Our string quartet diarist Anthea Kreston discovers secrets in Lisbon:
In music, do we have keepers of the tradition – like in the Jewish faith – their “36 Concealed Ones”? The belief is that, in every generation, there are 36 people who uphold humanity in the eyes of God. They do not know each other, or in fact if they are one of the 36. They emerge to protect others from harm, and then melt back into their everyday lives. If one of them goes missing – the world will come to an end. The beauty of this is that none of us knows if we are one – if our daughter is one – we must live and treat others as if we or anyone could be one of the 36. We must be humble and protect one another.
Was Schubert one? Was Bobbie Mann? Was my first violin teacher? In music, the 36 live outside of time. Not all are alive, or maybe even people – they might be a particular piece – who are my 36? Who are yours?
Sometimes, when I was a girl, and I had had a very hard day, I would go into a room, close the door, and play my violin. I had (and still have) one particular piece which would help me – not necessarily feel better – but would center me, help me work through my thoughts and feelings. That piece was and is one of my 36, my own personal helper.
This week I went to Lisbon – my second time since joining this Quartet. Because of the tour schedule, I didn’t have time to get home between concerts, and so had a luxurious day off in Portugal. I made the most of it – trying to take in the smells and sights of the city and culture. In the evening I walked for an hour to a vegetarian restaurant in an ancient courtyard, which had an on-site masseuse. My dinner was sensual (isn’t that an oxymoron for a vegetarian meal?), my massage was by an elderly woman, whose small, unheated house was lit by candles and nestled in the corner of the courtyard. It was more of a “laying on of hands” – it was the most unusual massage I have ever had – no words could be exchanged because of our language barrier, and she seemed to be transmitting her energy into my body. My late-night walk home was floppy and surreal.
The next morning I woke early, got on the subway, and met up with a group for a “secret foods of Lisbon” tour. Meandering through crooked, steep residential neighborhoods, hearing about, seeing and tasting the history – sometimes eating street foods, going to a market, eating grilled fish inside a huge, old Moorish chimney, and finally tasting the pastries. What a pleasure! The “Pasta de Nata”, one of the most famous exports of Portugal, came into being because the Nuns used egg whites to starch their habits. What was left, the yokes, were made into these delicious custard pastries, with a shatteringly flaky shell. When the plate of Natas came to our table, we reached forward – but our guide quickly told us to wait – what makes the Natas so special is a sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon- a taste of the explorers returning with cargoes of spices from the Indian Ocean. I could taste, see and smell the history of Portugal that day, just as I can feel, hear and touch Schubert’s loneliness, Brahms’ unrequited love, or Shostakovich’s desperation.
Tonight I play a mixed French program- Debussy Sonatas and Ravel Piano Trio, with a smattering of Messiaen, Lalo and Faure. I love to hear the Eastern influences – the gamelan, the rhythm of the poetry form of the pantoum manifested through music. The sounds of the brush-strokes of the impressionist painters, the love of the French way of life, entwined with the fascination of other cultures. The pizzicato in the Ravel Trio is our cinnamon, the harmonics our nutmeg. These are our secret sounds of music.