The Trillium Quintet

We’ve got a sports team here called the Portland Thunder. It’s a fake sport–arena football, which is sort of a cross between sumo and pinball–and it’s a fake team name, too, no doubt generated on Madison Avenue. It rains in Portland, you see, so, uh, let’s call them the Thunder. They don’t realize that although it rains here, it hardly ever thunders. Couple times a year, tops.

But it thundered two weeks ago. It thundered just as my friend Pat’s ensemble, the Trillium Quintet, launched into Dvorak’s Piano Quintet #2, right in her very home. I have awesome friends. If you can manage it, you should always make friends with good musicians. And plumbers–plumbers are good, too.

Pat says the Dvorak has been her all-time favorite piece of music since she first heard it as a girl. My grand-nephew’s favorite piece of all time is Itsy Bitsy Spider, and, now that he’s pushing three, he can already sing it while accompanying himself on guitar. I wouldn’t want to belittle his accomplishment, but Pat didn’t have it as easy with her piece. In order to play her piece, a lot of things had to happen.

First, Dvorak (pronounced Davorzzhack) had to happen. He had to be born in 1841 in a country that couldn’t even afford all the letters it needed for its alphabet. Then he had to grow up and write music so pretty it impressed his contemporary Brahms (pronounced Brahickitums). It wasn’t easy to play. In fact it had to rest for a half century before enough sediment settled out of it that Pat could come along and get a clear view of the notes. Then, as the piano player in the group, she had to spend a year or so learning all of them.

First: Itsy Bitsy Spider. Then: Dvorak.

It’s no big deal; I could learn the Dvorak 2nd piano quintet myself, if I spent ten years at it with no potty breaks. But then I probably couldn’t pull it off in front of a room full of people.

Meanwhile Pat still had to find people as accomplished as she is, because even a good pianist can’t play with a bouquet of stringed instruments at her neck. It’s unwieldy. On Sunday we listened to the result of what I estimate to be a collective 190 years of practice all spun out in an hour of music. It doesn’t ordinarily thunder here, so I suspect that what we heard was the crack of space and time opening up long enough to admit the soul of Dvorak into every hammer and bow.

It’s either that, or there’s some music so powerful it makes its own weather.