Scene: A little church in the depths of upper Catalonia. Situated in a village of some six thousand souls.
Following the rule of thumb, that’s approximately one per cent of any population has a passion for what is called classical music, the turnout for this afternoon concert was well attended indeed – at least four hundred ears, to put it in a musician’s point of view. Most of the pews were filled, which seldom happens except on high holidays.
This might have made the local priest jealous and annoyed, but since the concert was subsidized by the regional government, with a small fee included for the church – strictly speaking no government funds could go to the Church, but artists could donate whatever they want – Don Jaume in his black cassock was smiling in the side chapel nearest the altar. Two of his altar boys would also pass the collection plates at the pause.
This particular concert was quite unusual, in fact. A flautist well known throughout Catalonia was playing, but accompanied by neither guitar nor piano as would be the norm. Instead, he was accompanying a poet reading his work. So we can assume that some of the public came to hear the poet, almost as well known amongst the literati of the region as the flautist was amongst fans of Pan, as followers of that instrument are sometimes called.
The flautist opened alone with Debussy´s piece for solo flute entitled Syrinx. It is a haunting work, calling out to maenads in the forest, though how many of the listeners knew that we don’t know; probably more of the literati than the others devoted to music.
The acoustics of most churches are the best friend of flute players. The low notes especially are rounded and fat. The highest notes also travel around the arches and lose their shrillness. So Claudi – at last I tell you his name, as I must, since it is he who told me this incident – Claudi is putting everything he has into this piece, a jewel among solo pieces for flute. And when Claudi puts everything into that gold flute of his, reinforced by Catholic acoustic enhancement, you can believe that if there were maenads in the near countryside, they would come out of hiding. The whole range of sounds are written there, and as many emotions as you can read into them: loneliness, seduction, desperation, joy, playfulness, all in four minutes of tooting that tube.
That particular tube, by way of digression, he bought from a company in the USA, and to avoid customs he asked me to smuggle it in for him on one of my trips back to the States. At least that’s the way I remember it. Correct me Claudi, if you read this and I’m wrong. Or let it go and I won’t tell the one about the bathroom in the Moscow air terminal.
Anyway, as I was saying, he gave Syrinx his all, and to good applause. That’s another benefit of a concert in a church. You have the sense that your audience is much bigger and loves you more than in an auditorium.
The poet’s name, alas, was lost in the telling to me of the tale, so I won’t invent him for you. He will remain merely “the poet.”
Things went pretty smoothly for a while. The poet read from some of the beloved Spanish writers such as Machado and Lorca, then some Catalonians.
Claudi improvised alongside him, making little flurries of sound when wind was called up, slamming the keys down for special effects such as horses clopping, some habaneras when the sea was mentioned, and so on. He finished with Basque poet Ángela Figueras’ “El grito inútil” before launching into his own poetry.
He read several short tyrics from a very slim book recently published with funding from the Generalitat. Several copies of this volume were displayed on a table, to be sold at the break.
The last poem before the intermission as announced in the program called for a sweet tune of love at the beginning. Then the beloved abandoned him, the poet claimed cupid was the destroyer of his peace. Claudi sank into a minor key.
The poet spoke of his amor longingly, sobbing along with Claudi’s funereal song.
When he came to the line which was meant to express hope and surprise, as agreed in a rehearsal the day before, Claudi stopped playing to allow the words maximum effect.
In the echoing silence, if that makes sense, the poet lifted one hand to his ear and recited
(I hear footsteps!)
From the back of the church there was a response.
Soy yo – que me voy.
(That’s me – I’m leaving.)
Claudi recounts this story with a certain glee, and a flair I can’t claim for myself.
With various musical friends who have worked with him over the years, we exchange accounts. One says when Claudi blows the flute, pesetas fly out of its end. In other words, he implies, Claudi loves money, not music. But this was the pot and the kettle, both black.
Another says the A they use for tuning up is the only note in tube for the rest of the piece.
A certain Russian had various encounters of the first, second, and third kind – the third kind is when the Russian arranges a recording in Moscow for Claudi’s pianist friend, and they accept the contract, but with a different Russian conducting.
Misha, my Russian friend, whenever I tell him we may have a concert for him in Spain, always jokes. “What’s the weather like then? Not Claudi, I hope.”
This is an excerpt from Patrick’s unfinished collection of stories called Bohemia. The file date is 23 January 2017.
Patrick Meadows 1934 – 2017.