G Minor Virgin
We are in the middle of the world’s largest Chamber Music Festival: the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. For $70 (Canadian) one would have access to almost all of the 120 concerts spread across two weeks. I use the conditional there because many concerts happen in parallel. Most evenings, for example, there are 5 concerts at 20:00 and simultaneous attendance is difficult.
Last night my wife and I chose the Mozart concert. Over the course of the festival’s two weeks they are playing a work from each of the productive years of Mozart’s life and the concert last night finished with the G Minor Quintet. We were sitting in the second row (there’s a technique here by the way: if you arrive an hour early for the concert you’ll find yourself at the back of a 500m queue. Don’t worry. Just queue up and get a seat as close as possible to the front. The second row is reserved for the halt and lame. Just before the concert starts they fill that row if there were insufficient halt and lame. Be ready to volunteer to move forward.). We were next to a young woman who turned out to be a reporter from the Ottawa Citizen, a right-wing local paper. She’s something of a guinea pig—the newspaper has asked her to attend the chamber music festival and blog on what she finds. She was apparently chosen because she didn’t know much about “classical” music although she did tell us that her parents listen to it so she’s not a complete stranger to it.
As I was leaving last night, the G Minor having crept yet again into me, I asked her whether this was the first time that she’d heard the piece. She said it was.
There appear to be few advantages in being young but the primary one must be the experiencing of things for the first time. On my way home I drew up a list of some of the things that I would sell my soul to experience for the first time, including,
- Mozart’s G Minor Quintet
- Shakepeare’s Tempest
- Gödel’s Incompleteness Result
- Euclid’s proof of the infinity of primes
- The Sherlock Holmes stories
I do find, however, that I can reread a whodunnit? again for the first time. I find it a useful mental exercise to keep the brain in trim—to reread such a book while suppressing the solution. I find that I can’t, however, do this for more subtle things. If my brain were up to it, could I rehear the G Minor Quintet for the first time?
Now, I have heard many things for the first time this week. Györgi Ligeti’s Quartet Number 1 hit me like a sledgehammer. It was played by the Mandelring Quartet, an ensemble with a unique and exciting sound. I’d heard them play the Shostakovich Quartet Number 3 the previous evening and wild horses would not have kept me away from their second concert.
So, what is this special frisson about hearing, seeing or understanding something for the first time? And why is it most powerful when it is understanding? I can remember the first time I understood Gödel’s result but I can’t remember the first time I heard the G Minor quintet.
I work in Nortel’s research department and a lot of my work is understanding things for the first time. Recently, working with a colleague in France, I understood the subtle relationship between SOA Orchestration and device and service management. Perhaps it’s this sort of stimulation which keeps me from taking early retirement.
And I wonder why there are no visual art works on my list.