Masks and Mysteries

Dear Readers,

Greetings from Japan! I think a plague may have hit Mibu – in our concert tonight, when I looked out at the hall, at least a third of the audience was wearing medical face masks. I’m not sure whether or not everyone wearing a mask was ill, but the overall visual effect was somewhat alarming. During one of the pieces in the second half of the recital, someone slowly opened a Velcro clasp and pulled out a bag of Kleenex, proceeding to gingerly blow his or her nose in between suppressed coughs. I didn’t see that happen, of course, but every step of the procedure was audible onstage.

Two nights ago, we heard something else, something that we still haven’t been able to define: an owl-like ascending exhalation at the end of a sonata, unlike anything Valentina or I had ever heard before. We’re not sure if it was from an animal or a satisfied person or an unsatisfied person. In the previous concert, a man was snoring at the very end of the most bombastic Ives movement – he must have had a tough day, or maybe the piece knocked him out.

Otherwise, the audiences have been pretty normal for Japan: attentive, interested, staying till the end of the program – all things that I don’t take for granted. When I played my first concert of this tour, with Josh Ritter in his Japanese debut, the concertgoers were terrific, giving him all their concentration and showing genuine enthusiasm between songs. He had a great time, and so did I, and I think it may have been our best shared show ever. Now, with Valentina, we’ve been getting a wonderful response from the hall, from cheers and whoops to long rounds of applause. All audience members have been model listeners. Thank you, Japan!

We’ve played a lot of recitals on this tour. Every day has been either a concert or a travel day, and many have been both. Right now, I’m racing my computer battery, which seems to have decided that holding power is too difficult a task. It’s nighttime, and we’re traveling in a large taxi from Mibu to Tokyo – we being Valentina, I, my assistant, someone from my Japanese management, and a translator, because no activity here would be complete without a small crowd; there’s always company, always someone making sure everything goes smoothly. I’m a little hungry, so as soon as the computer dies, I’ll pull out some snacks I’ve been saving up. Oh, wait a minute; the driver says we’re pulling into a rest stop soon! So, change of plans: I’ll get to see what that’s like, stretch my legs, wander the aisles of the gift shop, try to figure out what all of the nicely wrapped foods are, inspect the plastic entrees in the restaurant booths, and maybe buy something to drink for the rest of the ride. It looks like we’re going up the ramp right now, actually, so I have to sign off. In a couple of hours, we’ll be in Tokyo, then after one more concert, I’ll leave for Paris.