Coup de Grâce

On my green and pristine back lawn, a solitary fallen leaf lies captive among the blades, a sure sign of the coming fall. A summer lengthened by oppressive heat is mercifully at its end. Fellow bloggers eagerly write about crisp mornings, cool nights, and college football games. But here’s a better nod to the upcoming season, a beckoning more sublime than anything “pumpkin spice”. Have a listen to Antonio Vivaldi’s violin concerto “Autumn”, from his best-known work, “The Four Seasons”.

Sure, I could bore you with the details of a classical composition written over four hundred years ago. “The Four Seasons” was cutting edge for its time because the music reflected real-life events: singing birds (“Spring”), soft breezes (“Summer”), and icy paths (“Winter”).  But today’s post is not really about “Autumn” and its drunken dancers.  It’s about the performance of the piece by Frederieke Saeijs.

Ms. Saeijs

I’d never heard of Frederieke Saeijs before I watched the eleven minutes of her violin solo in the video above but I must confess, I’m absolutely smitten.  Frederieke (pronounced exactly like it reads, unlike her last name), is Dutch by birth but worldly in every other respect, including her education, performances, and teaching.  Her list of accomplishments and awards suggests there is nothing further she can achieve with her instrument… and she’s only forty-two.

But I digress (and can you blame me after seeing her photo?)  Let’s get back to this performance of “Autumn”.  Here is what I found so captivating.  First, Frederieke’s eyes and her movements with her violin are unabashedly expressive as she plays, clearly one with the music.  She is a picture of grace with her slender frame, elegant hairstyle, and striking purple gown.  In other words, you could watch this video on mute and still be impressed.  But please don’t.  You need to hear the music, even just a few minutes of it.  I admit to distraction by some other things on my computer screen yet I kept coming back to this performance until I’d completed all eleven minutes.

If I haven’t yet persuaded you to spend a few minutes with Frederieke, consider this.  She plays the entire piece from memory (which, in ‘Autumn’s more furious moments, is mind-boggling).  Also, her performance – as well as those of the smallish orchestra around her – is captured from a dozen different angles.  This was a busy production, both in front of and behind the camera.

I kept waiting for something – anything – to bring this performance back to earth so I could describe it as less than perfect.  Except for a cough in the audience minutes from the end, I don’t see how the concerto could’ve been purer.  Seriously, have you ever wondered how a soloist of this caliber avoids a sneeze or a cough, or even slips a little on her high heels?  Perhaps this explains why Frederieke is a world-class violinist and I am not.

Finally, if you made it to the end of this performance like I did, you’ll find it interesting the video concluded before the audience applause (and standing ovation, no doubt).  I say “good call” to whoever posted the video.  The silent fade-to-black conclusion only makes the performance more powerful.

Mr. Vivaldi

A coup de grâce is defined as “a decisive blow”, and further, “one delivered mercifully to end suffering”.  I love the double meaning here.  The season of autumn delivers a merciful end to the suffering of a hot summer.  More to today’s topic, Ms. Saeijs’ violin performance speaks of force and grace as one.  In other words, she offers you a most sublime welcome to fall.

The poem which inspired Vivaldi’s “Autumn” concerto includes the line, “… And (by) the season that invites so many, many…”  After watching today’s video I feel very much invited.  I suggest you raise a glass of hot cider to the calm of fall.  While you’re at it, give thanks for the breathtaking talent of Frederieke Saeijs.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Old-World Charming

One of my favorite musicals is “Brigadoon”.  The original production dates a long way back; to 1947.  Brigadoon tells the tale of two Americans traveling in the Scottish Highlands.  A town quietly appears to them through the fog: charming, simple and untouched by time.  It is idyllic.  To protect itself from the changing outside world, “Brigadoon” only appears to outsiders one day every hundred years.  So when one of these travelers falls in love with a Scottish lass from the town, he only has a few hours to decide if that love means remaining in Brigadoon and disappearing into the fog forever.  The ending is fitting (and not so predictable).  I won’t give it away here.

31 - idyllic

My own Brigadoon appears to me, once a year for only a week or two.  Just north of San Diego lies the little coastal town of Del Mar.  It is a quiet village by the sea, with pretty little shops and restaurants, a prominent hotel, and a train that whistles its way along the nearby cliffs several times a day.  You can stroll leisurely from the beach to the center of town in a matter of minutes.  You can sit in the park on the bluffs and lose yourself in the horizon.  The flip-flop pace is slow and the carefree inhabitants always seem relaxed and happy.  Like Brigadoon, Del Mar is simple, romantic, and idyllic.

I keep returning to Del Mar, just as I did when I was a boy.  Growing up in the bustle of Los Angeles, Del Mar was only a two-hour drive south by car or an effortless journey by train; yet always seemed a world away.  My family spent the summers at our house on the beach, including countless hours in the sand and surf.  In those days – a half-century ago or more (gulp) – Del Mar was as modest a burg as you can imagine.  The beachhouses were drab single-story wood-sided bungalows.  A walk on the shore encountered a lot of seaweed and rocks and only an occasional shell.  The town was unremarkable; more practical than boutique.  My child’s eye recalls the 7-Eleven as a highlight; the only place a kid cared about thanks to its Slurpees and pinball machines.  Del Mar’s drugstore was almost forgettable, except you could buy chocolate malt tablets (meant for indigestion but candy to us kids).  The park contained a snack shack where you couldn’t get much more than a grilled cheese and a Coke.  And my friends and I used to sneak under the highway through a culvert, giving us a back door entrance to the nearby horse-racing grounds.  I can still picture the jockeys, exercising their thoroughbreds in the ocean waves.

Del Mar is a wholly different animal today.  The draw of the coast, the consistently good weather, and the summer horse-racing season has transformed a modest locale into quite the tony address.  The beach is groomed daily and the sand is marked into areas for swimming and other areas for games and still other areas for dogs.  The hotel commands a nightly rate of $350.  The park on the bluffs is all spruced up – no more snack bar – and used for concerts and festivals.  A sunset wedding/reception sets you back $4k just for the use of the park.  The local Starbucks sells enough coffee and tea to rank among the most successful locations in the country.  The racetrack patrons hit the town in their Sunday best the first day of the season (think Kentucky Derby).  And most notably, a house on the beach – with a very narrow slot of property abutting the ocean – cannot be had for less than $10 million.  Yes, Del Mar is all dressed up these days and hardly simple.

But it’s still my Brigadoon.

My family and I make our annual pilgrimage to Del Mar every July.  We leave behind landlocked Colorado for yet another taste of the sun and surf and salty air.  And as soon as I arrive, the little town I remember reveals itself to me from the fog that has enveloped it over the years.  The fancy shops, restaurants, and patrons step aside in favor of the simpler and more idyllic memories of the Del Mar I first fell in love with.  If it were possible, I might just choose to take a leap – forever – into the Brigadoon of my yesteryear.