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Gardens of Astonishment

"Concerto,” “Bruckner” and “Sunday Afternoon” – three poems by the Virginia Symphony’s music director about the joys and stresses of the musician’s life.

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Concerto

The soloist was looking distinctly unwell

Glistening in a sheen of perspiration,

he gasped at me

“I don’t know why we do this, JoAnn.”

I didn’t know why either;

I was not feeling very well myself.

But I knew why that was, at least—

it was him.



I figured I had about even chances

of catching him after the cadenza

very little hope of following the first tempo transition

and — if I could race ahead of him in

the last sixteen bars —

well, maybe — just maybe — the final chords

would be together.



The stage change was endless

but not long enough.

The door opened, the yawning hall beckoned

Blanching, he looked at me and moaned

“I have no idea what will happen out there.”

Well, that I knew already.



He postured, he posed,

He flashed his mega smile at the crowd.

A doomed nod to me, and we plunged.



He feinted, I bobbed

He lurched, I lobbed

Staring at his fingers

Listening to his stomping, his sniffs,

his alarming grunts

Who knew what they meant?

Like overweight inebriated boxers

we swung at each other

Roundhouses rarely connecting,

The orchestra bouncing on and off the ropes

of the ring,

Clinging desperately to one another.



Thirty minutes passed by in a second

that seemed to last a lifetime

The last chord propelled him — a

sweaty projectile —

out of his chair and into my arms.



The audience erupted in frenzied cheers

We embrace.

He loves me.

I love him.

We walk offstage arm in arm.

We can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.



Bruckner

I give the downbeat

and hide my amazement

as beneath my feet

a floor of marble unfurls

travertine

glistening in blocks of white and deep green

spreading quickly

filling the hall.



The thick-voiced texture of strings

knits itself into sturdy walls of brick and stone

hugging the earth and then springing up

holding us inside.



And from those walls arch graceful clarinets and bassoons

vaulting over nave and transept

stretching wooden limbs toward a limitless sky.



From towers, horns like clanging bells

trace a sonic architecture that surrounds us

shivering and trembling inside the invisible edifice

our bodies the vibrating pipes of the organ



We build the cathedral and we enter it, astonished.

And after the final thunderous chord

the exquisite fa‡ade shimmers in the air for a moment

and disappears into memory.



Sunday afternoon

The airport is my decompression chamber.

Halfway between Nashville and Norfolk I wander

alone and anonymous in St. Louis.

Amidst the food court and the Rams on television

children crying and the drone of gate changes

the slap of weary sneakered feet and

dragging suitcases and cell phones.



I don’t hear any of it.

I am wandering far from St. Louis

in the crowd on Piazza Navona at midnight

My head is filled with Respighi

Singing so loudly that there is no room

for anything else.



I close my eyes and wrap that bright chaos around me,

I am reluctant to turn the page.



Between the food court and the Rams on television

I sit down and say goodbye to Respighi

Mahler 3rd lies closed upon my lap for a long time.



I open the score and eight pealing horns

lead me into a garden of astonishment.



JoAnn Falletta will read her poetry May 8 at 2 p.m. at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel in Portsmouth as part of the Virginia Arts Festival (tickets $20). That night at 8 and May 9 at 2:30 p.m. at Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall, she will lead the Virginia Symphony and Virginia Chorale in Richard Einhorn’s music accompanying Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (tickets $29-$70).

For more information about the Virginia Arts Festival (through May 23) visit www.vafest.com or call the box office at (757) 282-2822.


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