Alex sat nervously behind the stage awaiting his moment. Years of labor and months of difficult practice had culminated in this appearance. Performance and he were not strangers, but this performance would either be his signature one, or ultimately it would be the signature of his failure.
For nearly two centuries, musicians had been improvising his favorite Chopin nocturne to avoid the ornamentation of three increasingly complex polyrhythms that appear in the middle of the piece. Chopin wrote them because he played them, and because when he played them, they sounded beautiful. Anything else, to Alex, sounded contrived, ad libitum.
Alex played them as written. Tonight, he hoped to treat the world to something few people had ever heard. Tonight, he would play this piece, considered intermediate for piano, at Carnegie Hall. Alex did not play piano. Tonight, he would be the first musician to play Chopin at Carnegie Hall… on wine glasses.
At least as far back as Mozart, people have been fascinated with the idea of producing music with the rich pure tones generated by vibrating crystal. Only in the last few years was it finally recognized among musical circles as a true instrument and not just a sidewalk attraction. It was only one number, a four minute opening act, but wine glasses were on a stage of true prestige.
Classical music composed for strings is a popular choice among wine glass symphonists. These pieces lend themselves well to the grating tones produced by the friction ridges of the fingertips, which sometimes closely resemble string vibration on the lower notes. But more importantly, the structured rhythms are easy to adapt to instrumentation usually limited to one or two notes at a time.
Chopin composed this nocturne for piano. The importance in rendering it on any instrument, is the adherence to the quality of the sustains. It took months for Alex to perfect the gradual decays he felt the piece deserved.
Most musicians use pure water to keep their fingers wet during a performance. Alex liked to use white wine. The viscosity of the wine produces a steadier tone on the longer notes because of the sugar content. Sugar comes with its own set of problems. It requires more frequent dipping, and too much sugar in the wine causes less frequently used notes to become gummy as the wine dries. And of course, wine is more expensive.
Fine crystal is not cheap. His collection of glasses had cost Alex a small fortune. So when an expensive signature Sauvingnon Blanc from a small winery in Northern California had proved to have the perfect amount of sugar, Alex bought several cases without a second thought. It was this wine, that would render Chopin as the world had never heard Chopin before.
The sound of applause signaled the opening of the curtains. His audience awaited him. Alex stood, took a deep breath, and headed out onto stage. Bowing before the packed house, a strange calm settled his nerves. He allowed himself to smile. This was his moment, his signature moment. He walked around behind the table with complete composure, composure that suddenly disappeared when he reached out to wet his fingertips.
The two words echoed out across the symphony hall over the hush of a stunned audience, resounding in Carnegie’s acoustically perfect design. Alex put his hand to his mouth in terror. It was his mouth, not his fingers, that had just ascertained his failure.
As history would have it, he’d made an ironic choice of expletives. The wine he had poured for his dipping glasses was gone. The stage hands had helped themselves to a fine Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and the dipping glasses were refilled with water. A little water-into-wine miracle would really have come in handy.
© 2012 Anne Schilde