as the first violin sounds a note and the rest of the musicians in the orchestra respond, just before the conductor steps out and all on stage smile forward, ready to go.
The conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, Tito Munoz, hails from Queens and has been leading his pack here in the Southwest for nine seasons.
I watch him go through the conductor’s mudra, all the vocabulary of time and gesture that are essential to bringing out the subtleties of the “staples of the canon,” as he introduces them, the Beethoven and Mozart on the program today. With his infinitely tender, delicate gestures he would appear to be writing in the air, folding clothes in air, petting a cat, petting a child’s head, asking why, exactly, this or that, explaining the concept of thunder, sewing a garment, and so on. So expressive, so mysterious the conductor’s art.
To not have a tear come to your eye during the violin solo that is central to Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in G major you would have to be a monster. Lolling back with a cough drop dissolving on my tongue and relaxing my mind into the strains of the strings is sad bliss. The soloist, Steven Moeckel, the prior concert master now moved on to greener pastures and guesting today, could fit the current first violinist in his waistcoat pocket, if he were uncool enough to wear a waistcoat.
His untucked navy blue shirt will do. He’s so large a man, and his circa-1840 violin by the celebrated French maker Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume so delicate, it looks like a toy, in the words of my mother seated beside me. What do the musicians think about as they watch him fill the air, unaccompanied – the pot roast in the oven at home, how they’ll pay their taxes, past loves? Just the notes?
The shine on the first violin’s patent leather shoes matches the polish of his sprightly delivery as well as the sparkle of the necklace my friend Lisa strung that I’m wearing to the concert.
He jumps around so much, I think he’s going to fly off his chair! says my mother. He is so new to the orchestra that his name is not yet included in the program notes, but we spy a child in a frilly dress descending from the stage between the concerto and the symphony and feel sure she is the avid musician’s daughter, ready to celebrate his success after the show.
Mozart was a teenager when he wrote the Concerto No. 3 in G major, and he most likely intended to perform the solo parts himself for Salzburg’s leading tony families when he wasn’t assisting his father in the service of the city’s archbishop. A teenager!
To be musically gifted. Or not. When I was teenager I tried the cello, bluffing my way through high school orchestra performances, fond of it mainly because I loved the ritual of applying the resin to my bow, the scent of the nubby block of it. When I tired of cello I decided to try the piano again, studying under a thundering guy with bad breath and a tendency to sit a tad too close to me on the bench. Your problem is you do not play with feeling! is what he told me when I could barely cobble together the musical notes of the simplest Chopin.
Drift. Ebb. The cough drop melts. I close my eyes.
Remembering those musical interludes, what comes to the forefront is the child’s doll my mother brought from Japan when she and my father returned after his Korean War U.S. Army stint in Tokyo.
Mute and inscrutable, it stood on a shelf and haunted me, all those feelings I couldn’t express on the piano with notes. My mother not only likes the strings of the symphony but those of Keith Richards – recently we relished Shine a Light, Scorsese’s paean to the aging Rolling Stones.
Tenderness. Thunder. Sad bliss. We take it with us, leaving the concert hall.
It’s all there in those strings.