Looking out over the expanse of neatly arranged chairs, that in a few hours will be teeming with concert-goers, the stark contrast is clear. This anticipatory lull is prelude to a great crescendo of excitement. It’s as if calm before the storm; the lows needed to appreciate the highs; the darkness to welcome the light and the cold to hunger for warmth after a long, dreary winter.
Under the expert baton of a masterful interpreter of creative geniuses, both living and long departed, a well-executed fermata can become a passionate climax of great intensity and impact. There is a unanimity of spirit that pervades a space, as performers and concert goers alike come together to experience art from the ages, creating an aura of peace; the perception that all is right with the world. The audience is primed and ready to be swept away. They become a living, breathing barometer of the artistic excellence on display. Each musician becomes a piece of an intricate ensemble.
This moment in time, this unique performance, will never happen again. Recordings may be made, videos may capture the scene, but it’s the live experience that one is privileged to be part of. It’s the sense of a singular spirit pervading the performance space that so enhances the drama of the planned moments of silence.
Consider the conclusion of a spectacular symphonic performance, as the last notes echo throughout the concert hall, just before the audience erupts into thunderous applause. Or recall the stunning silence at the end of Act I in Puccini’s “La Boheme”, as Rodolfo and Mimi soar (offstage) to heavenly, romantic vocal heights: The audience dares not sigh, lest the spell be broken, before bursting into “Bravi!”.
Even in an non-concert venue, Epcot visitors of all ages, thrill to “Illuminations” and the music of Tchaikovsky, in the silent darkness of the penultimate moment, just before the blaring (complete with fireworks and booming blasts) grand finale of the “1812 Overture.”
The Choral Repertoire too, is filled with pauses designed to maximize the visceral impact of the music. The “Dies Irae” of the Dramatic Verdi, “Requiem”, and Mozart’s brilliant “Grand Mass in C Minor” (when peaceful simple bars of the “Kyrie” break joyously into the crashing opening measure of “Gloria”), exemplify this time-honored technique.
Most impressive is, perhaps, the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; a movement that in its premier was unheard by its composer / conductor, a totally deaf Beethoven. He experienced only silence, as the astounded audience raucously delivered their standing ovation. Finally he turned. Finally he ‘heard’ the impact that his final opus had on this opening night concert audience, an impact that would be repeated for ages to come.
Wait for it. There it is! From deep within the music, the silence inevitably steals in; filling the space, often speaking more eloquently than the sound that precedes or follows.
Listen to the silence. Listen.