beethoven. This session — free including sandwiches afterward — helped to celebrate the 6-concert Beethoven cycle. The quartet played the first movement of Beethoven’s Opus 18 #2 (it was on the first program, Tuesday) and the adagio from the E-Flat Major quartet, Opus 127, which is scheduled for the 4th program, January 19.
Princeton’s classical music audience is generally quite respectful. No unwrapping of candy, no shuffling of feet, coughers are embarrassed, sneezers more so. But rarely have I been in a listening group where everybody tried so hard to sit still. Today at Richardson Auditorium an overflow crowd filed into the auditorium, onto the stage, for Mindfulness and Music, a guided meditation. The posters overhead celebrated the Takacs quartet’s six-concert Beethoven cycle. The quartet was surrounded with people sitting on chairs and kneeling on pillows. Matthew Weiner of the Office of Religious Life explained the rules and struck a gong three times. Long silence. More long silence. We all meditated our hearts out. Than the quartet began to play.
First violinist Edward Dusinberre said later that it was a whole new experience to begin from silence — no entering with adrenaline pumping, no prep to get ready, just — lift the bow and break the silence. “It was a fragile moment,” he said.
Andras Fejer, cellist, confirmed that – with this meditation group, so receptive, in such an intimate space, the quartet felt they could just present the music, with no need garner attention by ramping up dramatic contrasts.
Geraldine Walther, the violist, was nearly overcome with emotion as she described how, as she played (and I hope I’m being accurate here), she feared for the values that she held dear. Yet she knew that these values have survived since Beethoven’s time, for 200 years, and she found comfort in that.
Mary Pat Robertson, one of my long-time friends in the dance community, had this response. “It was so moving to be able to experience chamber music up close, and with a group of people coming to the experience with a specific desire and intentionality to their listening.”
Robertson offers a way to think about how Beethoven can help us get through what many of us believe will be a period of national and international turmoil:
“When we think about music to meditate to, we might think of anodyne “spa” music. Beethoven’s music has an edge of aggression and danger that are far from that. It is music made in a time of uncertainty and political instability, declaring the power of the individual soul.”
“We have been living (up until now) in a time of great peace and prosperity, relative to his era. Those of us who shared this experience together took away a heightened sense of the risk-taking of great art, and the importance of sharing our emotions with each other with the materials of spirit that are uniquely given to each of us.”
“As one of the quartet said, “we are only the vessels.”