I did something tonight that I haven’t done in a very long while. Why did I stop for so long? Perhaps because I live in New York City, perhaps because I aged. Either way, between cramming a South Pacific song in my head all day for an audition, seeing a bold and moving performance tonight, and generally a recent thorough enjoyment of life these days, I sang – outside in Washington Heights.
As a child, I used to walk, skip, or run around my neighborhood singing random songs. Having lived in village in Ohio at a young age, I doubtless developed a sense of freedom around the mostly empty streets and carried that to my next neighborhood in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, more populated but still suburban. Actually making up songs, I had a fantastic outlet for emotional expression, and no stranger ever really seemed to notice or complain. In fact, I might have preferred it otherwise, since I specifically remember singing “On My Own” from Les Miserables, convinced that one day some Broadway director might drive by in his car and “discover” me.
Thankfully, it would appear I have discovered myself these days, and I have felt more stable and happier than ever this year and even more, as of late. Apparently allowing that joy to creep in tonight, I prepped for tomorrow’s audition with a very silly, mostly quiet rendition of “A Wonderful Guy,” truly feeling as “corny as Kansas in August.” I tried to avoid singing within one hundred or so feet of anyone, but that involved walking around the circumference of Bennett Park on a very funny path. A little uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing, yes. Silly? Definitely. Nevertheless, seeing the Empire State Building in the distance, singing South Pacific, I felt happier and more inspired than I have in a long time. If I can carry that into tomorrow’s audition, I can imagine no better preparatory exercise.
For this I owe a debt of gratitude to my dear friend Nicholas Hay who brought me to see an incredibly inspiring Thomas Quasthoff in recital at Carnegie Hall tonight. Thomas Quasthoff, an amazing bass-baritone with a stunning voice and a physical disability due to his mother’s use of Thalidomide, reminds me so much of recent readings from Eckhart Tolle‘s A New Earth. Specifically, he once said in an interview with The Guardian, “In any case, who is really not disabled? I am in the lucky position that everyone can see it. But if you are never happy, if you are only concerned about money or success, this is in my opinion also a kind of disability.”
Tonight, in my opinion, Thomas Quasthoff had no disabilities in the least. First and foremost, he had no reservations. This man performs as himself, addresses the audience directly, genteelly, and with a fantastic sense of humor as if we were to attend a concert in his living room. Oh, that we could all perform so truly as ourselves! When the audience inappropriately applauded between songs within a set, he said, “I would be very pleased if there were no applause between the songs. After, yes.” Later, returning from the intermission to see several people crossing in front of the first row of seats after he had already taken the stage, I watched as the performance briefly turned into a comedy routine. “Take your time. Anybody else want to cross here? Okay, my flight leaves tomorrow, so you can relax.”
Relaxing indeed, and so musically executed, his concert charmed me into an instant fan. With an elegant performance of Schubert, Brahms and the Frank Martin Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann, Thomas Quasthoff and his stunning pianist Justus Zeyen delivered a moving and enlightening program of song. Quasthoff’s first low note shocked me, as his higher register seemed so skillfully approached that I didn’t imagine he might also have such a full and unimpeded lower range. Indeed, his overtones rang as clearly as his masterful diction through Carnegie Hall with utterly resonant depth.
Admittedly admiring his fantastic breath management, I listened intently as Thomas Quasthoff caressed every phrase in tandem with Justus Zeyen, both of whom had such a mastery of phrasal tension and release. Zeyen supported Quasthoff with an energy that never overpowered, even as he perfectly placed even the syncopation in a way that wholly complemented the line of the phrase without ever interrupting the singer’s expression. Overall, I could not have enjoyed myself more and agreed with the enthusiastic masses as we stood and applauded gleefully after his third encore (before the second, he said, “If you want to go home, tell me.”). In truth, how could I not sing in response to such a lovely day and an inspiring concert, even if in the streets of Washington Heights?