There was a magical moment around the time of the "tripped out" Sarabande. In the silence right before you started playing the Sarabande, one could hear sirens from a distance. Then the dance began with a hauntingly blurred not-quite-arpeggiated chord. The sirens became a bit louder. The music proceeded into what could best be described as a delirium. Soon, the boat started rocking. I could not tell what was driving what - the music's intensity making the barge pull against its moorings; the waves on the East River driving the already fidgety Sarabande into flights of further frenzy; or merely a cosmic coincidence. In any case, I was breathless.
All this is true. And there is more. Last evening, on the Barge, I began the Sarabande of Bach's 6th Partita to the accompaniment of distant sirens, which persisted, increased ... And then the boat began to shake frighteningly, noisily, excessively, as I ranged towards the movement's more extenuated moments. It did feel like a strange coincidence, or a conspiracy. I couldn't see the cause of the shaking, or of the sirens; in fact, I saw nothing; I kept my eyes painfully, intently closed. It was a tour de force of distraction; all the forces of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the East River seemed arrayed between me and Bach, and I had to keep staring him (blindly) in the face, holding the thread taut.
You will not believe what I did: I began to think of whoever's tragedy motivated the sirens (what could it have been? some accident?) and tried to connect it to the heavy-hearted Sarabande. I couldn't; it was both too abstract and too maudlin. (Too selfish? Using anything for my performance.)
Then (it is a long movement) I began to think of the music as an antidote to the sirens... a small battle was drawn. I couldn't drown out the sirens (they were external to the sacred, floating performing space: renegades), but I could try to make my phrases more compelling, more meaningful. It is hard to battle against a sound that was designed to penetrate no matter what, a sound bred for irritation and attention: only possible by fighting on "your own terms." And it was interesting, because the distractions were so great as sometimes to feel like they literally "got between" me and the music, like a wall, or like static which overwhelms bits of a transmission. I would miss words, lose meanings. I had to climb over the wall repeatedly to get back into the music's syntax each time. So there were ephemeral gusts of mental effort, where I climbed back into relevance, tried to sum things up even more cogently than before... because I knew I only had "that moment."
So there you go, blog reader, now you know what I was thinking. I often get that question after the concert ("what are you thinking about?"), and often the answer is quite dull, technical, or too complex to be answered in words. How do you cultivate the mental process of performing (what to think about, what to concentrate on) over 30 years? How do you summarize this to someone in 15 seconds? Ah, yes. Nice impossible questions. But last night was an exception, and I'm happy to finally answer this question in a reasonable, non-paradoxical way.