Strings of Compassion

April 17, 2023

There is a story about a religious teacher who used to talk every morning to his disciples. One morning he got on to the platform and was just about to begin when a little bird came, sat on the windowsill and began to sing. Then it stopped and flew away. The teacher said: “The sermon for this morning is over.”

I have often felt tremendously empowered after such a calm Morgenstund, quietly working through my scores before rehearsals, with not much more external music being heard than the chirping of the birds outside my study window, yet the vast realms of universe opening right before me, on a page of music. This is how I have come to understand the source of my empowerment: There is an irresistible, positive force in being moved by wonder or joy of discovery—the perpetual being-in-the-question that is in the core of an aesthetic experience, music included. Interpreting Emerson: No book or method can lead us to the divine, the beauty, the originality, but we must actively create ourselves as human beings in synergy with the life forces operating around us. We must stand—if we dare—“in the wind of thought,” tirelessly examining doctrines, opinions and preconditions. We must resist this time’s insane occupancy with normalcy, coherence and mechanization that so easily suffocate that place where human beings are truly born: in their conscience feeding from deeper consciousness. Wonder is a sign of that active dialogue happening.

Art, like any activity that operates within the real of imagination and spirituality, has always been, and remains, a domain of the being-in-the-question, a domain that forces a direct encounter without pretense. Its language avoids giving answers but leaves us with questions that are meant to puzzle; meant to make us dig deep; meant to draw fresh and meaningful connections. In front of an art work we are in fact face to face with ourselves and with the rest of humanity, no longer disguised in mere scholarship—regardless of our level of education—but wondrous in our unawareness. To me art is truly a magnificent form of co-existence, governed by a state of happy ignorance.

Yet, we all struggle with what is unknown to us. We struggle as we try to grasp things that seem far bigger than we are. This is unavoidable. The human fate is indeed a cruel one: We have a consciousness that demands connections and creation, but mostly we find ourselves just standing in the dark field of uncertainty and confusion. So, to understand that we are all the same in this struggle is important, that we can share our feelings of helplessness. By admitting to it a paradox opens: The struggle itself, the process of approaching it with all our senses, with all our capacities, is the key to a more universal/communal truth. In a creative learning environment we are allowed to feel puzzled; allowed to feel small; allowed to experiment, reflect and connect; allowed to make mistakes, too. In such an environment we are encouraged to share our feelings of helplessness and struggle, as well as discovery and enlightenment. In the aesthetic dialogue opens a possibility to something beyond knowing and understanding, something that only comes from sharing with open arms. I call this Unity. The feeling of unity makes sense in that it helps us belong, take part and feel important parts of a whole; in other words, it helps us find our place, our position, in this uncertainty that is also known as The World.

There is a grave responsibility that the conductor, the facilitator, carries in every movement s/he makes: a responsibility towards history, culture, society, the musicians and the audience.

An artist breaths and vibrates the culture and values of his/her time but also acts as a mirror reflecting on previous times. Borrowing a thought from a trusted colleague: “An orchestral conductor is a peculiar stone in the mosaic of society. S/he bathes in beauty and depth of emotion, yet at the same time influences other people and the world in general with strong powers.”

There is a grave responsibility that the conductor, the facilitator, carries in every movement s/he makes: a responsibility towards history, culture, society, the musicians and the audience. This serious business alternates with the innocence and playfulness of music in a constant battle. It is a role game of fast-shifting perspectives and endless horizons. This immensely personal, yet outreaching intersection of life, art and human dialogue interests and intrigues me beyond any words. But most of all, I conduct because orchestral music—the whole orchestral experience—simply makes me happy and alive, and keeps me wide awake in this harsh reality that constantly tends towards closing of the eyes from the winding paths of others, even wrongfully persuades to take a single “right path.” But doing so we would lose the one string that connects us to the other: compassion.

As a conductor, I am one seeking to tell her own story, along with the story of the whole humankind, through orchestral music. Like countless many before me, I sincerely believe that music gives the greatest solace, the greatest confidence, the greatest peace in times of unrest, disappointment and confusion. In words of Henry David Thoreau: “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

The humanizing work of art starts at nourishing, challenging and supporting each other, and this is what all aesthetic experiences strive for: creating symbolic places of dialogue, the beauty and happiness of which lie in their incompleteness or open-endedness. Writes Rilke, the poet, in a tone of humbleness and respect: “We must try to love the questions themselves […] Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.”

This is a space where I, like Rilke, hear Music being allowed—together, one birdsong at a time.

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