Monday, February 26, 2007

Of Genius

I’m sitting on the stairs of the crowded balcony of the Peter Jay Sharpe Theatre at the Julliard School of Music watching the pre-college orchestra perform Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Opus 85. Philo Lee, a young Yo Yo Ma, has just flashed a quick smile at an inappropriate spontaneous burst of applause midway through the movement. He wipes his lift hand on his tuxedo pants adjusts his cello and prepares to fly through the Adagio, his hands flitting across the strings with the fluid grace of a Confucian sage quoting the Analects with ink and brush on rice paper. Philo is as good as any cellist I have ever seen perform. The program says he volunteers at his church as the conductor of the church orchestra. He is 16.

Edward Said tells us that even those we proclaim to be geniuses actually only function as such based on how they can reconfigure the ideas and works of those that came before them. Genius is expanding the boundaries of what is possible based on what was previously permitted. It is manipulating the rules of our semiotic configuration in such a way as to distill fresh images out of the dumb purblind face of the given. So Philo is perhaps less a genius and more a prodigy. His genius has been his ability to internalize the landscape of music in such a short amount of time. His gift seems impossible, and to some degree it probably is, because I will never play cello like that (or even at all).

The music is good. It is nice to see 14-year-old Chinese girls unconsciously swaying to the music as they cradle their violins. It’s fun to hear them shriek like a flock of seagulls (?) (like only American teenage girls can) when the composer, Tudor Dominick Maican, of the first piece of the evening – La, ou la mer rencantre le ciel, comes out to take a bow. Tudor has been composing for 13 years now. He’s 18. I hope that being named “Amazing Child of the Year 2001” by NBC doesn’t fatten his head and stop him from hearing the music he can make. Because the music is good.


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