This evening I walked from the Lincoln Center at 66th and Broadway down to 40th street, all the while listening to Rachmaninoff’s 1929 performance of his Piano Concerto № 2. My noise cancelling headphones masked the never ending cacophony of the city. The experience of the third movement was slightly surreal, coinciding with my traversal of Times Square.
This was brought on by having just watched Preludes, ‘a musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’, which is playing at the Lincoln Center through to August second. Rachmaninoff suffered depression and writer’s block, and visited hypnotherapist Nikolai Dahl to help him break through it. Rachmaninoff dedicated the second Concerto to Dahl.
To say I really enjoyed the play would be a slight understatement. One of the actors was at a grand piano in center stage. He played pieces that came up in dialogue, as well as snatches of themes from Piano Concerto № 2 as the composer worked through his block. I experienced musical frisson—or ‘skin orgasm’—several times; I hadn’t listened to any Rachmaninoff in a good while, but he is way up on my list of favourite composers. The C♯ minor and G minor preludes, both of which I love, were played in full.
Musical performances aside, there was plenty of food for thought. Creativity, performance anxiety, writer’s block, depression, a need to be ‘great’, obsession with how others perceive you and your work—all too familiar! I wish I’d had a notebook out to jot down some quotes to think over more, especially as I come to the last three weeks at the Recurse Center. I’ve not written here in about two weeks, and some of that is not feeling like I have something worthy of writing about. And the longer I go without writing, the more important it seems for the next writing to be, if not great, at least good. I hope the play will snap me out of that. Let’s see!
Thanks to David Albert for telling me about the play, and to the fellow recursers who joined me at the play.