Radu Lupu’s piano playing, especially when experienced live, resists my professional habit of analyzing the elements of interpretation and performance —exactly how he achieves the results that he does. Trying to understand his phrasing, timing, or the effect his bear-like posture at the keyboard has on the sound yields only partial results. The whole is greater than the sum of its ingredients. The instrument, the craftsmanship, even the compositions themselves recede into the background, and there remains a lone figure communicating not just music, but something deeply humane. As Lupu plays, the experience of the composers, earlier encoded into sounds and preserved on paper, seems to be revived from the deep freeze of notation.
The sensual richness of the written record confronts us like nothing else can with the sobering animality of our archive: the ghost of a spine, the curve of a haunch; patterns of scar tissue, hair follicles, sutures snaking across flayed skin; bindings as fuzzy as a cat. The written record is a vast storehouse of creaturely remains that continue to claim our attention and wonder.
In The Address Book, the French artist Sophie Calle found an address book on a Paris street, photocopied its pages, and returned it to its owner. She then interviewed the people listed within and published the results in the French daily Liberation. Critics of Calle’s work often describe it as mere snooping. She may be a an excellent stalker, but in her pursuit of strangers, Calle presents a kind of artistic Zeno’s paradox: the closer you get to someone else, the more you realize the distance separating you.
The Los Angeles artist Jim Shaw is an esoteric populist who doesn’t only make art but, since he began exhibiting found “thrift store paintings” in 1991, has created his own tradition, an American vernacular surrealism that might be termed “crackpot gothic.”
With Don Carlos Verdi intended, as the English critic and musicologist Andrew Porter wrote, “to give a new nobility and purpose to grand opera.” The result, according to Porter, is Verdi’s “most ambitious opera.” But such a grandiose vision proved unwieldy. One imagines that in the end Porter would have agreed with Julian Budden’s broad-minded conclusion: “When performed with sufficient musical and dramatic understanding any combination of versions can be made to sound convincing.”