|Old undated photograph courtesy |
of the Society of Antiquaries, Fox Collection
A terrifying thought crossed my mind when I greeted the committee: that my hands would have started shaking and I wouldn’t have been able to play. But I sent that thought away.
Orpheus, the Maestro, was sitting in front of me.
Just think of the music, I repeated to myself. That’s what you know.
And I did know it. I played well.
Only few minutes after I had left the room, one of the members of the committee came to tell me that I had passed. Orpheus was with him, even though he didn’t say a word. He was a little shorter than I thought, but not less impressive. He gave me a brief handshake and half a smile. Everything felt unreal.
I went to my hotel room like a sleepwalker, and packed up my stuff. Before I left my old life forever, a lawyer of the Orpheus’ Orchestra approached me. He gave me a lot of paperwork to sign: contracts, royalties, a confidentiality agreement. I wasn’t surprised. Everyone knew how obsessively jealous the Maestro was of his privacy.
I didn’t mind. I would have signed anything. I couldn’t wait to start.
The next morning, I was flying to Barcelona, looking forward to meeting my new colleagues.
That was my first great disappointment.
I came from a very competitive environment. But I had never seen such a degree of hostility and anger. The worst thing was that it didn’t seem to be especially directed at me. Simply, no one was friends with anyone else. I convinced myself that I would get used to it. In the end, I had never had too many friends. You don’t get very far in my world if you’re not ready to sacrifice something. And, finally, I got exactly where I wanted to be: Orpheus’ Orchestra. Everything else didn’t really matter to me. If a bunch of strangers didn’t want to be my best mates, who cared?
You have your music, I told myself, and you always will.
To be honest, we practiced so much that we didn’t have a lot of time to spare. We rehearsed for hours and hours. Everything had to be perfect. I never complained about it. That was what I wanted. To be perfect. To prove that I was worthy of being part of it.
My second disappointment was that I never heard the Maestro playing in the days before the concert. I saw him briefly sometimes, but he never rehearsed with us. No one was very keen on explaining things. Asking for information was always a huge deal. So I just tried to figure out things by myself, as best as I could. What I gathered was that Orpheus wasn’t going to play with us. He was going to play three pieces, in the middle of the concert, accompanied by only two members of the orchestra. Obviously, the two very best.
When I managed to have a look at the program, I was surprised. I was expecting something unusually challenging. Something that only a first class virtuoso would have been able to perform smoothly. Impeccably. The three pieces Orpheus was going to play were nothing like that. Vivaldi, Van den Budenmayer. Nothing impressive, on paper. But then I thought that this was his true signature: only a genius would have been able to take something known and worn and make it like you were really listening to it for the first time.
I kept practicing and waiting. There wasn’t much else to do. The tickets were sold out few minutes after they were available. As always.
And, for the first time in my life, all those people would have come to see me perform. Not just me, of course, but also me. A small percentage of those exclusive and expensive tickets would be to see me and listen to me. They would be wearing their most elegant clothes and jewellery; they’d have dinner in fancy restaurants before coming to the theatre, because that night was going to be a special one.
Finally, the day comes.
I’ve played in orchestras all my life. Even when you have no relationship with the other players, there is a bond between all the musicians before the performance. Maybe just a sense of superiority: we are the artists, the others are the public. Wasn’t it for this feeling that we had sacrificed so much?
But there is no trace of camaraderie here. It will come, I tell myself. It will come after the concert.
I enter the door with the sign “artists’ entrance” holding my instrument. Then everything is forgotten. All the pain, the sadness is gone. Nothing else matters anymore. I take my seat. My black suit is perfect. The lights, almost dazzling, are pointed at us. At me. I shouldn’t do it, but, just before we start, I can’t help glancing at the platea. I want to see the excitement on the faces of the people in the public.
I am shocked.
The theatre is empty. There is no one sitting. The doors are closed. No one there but four people, in one of the first rows. And definitely there is no excitement on their faces.
The sound of the director’s wand calls me to my duty. Because, no matter what, I am a musician in an orchestra. I would like to cry, but I don’t. I keep playing, because it is the only thing I know. I look at the others and finally understand. Why there is no adrenaline, why there is no magic.
I’m confused. And I’m in pain.
Then the moment comes when Orpheus performs. I’m not surprised anymore when he starts. He plays the violin clumsily and with no trace of talent. He wouldn’t pass the selection for any decent school of music. That is the great Orpheus.
But no one is there to see. No one but us. On the newspapers tomorrow, they will just read, as usual, that the tickets were sold out. And some bribed critic will say that the maestro was great. Sublime.
He sweats while he tortures the strings. He would really like to be a musician. It doesn’t matter that we all are the price to make his self delusion possible.
Orpheus’ performance is over. The director moves his hand and we start executing the second part of the concert for a ghost audience.
I’m angry. And I know I can’t tell anyone. I want to leave. And I know I can’t.
I keep playing.
VI, xiv, 20 House of Orpheus