CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Baton in hand, Igor rises to the podium to rehearse a revival of The Rite of Spring. A handkerchief billows from his jacket pocket. A mustache fills his upper lip. His glasses have no arms, but stick fast to his face thanks to the adhesive pressure of nose pads.

He readies the orchestra. His eyes narrow and his mouth opens slightly. Then, counting with his left hand and beseeching with his right, he calls the music into being. Six desolate notes float from the bassoon. As though haunted, the other woodwinds stir. The first violins scratch in answer; the flutes twitter nervously. There’s a blurt from the second horns, followed by abrupt ejaculations from the brass and strings.

Igor’s fingers stiffen to signal a quickening rhythm, his hands filleting the air. Then they relax to command more tranquil harmonies. Picking out individual instruments, he achieves an accent here, a softness there. The way he seeks out the musicians with a look, and the way the players meet his eye, generates a sly competition for his attention. He is keen to exploit this rare attentiveness, while all the time seeking to weave the fragments into a whole.

Suddenly a frown stretches tight across his brow. Something is missing. Lowering his baton, he taps exasperatedly on the lectern and calls the orchestra to a halt. He turns to the timpanist, who smiles benignly from beneath the nest of his fair hair. He thunders, “The passage is supposed to be fortissimo!”

Solemnly he walks from the podium to the piano. The hall in which they rehearse is underheated and his steps ring loudly in the cold air. Choosing to stand, he plays a few bars in vigorous illustration. “You hear?”

Mortified, and with the beaters still in his hands, the man blushes.

Having regained the podium, Igor picks up the music a few bars before the offending passage. He nods with approval as the timpanist responds to the baton’s emphatic strokes.

Then he closes his eyes and listens. No longer needing to consult the score, he conducts blindly, knowing the music by heart. He feels its stabs and gentlenesses, sees the colors the notes make in his mind. A scent of resin rises sharply from the strings. He hears the familiar E flat and F flat major chords slide against one another.

As he continues, the music conjures images of its revision. He pictures himself at the piano in Bel Respiro with his ink pens and manuscripts propped above the keys. Summoned, too, are the sunlight and birdsong flooding his study. And then, unbidden, comes the memory of Coco herself, her features tricked into being by the rhythms. Her wide mouth, her short dark hair and thick articulate eyebrows, her hands answering the accents of the piano. Her kisses. The way her eyes would darken when he entered her, and how she moved when they made love.

The vision pierces him.

He’s shocked to discover how much the music moves him. Until now he’s always seen music as an absolute, pure and authentic: an essence that represents nothing but itself. Having resisted the expressive quality of his work for so long, he finds himself overwhelmed with the images and the memories it evokes. The back of his throat aches. His legs are trembling. Hearing it now, he’s puzzled by the impact the music has on him. And yet there’s nothing sentimental about the experience, nothing fuzzy or obscure. The recollections are sharp and exact, and the sense of loss all the more poignant for it. He feels the sadness hang upon his heart like a weight.

The principal violinist is alone in witnessing it. Closest to Igor and keenest to catch his look, he sees a tear well in the conductor’s eye.

Igor feels it brimming, forming a lens that focuses all the aches and longings, all the tendernesses and caresses of his time with Coco, distilling for an instant the months he spent in Garches. Then the tear, already distended, its droplet tensely stretched, breaks—and with it the memory of their relationship shatters into a thousand fragments. Unmendable. Abruptly the music bursts upon his consciousness. The percussion thuds, the strings tighten, and the brass arrives in orgiastic crashes. Great swerves of sound.

And as it breaks, the tear slips from his eye, quickening down the plane of his cheek, slowing in the channel at the side of his broad nose. It warps finally around his mouth where, drawn into its dark space, it melts upon his tongue.

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