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Silence: J. Mora, L. Wittgenstein, T. Monk.

MusicPosted by Makram Aboul Hosn Mon, March 19, 2018 16:45:27

Friday the 9th of March was the LPO’s first concert with Maestro Jordi Mora in the 2017-2018 season. Some of us, musicians and audience, had this date circled on our calendar. I had it circled because I wanted to get the scores ahead of time and try to internalize all the technical parts in Beethoven’s 7th, and the other Spanish pieces before the first rehearsal. It was important for me not to have technical concerns as this would enable me to play music instead of read notes. I didn’t want to miss out on Mora’s detailed and demanding musical instructions which make a big and pleasant difference in our Orchestra’s sound. Many audience members have noticed this, and that’s one reason why they also circle Mora’s concert dates on their calendars.

Jordi Mora is one demanding conductor and he’ll make sure to make everyone work hard before performance time. He is sometimes described as “heavy”. He is heavy; heavy in content. He also has a certain “aura” – which may not be perceivable to all of us - that demands your full attention and participation. It is almost impossible to have your consciousness directed away from Mora when he is in the room. I’ve written about this unifying quality of his in one of my earlier essays “Unity: The Transcendental Experience of Music-making”.

The aspect of Mora’s conducting that I’m writing about today is his handling of silence. Silence; how taken-for-granted a word. In rehearsals, before we play the first note he would sit facing us, entirely motionless just like a statue. Everyone begins to quiet down, he knows the effect of his posture and he waits until there is not a single sound in the room. That moment is when we feel a certain tension beginning to build in our collective consciousness, a tension that rises with his baton and that is released with his first down beat and the orchestra’s alert response to it. Sometimes as he does this routine, somebody might make a negligible noise that is a result of a chair budging, or a slight cough, Mora would reset and put his baton down again in waiting for that absolute silence; absolute silence is sign of absolute surrender, and thus absolute engagement in what one is doing.

In some pieces there are moments where you’ll hear him instruct the orchestra with one of his famous phrases: “Don’t move!”. This famous phrase always coincides with a delicate moment of silence in a composition that Mora treats with equivocal importance as all that has come before it, if not more. an incredible tension building tool.. In such moments of silence, he doesn’t want the musicians fidgeting about, turning pages, putting their instruments down as if they finished a meaningless task. Absolutely not. He makes us perform silence. After his firm “Don’t move” command which has produced yet another moment of tension and alertness, comes his soft tension releasing request: “now, move!”, followed by music. Again we are alert and engaged, because of that moment of rest.

After the last note of each movement or piece, Mora continues in silence. That is to say, he allows another three or four seconds of silence. But this time, it’s not a tension building tool. It is for us, performers and listeners, to marvel and reflect on what just happened. Three or four seconds of not taking what we just did for granted. A few moments for our consciousness to process overwhelming and imperceptible beauty. He even tries to do this in concert, but is often interrupted by eager applause. Even then, Mora can lift his arms up with his back to the crowd and silence an entire church of applauders.

“What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus-logico-philosophicus. From my limited ability to understand his work, I understood some of the problems that arise from the way language is constructed and processed by human consciousness. Wittgenstein points how every word/structure we use corresponds to some use of imagery in our individual mind that is different from the other’s mind. That means that when I use the word “Airplane” you and I will have different images pop up in our imagination, and each image carries with it a certain personal emotional response that has been stored; this emotional response differs largely from individual to individual. One can imagine the impossibility of perfect communication that results from this simple phenomenon.

Wittgenstein also addresses the fact that many words we use can have two or more different meanings, how one object in the world can have two or more different names, how it is possible to express the same idea with totally different uses of language. All these contribute to the problem of imperfect communication. But not silence. Perhaps in silence there is perfect communication. “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, said Wittgenstein. Again, silence comes as a sign of surrender, and engagement.

Speaking of saying things in different ways, Thelonious Monk, a very unique improviser who makes beautiful use of silence in his solos and compositions once said: “Talking about Music is like dancing about Architecture”. So, let us pass over in silence together when the moment requires it, because it is often true that “silence can speak louder than words”.


Reviewed by: Hiba Makarem


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