Thursday, March 8, 2007

Travels with Cadfael: Shirley Horn Trumps The Talented Mr. Ripley


“I will meet you anywhere in the world.”

It was the warm voice of my friend Cadfael. He was between semesters again, and I had vacation time I hadn’t used.

We decided on Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. Cad would be spending the summer in Vienna learning German, and he was very familiar with Budapest through the great Benedictine Archabbey at Pannonhalma.

So we were on the road again. Except this trip was clouded by two shadows, one I knew about when I left New York, the other I would only learn of when we got to Prague. When I got on the plane, I knew I had a broken heart (no, not Steed), although my friends were quite certain I had dodged a bullet. The blur of the last months was playing over in my head very clearly as The Talented Mr. Ripley, not The Way We Were, so I knew they were right. (Thank God we have films to help us make sense of our lives.)

Still, when someone gets under your skin you have to deal with it. And there’s no better way than to travel with a monk.

I met up with Cad in Rome for one great dinner in Trastevere, then we flew to Vienna. We stayed near Rathausplatz, which allowed for lovely leisurely walks to the city center of that white, imperial city.

We were in Vienna primarily to attend JazzFest Wien, which takes place at the Staatsoper in the off season. We had tickets for 2 evenings. One evening was the a capella, gospel vocal group Take 6, along with Marcus Miller. Take 6 did not disappoint, sweeping us along in its exuberant, uplifting harmonies. Miller was cool.

But the highlight was seeing Miss Shirley Horn. This was July of 2003; she would die just over two years later from complications from breast cancer and diabetes.

But on that July night, it was ALL about courage, and struggle, memory and loss. It was an extraordinary concert experience, with a chaser of bitterness for me. It was The Talented Mr. Ripley who had suggested we see Horn. Which meant I had tickets to see her in New York as part of the JVC series the last week in June, and then I saw her the very next week in Vienna—a strange quirk of timing that was an enormous gift.

Here’s Stephen Holden on the JVC concert: “Seated in a wheelchair and facing the audience, Ms. Horn exuded the authority of an amused grande dame, serenely but firmly in charge.”

Her right leg had recently been amputated below the knee due to complications from diabetes.

“The set was anchored in four elongated ballads, A Time for Love, Yesterday, Here's to Life, and May the Music Never End, that worked together to evoke a grand, ultimately optimistic summing up of a lifetime's bittersweet experience.”

Her performance was even stronger in Vienna. Her timing with accompanist George Mesterhazy was more certain and in sync. She had spent decades playing piano while she sang, but without her foot, she had to give that up. Her singing was warm and piercing. As Ben Ratliff wrote in her obituary, "She cherished her repertory, making audiences feel that she was cutting through to the stark truths of songs like Here's to Life and You Won't Forget Me."

This brave, talented woman knew real trouble, and in the face of it, did whatever she needed to keep singing. Her courage and love of life was inspiring and refreshing after the ugliness and hatred of life that engulfed The Talented Mr. Ripley. She reminded me of what is possible, if not always found. Thanks for the assist, Miss Horn.


Note: Blue Girl has a clip up of Horn singing "Shall I Catch a Shooting Star?" It is stunning. Definitely go over and listen--it's a real treat. Thanks Blue Girl.


blue girl said...

Wow. Seeing Shirley Horn in Vienna ... with a broken heart. It sounds so bitter-sweetly beautiful. I think I might have been so overwhelmed, I'm not sure I could've taken it.

I just downloaded "Here's to life" -- what a voice she had.

Thanks for this post. I'm sorry you had a broken heart, but I just imagine it to have been a really special experience.

How was Prague? I've always wanted to go there.

M.A.Peel said...

BG--I'm just catching up and reading about your hiatus. Gosh, your distinctive voice willl be missed. But it's cool to take a break, and then come back--

The audience in Vienna went wild after her set--like an opera audience, which really knows how to applaud.

I did not like Prague. But then, I have dark associations with it. Chapter 2 coming soon.

blue girl said...

Thanks for the link, M.A.! OT: I was showing my husband your blog today and played your M.A./Steed video for him! He loved it! Just wanted you to know.

I am *in love* with Shirley Horn's music. Oh my God! I've been listening to her non-stop. She's so, so, so great. I love when I find music that just -- hmm, how do I put it? Just floors me! Wow. How *lucky* you were to have seen her in person.

Sounds kind of weird to say that I can't wait to read Chapter 2 because of the dark associations and all -- but, I can't wait!

I'm living vicariously through you right now!

No pressure though. :)

I'm not totally going away on my blog. Just giving myself a little "guilt" break. I had/have this feeling that if I don't do it a *certain way* -- then I'm not doing my best. Writing's hard for me and I'm not quick. So, I'm just going to post when the spirit moves me to do so. Like your post did yesterday. Thanks for that.