Eyes closed, I hear the chords of the cello’s attack echo into the orchestra. Jacqueline du Pré’s bow glides between the raw, dark noise, and every note hums with possibility and power.
Even set against an entire orchestra, her melody pierces the background like flashes of light behind a window. Her first crescendo is a cloudburst of upwards intensity. I can feel each resonance tunneling through my headphones, electrifying my every nerve. Nothing can compare to the vivid, coiling immediacy of du Pré’s performance of Elgar’s “Cello Concerto in E Minor.” I have never felt more understood by anyone.
Each of the concerto’s four movements has its own brand of wit and wonder, but they all blend together in a strange, magical jumble that makes me feel like I’ve been staring into the sun for too long. The first movement, the adagio, is my favorite. I was 12 the first time I heard it, but after the track ended, I felt much younger.
When I listen to the concerto, I remember driving to piano lessons with my sister and listening to my dad’s favorite Chopin nocturnes playing around the house. I remember why I play piano and bassoon, the two loveliest and most inconvenient instruments of all. I remember birthday parties and playing “Imagination” and crying at symphony concerts. I remember my first day of school, my first soccer tryout, my first time driving a car. I remember who I am.
Music is not simply a collection of black dots on a page. What occurs in between the bar lines is far less important than what happens outside of the page. Although music is athletic and mathematic, I believe that it is literary above all.
Musicians have to read clues from someone else’s dream and understand them enough to form our own. Music is about telling stories that, once borrowed, slowly transform into something altogether unique; to make music is to create a world within a sixteenth note and a universe within a quarter rest. Loving music is like understanding another language. Even though words are my passion, sometimes the highest truths don’t require any of them.
In the Elgar concerto, du Pré’s cello sounds like supernovae one moment and like crackling silk the next. Her music is a raised fist, defiant and uncompromising to the end.
Although the mood of the concerto is somber, du Pré’s energy still bubbles through. Each happy staccato shatters the gloom. Even in deep, confusing sadness, the cello is a spark, a glimmer of bright joy.
Somehow she knows that a girl is listening to her. Somehow she recognizes this girl with wild, unruly hair and a wild, unruly soul. Somehow I recognize her back.
Separated by five decades, we both stand with eyes struck wide and hearts hungry to be more than what we are, the desire for ferocity and beauty and love writ large upon our lives. To Jacqueline: Thank you for showing me how to live con brio – with spirit.
Emily Ge, a senior at Charles Wright Academy, lives in Gig Harbor. She is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.