A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Virtuoso Violinist, The Tall Mexican Conductor & The MIT Professor
Saturday, December 06, 2008

In my Friday NY Times I found this:

In the preface to his only novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray", Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed that "all art is quite useless." The statement seemed so intriguing to a contemporary, an Oxford University student named Bernulf Clegg, that in 1891 he wrote Wilde asking him where in his other work he "may find developed that idea of the total uselessness of all art."

Wilde, not directly answering Clegg's question, responded: "Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct or influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility."

I would not agree at all and, furthermore, I am not qualified to equate art with culture. A statement on culture by an MIT professor (below) is more of my idea of the role of the arts and culture in society.

Amidst all the attention given to the sciences as to how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered "useless," will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.

John Maeda
Muriel Cooper professor of media arts and sciences at the Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I first included Maeda's little gem here. I also wrote about the quaint and delightful Vancouver tradition of access here. This is after performance access, to the general public at backstages in theatre, ballet and opera, at the Queen Elizabeth, modern dance, the VSO at the Orpheum and if you are insistant (but not too agressive) even after performances at the Chan where one must navigate past large men dressed in black.

I wrote about "that door" on stage right at the Orpheum in that link above. This last Monday Hilary ( my daughter and Rebecca and Lauren's mother) went through that very door to chat with violinist Corey Cerovsek. Nobody stopped us particularly since we didn't ask. The ghosts of other performers I have chatted or photographed back stage always haunt me ever so pleasantly. And there was Corey delighted to see us. "At one time legions of people would file in. Now this trend has almost disappeared," he told us. Cerovsek's two encores besides featuring a Bach violin sonata included an extremely difficult piece, a de force, I had never heard of. Cerovsek wrote down what it was for me.

The very tall (I calculate 6 ft 2 ) and very light-skinned Mexican guest conductor, Carlos Miguel Prieto (prieto means very dark-skinned), was there. He had directed the evening's performance of Verdi's Vespri Siciliani Overture, Sibelius (with Cerovsek as soloit) Violin Concerto in D minor op. 47 and Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra with lots of precision, great energy and with an obvious delight. Thanks to Prieto I discovered that indeed Bartók had a great sense of humor and was not the scary composer I thought he was. I chatted with Prieto and Hilary got to practice his Spanish with him.

As Hilary and I left after such a pleasant evening I could not but recall Maeda's words:

The arts are the science of enjoying life.

Before that concert I had enjoyed Cerovsek's comment on the b+w version of the photo above which I placed here.

Hello Alex!

With the computer perched a little precariously on the windowsill I pick up
a signal generously donated by the fine folks at the Safeway Credit Union...
fine and QUICK work there you've done! I find it's an excellent continuation
of the series. And not at all Hitlerjugend-y. (We'll await final word from
Lucy in Paris.) The more I look at this morning's picture, the more I enjoy
it... I'm visually tickled by the counterpoint of stability and motion in
the area around my hands. The solidity of the right hand leads one to the
frozen grace of the scroll of the violin, from which you trip over the
curves of the left hand with that F-hole dancing leaf-like in midair, down
the forearm to begin the loop again; my elbows hint at a triangle with the
center of my face, and for some reason it all makes me think of that classic
Escher drawing with the reptiles...


Harmony and melody in your composition. Very musical! It's almost as though
the spirit of juggling were silently in the air before my chest.

Three little comments. Lucy and I aren't actually engaged. (Marriage has
become quite passé in France, I believe.) My mother might be a bit shocked
to hear that we were. You have a typo on "preclude". And you might enjoy
knowing that Lucy and I have a purple magnet on our fridge quoting a line of
Thomas Beckett:

L'habitude est une grande sourdine

Waiting for Godot, I believe. Somehow perfect as it invokes the habit that
you write about while "sourdine" is what string players call the mute we
sometimes use... Lucy had the magnet before we met, so I think the latter
association is coincidental. But considering that a mute affords another
tone color to a player, and therefore to me has no negative connotation, it
suggests a cheerful interpretation: habit can also be a beautiful thing!

See you tonight,



Previous Posts
The Little Sister

Moths Fluttering At My Kitchen Window

Cricket and Prorogation

Anosh Irani's Father's Fiat

Corey Cerovsek - The Sequential Violinist

A Surprising Eugene Onegin Lures Me For Carmen In ...

Quartet For The End Of Time

The Drowsy Chaperone - A Good Thing In Bad Times

It's A Wonderful Life - A Vancouver Tradition

My Debt To Ballet BC - An Apologist's View

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