If you watch this short piece played by Vladimir Ashkenazy you will find that it's possible to hold your breath for two minutes without noticing. It's an astonishing piece of work. I think the lady backstage may be his wife.
Ashkenazy is a pianist who has crossed over into conducting (like Daniel Barenboim) and is now here in Sydney as the Principal Conductor for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Anyway he conducted our choir in a rehearsal last night. Something about his manner reminded me (and probably no-one else there) of Broughton Knox. Gracious and self-effacing and humble; he congratulated our rehearsal pianist for her excellent work (from where I was sitting, she looked mildly petrified to be playing in front of him) and was generally full of praise and kindness. A humble orchestral conductor is as rare as a chaste NRL player.
If you are interested in seeing Ashkenazy and hearing our choir, it's happening next Wednesday and Thursday night, May 20 and 21. We're doing Walton's Belshazzar's Feast. If you click through on that link you get the text, basically Scripture, mainly Ps 81, Ps 137 and Daniel. The opening words, however, are based on 2 Kings 20:16-18.
16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
What a moment of horror. (Oddly enough, though, Hezekiah is happy!)
UPDATE: Here's another piece of hypnotic brilliance from Ashkenazy, Chopin Etude No. 4, Op.10.