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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Parting words: I laughed. I cried. Mostly, I listened, rapt

By John Terauds on February 1, 2014

evgeni

I don’t know yet if this is a goodbye or a see you later. But, in case it’s the former, I thought I’d write a little summary of what writing about music has meant to me over the past 13 years.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Ever since deciding to take a break from Musical Toronto, I’ve been looking for the right point to make for a short s0-long essay. Then, in the type of brilliant little stroke that has graced my entire conscious life, the Universe handed me the answer yesterday afternoon in an email.

It was a note from the Star, asking if I would call back a reader who had left a message for me. Since I’ve always made a point of returning emails and voice messages, I called.

The person on the other line was an 89-year-old Etobicoke resident. A review of mine had changed her life years ago. The cassette tape of the album in question was worn beyond salvation and she needed to know who the performer was so that she could order herself a CD.

I’ve attended more than 2,000 concerts and opera presentations, and listened to perhaps 3,000 albums since 2001. That’s more than nine lives’ worth for a typical, casual concertgoer. My first thought as the woman began to speak was that I wouldn’t be able to remember the album in question.

“It was a piece that’s called the Goldberg Variations,” she explained.

Oh no, how many of those have I gone through, I worried.

“You recommended it so highly. I loved the way you described it in your review so much that I went out and bought it,” said the reader. She hadn’t been able to stop listening since. The album had made her go out and try other recordings of the Goldberg Variations, including Glenn Gould’s. “But I would always come back to this one. It’s special. It spoiled me for any other.”

Then she finally triggered the memory.

“You wrote about how you were watching clouds pass in your review,” she added.

Ah, Evgeny Koroliov, the Russian pianist who came in second to Angela Hewitt in the International Bach Piano Competition in Toronto that launched her career in 1985.

Suddenly I remembered exactly where I lay in my living room high up in the city’s skyline on a crisp December afternoon, transfixed by complexity made simple.

I channelled that enthusiasm into my weekly album review. That review prompted someone who had never heard of the pianist or this work to try it based on the energy of that enthusiasm. The result has given this individual hours and hours of pleasure as the circle of her daily life slowly narrows because of failing eyesight.

“At least I can still hear well,” she chuckled. “Even so, sometimes I play the music really loud.”

Because her Goldbergs were spread over four cassette tapes, she didn’t even remember how they begin and end. It didn’t matter.

“Music. It’s one of the mysteries of life, isn’t it?” said my caller.

Yes, it is.

I spelled out Koroliov’s name to Faithful Listener and left her with the phone number of Atelier Grigorian. I rang off reminded not just of  a great performance, but why I hadn’t grown tired of this job for so many years: Nothing beats the spark of connection between individual and another over a shared love.

When all is said and done and written, all that makes life worth living — and art worth making — is being able to make these one-on-one connections. Even Facebook works one Like at a time. We can’t predict them, or force them, or cajole them; they have to happen of their own accord and, if the bonds are genuine, each leads to one more, and one more and one more…

This bond-making involves us all: the artist, the critic, the listener and the viewer. We’re all in it together.

My review of the Goldberg Variations, on DVD, by Evgeny Koroliov, ran on Dec. 2, 2008, right below Peter Howells’ review of movie-DVD releases for Wanted and The X-Files I Want to Believe on page 8 of the Life and Entertainment section.

There have been many enchanting Goldberg recordings since, each with a valid claim to our affections and attentions. But my enthusiasm from 2008 is still infectious:

I laughed. I cried. Mostly, I listened, rapt, to German-based Russian pianist Koroliov as he unfurled the magical tapestry of the Goldberg Variations, written by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1742.

Koroliov has said that a childhood inspiration was hearing Glenn Gould play in Moscow in 1957. But this performance goes well beyond anything Gould ever managed. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying set of Goldbergs than this extraordinary live performance from the Bach Festival in Leipzig last year.

The seduction happens on many levels: Koroliov’s clear, unaffected articulation, absolute balance between both hands, mastery over the architectural progress of the 30 variations (plus opening and closing Aria) and a crystalline sound from the Hamburg Steinway.

Koroliov’s rhythmic vitality and clever highlighting of inner voices illuminates this mathematical marvel. Bach’s variations are as much an intellectual puzzle as they are beautiful music.

There is not much to see on the DVD, which leaves you free to close your eyes. I was lucky enough to watch the sun gild passing clouds outside my window and contemplate what a miracle it is to have 80 minutes of eternal beauty available to me on the DVD shelf.

Why not have a listen:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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