If I say, “Jeremy Denk,” then you think Bach Goldberg Variations.
  • If I say, “Jeremy Denk,” then you think Bach Goldberg Variations.
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Jeremy Denk shared the Bach Goldberg Variations with a cozy gathering of patrons at Symphony Hall on Tuesday night, January 19. The upper levels of the hall were closed off as was the entire right side of the house. I don’t know why I’m mentioning any of this. It could be to describe something of the setting for those who weren’t able to attend.

For those who were able, knew about it, and still didn’t go, that officially makes you a cynic and yes, I will judge you and the entire county if need be. I’m getting tired coddling those who would profess to love music but don’t go to concerts of music unless it’s their concert — a concert they’re involved with producing.

I went to this performance with a music professor and a music student. We didn’t see anyone else from their department. What could any music teacher or student possibly be doing that is more important to their lives than experiencing the Goldberg Variations a la Mr. Denk? That’s not a rhetorical question.


Glenn Gould plays Bach

The Goldberg Variations/32. Aria da Capo

The Goldberg Variations/32. Aria da Capo

When I invited a friend and he said yes he would go, I replied, “Good answer. You would’ve regretted not going for the rest of your life.” As an individual who has sung a good amount of opera, I’ll admit that sounds a bit operatic in tone but it is a life or death situation. Either you live life having gone to see one of the great interpreters of Bach or you die having not gone.

Those are the stakes.

Always consider the deathbed in any decision regarding a concert. Who of us is going to be on our deathbed and wish we’d watched that final season of Friends on Hulu to find out if Ross and Rachel got together? None of us, and if there are some who lie upon their deathbed and regret not knowing the fate of vapid fictional stereotype characters — then good riddance.

Go ahead with your justifications as to why I’m being unfair. I know I’m being unfair. That’s the point. This experience of music was of such gravitas that I, a Libra by the way, am willing to unfairly accuse those who didn’t attend. There is no excuse that anyone can give that will justifying flaking on this concert.

The Goldberg Variations are not immediately accessible. It can take a while to be moved by what Bach is doing. I’ve emphasized this concert to such a degree that some might be willing to listen to The Goldberg Variations and then think I’m full of crap.

It can take a while for a cliff face to be reduced to a sandy beach by the constant waves of the ocean. The audience is the cliff and Bach is the ocean. He keeps washing us over and over again with waves of music until he cracks us open and knocks us down. For the casual listener it can take years before Bach becomes, well, Bach.

Mr. Denk is a master of such ability that he is associated with a piece of music. This happens from time to time.

If I say, “Caruso,” then you think Vesti la giubba. If I say, “Pablo Casalas,” then you think Bach Cello Sonatas. If I say, “Andrea Bocelli,” then you think not an opera singer.

If I say, “Jeremy Denk,” then you think Bach Goldberg Variations.

After Mr. Denk came out for his fourth curtain call I briefly wondered if he was going to give an encore but immediately realized my folly. How do you encore The Goldberg Variations? What could anyone possibly play? It would be like trying to add an encore to The Ring Cycle or Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. It’s silly to even think it.

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