It’s raining in my part of the world, so it seems like a good idea to post a performance of Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, which plays a small role in Summit.
Since the Raindrop Prelude isn’t especially difficult to play, YouTube is overrun with amateur performances. Here is a professional one. I’ve never heard of Valentina Igoshina, but she’s pretty good, although the production here is a bit over the top, from the dress to the camera work to her soulful expressions at the end. Oddly, the Russian heroine in Summit is also named Valentina, although she is the psychic, not the pianist.
And here’s your special bonus excerpt. Khorashev plays a minor but interesting role in Summit; here we see him playing the prelude at Carnegie Hall. Note the grammatical atrocity perpetrated about two-thirds of the way through the excerpt.
Most of the audience in Carnegie Hall knew the recital would end with a slow piece. That was the way Dmitri Khorashev did things. If you really have an audience with you, you can leave them pianissimo, while they strain to hear every note, desperate not to miss the slightest susurration of your genius. The result may not be the wild, mindless cheering elicited by a thundering cascade of octaves, but in its place you get a deeper response, one that will last long after the final bouquet has been thrown and the piano firmly and dramatically shut.
When Khorashev began the Raindrop Prelude for his third encore, then, the hall was hushed. If you didn’t pay attention now, who knew when the old man would play again?
He didn’t look like a legendary pianist. His posture at the keyboard made piano teachers wince—arms stiffly in front of him, hands parallel to the keys and scarcely moving. His eyes were half-closed, and his expression could as easily have been produced by boredom as ecstasy. He looked, in fact, more like a kulak than an artist; one could imagine him swilling vodka and bellowing a bawdy song in some Ukrainian tavern after bringing in the wheat harvest. But people paid to listen, not to look. And it was well worth listening to Dmitri Khorashev.
Audiences do not think as one, of course, even while the legendary Khorashev plays Chopin.
In the third balcony, a Juilliard student strained to penetrate the mystery of the man’s legato. Was it the pedaling? The fingering? It all sounded so easy—until you tried to do it yourself.
In the fifth row of the orchestra, another legendary pianist, who had played the prelude for over half a century, was convinced that Khorashev’s tempo was far too slow, his phrasing syrupy—that Khorashev was, in fact, a show-off, who aimed more to please the masses than to understand the music. This conviction would not, however, prevent the legendary pianist from leaping to his feet at the conclusion of the piece and joining in the ovation. It would not do to appear jealous.
The critic from the Times sat in his aisle seat composing his lead. “Recitals by the emigré pianist Dmitri Khorashev are rare events—far too rare, judging by his stupendous performance in Carnegie Hall yesterday….”
Near the rear of the orchestra, a white-haired man with a deeply lined face sat with his head bent forward and his eyes closed. Was he listening intently to the music, or was he asleep? The people around him were afraid he would start snoring, and that fear was enough to ruin their enjoyment of the piece. He was wearing stained brown pants and an old blue suit coat that was too short for him; his white shirt was dingy and frayed; he grasped a cane in his large left hand. He should have been feeding pigeons in Central Park instead of attending a piano recital, the people around him thought. And if he had to be here, at least he could stay awake.
Two rows behind him, at the very back of the orchestra, a dark-haired man wearing a gray suit stared intently at the sleeping—or listening—old man. If there was music being played, the dark-haired man did not appear to notice it.
And that was the dark-haired man’s loss. The piece was not long, not difficult, but it managed to encompass both serene beauty—the beauty of a soft spring shower, perhaps—and grim menace—the menace of an underwater beast, perhaps, reaching to the surface to destroy the beauty. And at the end it all faded, the incessant pulse of eighth notes slowed and stopped, as if the music no longer had the strength to overcome silence.
In Khorashev’s performance, the silence lengthened as he allowed the visions a chance to disappear into the mist. And then he slowly raised his hands from the keyboard, his eyes opened wide, and the recital was over. Time for the final applause.
It rained down on him from the balconies, it washed up at him from the orchestra. He stood and bowed and beamed, and let the applause soak in. The audience too was standing, unwilling to leave, unwilling to let him leave.
The critic from the Times was first down the aisle. The white-haired man was a close second; he stumbled past the people in his row, then limped through the swinging doors into the lobby.
The dark-haired man was right behind him. His eyes were narrow and alert; he looked like a dog on the scent. He caught up with the old man in the cream- and rust-colored art deco lobby and laid a hand on his arm. The old man stopped, startled, and stared at him. “Excuse me, Mr. Fulton,” the younger man said. “I’d like to talk with you for just a few moments, if you don’t mind.”
The old man shook his head. “Fulton?” he rasped. “You’ve made a mistake. My name isn’t Fulton.”
“Please, Mr. Fulton,” the other man persisted. “You’re a difficult man to get hold of, and this is rather important.”
The old man seemed to become agitated. “Absurd,” he muttered. “Mistaken identity. Fulton, indeed.” He started to walk away.
The dark-haired man then reached out a hand as if to grab him. Instantly the old man’s cane came up and whacked him solidly on the arm. Then the old man rushed out of the lobby into the confusion of Fifty-seventh Street.
The other man pursued him for a moment, but stopped as he saw him dive into a cab and head off past the Russian Tea Room. He noted that the old man’s limp had disappeared in his eagerness to escape, and that seemed to be enough for him. He rubbed his arm where the old man’s cane had hit it, and he smiled.