June 4th, 2009: After more than a week and a half of pain-free health, I went to work on Wednesday and promptly did a U-turn. I couldn’t concentrate, and although I was not in pain, I could only imagine returning to bed. The rest of the day and night I slept, punctuated by a couple of phone calls. Thursday, I got up and went to work. After an hour at my desk, same thing: I returned home mid-morning and went directly to bed. I couldn’t figure it out. I wasn’t in pain. And I had incentive to stay awake: a lunch with my friend Betsy at Zuni and a late afternoon visit with my friend Jeremy. I felt a bit like Monserrat Caballe; as her career progressed and her health crises forced her to abandon many engagements, she earned the nickname of La Cancelatta. Mid-afternoon, I felt a twinge of pain in my left temple and immediately understood: I was having a migraine headache. So slight on the pain scale that I hadn’t associated my two days of fatigue with migraine symptoms, nevertheless that’s what it was. I took one of my pills that make them go away and sure enough, within an hour I awoke from a light nap saying, “Hey, it’s me. I’m back.” And so I am.
Since this weekend’s performances of Handel’s L’Allegro, etc. I’ve been listening at home to the oratorio (which includes the same soprano—Christine Brendes—on both the CD and in the Zellerbach Hall performances). Over the past six or seven years, I have become increasingly Handel-devoted. It’s a great time to do this, because at no other time in history except for living in London during Handel’s reign could you hear so many of his works in performance.
Although today we miss the exceptional voices that animated Handel’s productions, we do have some notable advantages as well. We now have countertenors. We have very talented singers who increasingly include the baroque in their repertoires. We have more productions of Handel’s works than ever before. And, perhaps most important to me: we have records, tapes, CDs, DVDs and iPod technology that allows for repeated listenings and viewings. The latter has been indispensable to me. For example, I have seen six productions of Giulio Cesare, but thanks to records and CDs, I have listened to it hundreds of times and that repetition has allowed it to settle into the marrow of my memory.
The point of all this is that my musical enthusiasm has gravitated to Handel over the past few years. His music has become, increasingly, the most beautiful sound that I am able to hear at this point in my life. In my teens and twenties, it was Mozart and Beethoven that I loved and listened to. Mozart was my path into opera and Beethoven anchored my understanding of the symphonic and sonata form. Then, in my thirties, I moved into Wagner and Richard Strauss. This took some work, but I worked and was vastly rewarded. In my forties, I discovered Verdi, Rossini and the bel canto tradition. My fifties mixed everything plus the addition of Handel. It’s interesting to see not only what I’ve had time to absorb but also what’s missing. Bach. In conversation with my friend Bob Graham a couple of weeks ago, I totally related when he said, “I don’t think I’ve been grown up enough for Bach until now.” Yes, I would echo that. There is some Bach that I’ve known for a long time: the Brandenburgs, the Goldberg Variations, St. Matthew Passion, the cello suites. But that’s it. For now, Handel nurtures me at a very profound level, and I am grateful.
Several years ago, when I was doing my series of past life regressions with Marilyn Zschau, I retrieved a lifetime from turn of the 19th Century Russia. I was a secularized Russian Jew, a law student in St. Petersburg. I hated living in Czarist Russia, so I emigrated to America. At the time, I thought I was following my girlfriend who had similarly moved with her family, but the larger reason was to experience more freedom and to come to the melting pot to contribute my talents and enthusiasm. I started a legal publishing company, married my girlfriend, had three kids and went to the opera, dined at Delmonico’s on special occasions and visited Niagara Falls. I taught English as a second language and was a deep believer in the American Dream. Then, in September, 1918, I got a cold and was dead within a few days. I died young in my life; my children weren’t grown yet. After I came out of the hypnosis session, Marilyn asked, “Why did you die so young?” I immediately knew the answer, and said, “I died young in that life so that in this life when the AIDS epidemic came along, I would have empathy for guys who were leaving in the middle of their lives. I would understand the poignancy and sadness of their early passing, and I would be a better caregiver. Just in the past week that knowledge has come back to me as I contemplate dying early again. Not as early as the last time (I was in my early 50’s during my American émigré lifetime). But still, this current leaving seems young to me. So what am I learning this time? And to what purposes will it serve in my future?