IIASA has been pushing a program called Art Meets Science since I got here. The idea is that we YSSPers, the Scientists, meet up with some music students in Baden, the Artists, and develop some kind of a cross-fertilization of ideas, some sort of interdisciplinary melange greater than the sum of its parts. Well, I have to admit I've been rather skeptical of this idea, and have been regarding it as a distraction to be evaded. It's not that I am universally skeptical of such efforts; on the contrary, probably the work in my life of which I am proudest has come from exactly such a fusion of art and science. It's more that we're all very busy just trying to get our research projects done; three months really isn't very long to produce a good, finished piece of scientific work. We don't have the time to take on some additional nebulous collaborative art-science piece, as wonderful as such a thing might be.
Well, I remain skeptical of that larger goal, but I'm now much more enthusiastic about the basic idea of meeting up with the music students and grooving. Why? Because I actually met them today, and they are amazing.
They came down to IIASA for a walk in the park, which I wanted to go on but ultimately chose not to; it was just too hot (it is now 11:49 PM and is still 80 degrees, just for reference). But then we had a lunch with them, which was really fun; I sat next to one of their musical directors (not sure what his actual title might be), and we had a really nice conversation, and then we got a tour of the schloss, including many areas I've never seen before (no photos, sorry), and I chatted with several of the students, and was intrigued by how different they were, in personality and outlook, from us science types. And then this evening about 20 YSSPers piled into a bus and went down to Baden, and we saw a performance by the students that just blew me away.
The pieces were all for one piano and one vocalist. All were composed by Schubert. Many of the pieces had words written by Goethe, the rest by various others whose names I don't recognize; all were in German. They alternated between playful and brooding. And these students were on these songs like white on rice. They are mostly quite young, and when we were hanging out with them earlier in the day they seemed like pretty typical young kids; just joking around, texting, having fun. When they stepped onto the stage, however, they channeled an incredible intensity and emotion. They suddenly seemed much older and more mature, and the power of their voices was unbelievable. My favorite singer, a baritone named Martin Häßler, sang a song about I have no idea what (in German) but that was nevertheless amazingly evocative; it had me visualizing the necessity of leaving a land that you love to journey far, far away, perhaps never to return. A mood of mournful reminiscence, with a kind of resignation. He was so moved by the song that he seemed close to tears, and walked off the stage still choked up, which I thought was really beautiful. It was not just a performance for him, I think; it meant more than that, as art should.
Anyway, I'm sure my words are doing nothing to convey the experience, so I'll stop there. We meet up again with the students in a few weeks, and I'm looking forward to that (and I will try to remember my camera this time). For those inclined to try to look up more details, they are students at the Franz-Schubert-Institut (I guess that explains the choice of music), Baden bei Wein, and the event was the Eröffnungskonzert des internationalen Meisterkurses 2010, Meisterklasse von Wolfgang Holzmair. Or something of that sort; the information is all in German, so my grasp of it is tenuous at best.