Curiosity, live chamber music, and wonderful ballet

Curiosity killed the cat, but I’ve come to see curiosity and openness to new experiences as major contributors to happiness. This week the NY Times science section had a story that supported this view. The story by John Tierney focuses on “novelty seeking” as a personality trait. According to one study, persons with the highest life satisfaction were those who scored high in novelty seeking and balanced that trait with high levels of persistence, meaning staying with an effort when there’s no immediate reward.

The same study mentioned a third trait associated with those who flourished most, in terms of health, friends, and emotional satisfaction, which it labeled “self-transcendence.” This is “the capacity to get lost in the moment doing what you love to do, to feel a connection to nature and humanity and the universe.” Tierney cites research indicating that novelty seekers exhibit more personality growth as they age. But it is also associated with such problems as gambling and drug addiction, compulsive spending, and criminal behavior. Too much of a good thing, perhaps.

I’ve noticed that lately I’m getting more and more enjoyment from music and dance, which may derive from persistently seeking novel forms and self-transcendence. I’ve been getting out to more live performances these last few years, which helps. I heard an interview with James Levine, the great conductor, in which he compared a recorded performance to music to a post card of a scenic view — that is, a pale reflection of the live event. That may be an exaggeration, but I think he was right that there is no good substitute for live performance.

And so Sally and I made our way to Fletcher Hall last Sunday afternoon to hear one of the world’s premier piano trios, named for its members: the Kalichstein- Laredo-Robinson Trio. They were master musicians and played an excellent program of Mozart, Debussy, Richard Danielpour (b. 1956), and Ravel. Laredo (violin) and Robinson (cello) have been married for 35 years, and the Danielpour piece was a duet written for them entitled Inventions on a Marriage. It covered a range of moods, from passionate to tender to humorous, and the musicians were, as you’d expect, in intimate communication.

Unfortunately, the audience was sparse — about 160 people. I felt embarrassed on behalf of Raleigh that there weren’t more people to hear these truly great performers. As a member of the board of the sponsor, the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, I felt some responsibility. Afterwards, several board members exchanged emails theorizing about what happened.

Did we not publicize the event enough? I think we did not. Is the audience for this music disappearing? I sincerely hope not, but I guess it’s possible. Chamber groups like string quartets are what TV ad writers plug in when they want to quickly depict the opposite of cool and hip. And they aren’t really wrong. Unlike things that are cool, chamber music is not instantly accessible. It takes years of training and devotion to play, and it also takes education and experience to enjoy. Those of us who have been privileged to have such education had better figure out some way to educate others, or we may lose something precious.

Enjoying ballet also requires some amount of education and experience, although it doesn’t rank as high on the endangered-arts list. I’ve been fortunate to have had early exposure, starting with my sisters’ elementary ballet recitals and continuing through high school at the N.C. School of the Arts. I got to see George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and other great companies. And I’m continuing to learn from watching the work of great choreographers and dancers, and also reading. I’ve almost finished Apollo’s Angel’s, Jennifer Homan’s impressive, and daunting, history of ballet.

On Thursday we went to opening night of the Carolina Ballet’s new program, Balanchine Rarities. The program opened with three short but very technically demanding Balanchine works. The dancers were beautiful, even in sequences that seemed designed to test their physical limits. I especially enjoyed A la Francaix, a piece in the playful spirit of Jerome Robbins’s Fancy-Free, with two rambunctious sailors, a fun-loving Flirt, a Dandy with a tennis racket, and a diaphanous Sylph, who competes with the Flirt for the Dandy. Jan Burkhard was delightful as the sexy Flirt, and Lindsay Purringon found a sweet combination of elegance and humor in the Sylph. Eugene Shlapko was athletic and funny as the Dandy. He’s getting better and better.

At intermission we talked with Lola Cooper, who had the night off. She was fighting a bad cold and losing her voice, but excited about working with Marina Eglevsky, who staged the Balanchine works. We also talked with Alicia Fabry, who had broken her right metatarsal the previous week during rehearsal. She was in a plastic cast and using a crutch. Poor thing! She said the break could have been worse and did not require surgery, but would take several weeks to heal.

The company also performed Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s Lost and Found, inspired by the 9/11 attacks and set to piano music by Robert Schumann. It is a elegaic work, somber but beautiful. The last work was Robert Weiss’s Moving Life to piano music of Erik Satie. Roy Dicks’s review in the News and Observer singled out Cecilia Iliesiu for her performance, which I thought was fitting; I also thought she seemed like a rising star.