Paul Greenberg

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- First comes the talk. It can't be helped, much like the announcers' chitchat on KLRE, the classical music station here in the middle of Arkansas. It's a small station, but there are those who love it. Putting up with the chatter is the tax you pay for getting to hear the music that is the station's reason for being. Think of it as verbal static. It may be annoying between compositions, but the wait is worth it.

On occasion the exasperated listener, wondering how much longer he'll have to wait for his Bach or Mozart, may be tempted to shout: Less talk, more music! It helps at such times to remember, gratefully, that Little Rock is blessed in having not one but two public radio stations. Many places have only one, or none at all. We've got one for talk and one for music, and the talk station steps up to jazz at night. Big improvement.

But now all the talk has started to follow the listener right into the concert hall. For it's become customary to introduce the program, sometimes at unfortunate length and in folksy tones. As a conservative, I should be the last to object to custom, that wisest of counselors. Besides, if patience is a virtue, and it is, the opportunity to practice it should be welcomed.

This evening the ever-patient patrons of the local chamber-music series get a short but still much too long introduction, beginning with the most memorable (unfortunately) selection of the evening:

Lutoslawski's String Quartet, a mix of notes and chance in the best/worst modern tradition. As is explained by one of the musicians, "none of us is supposed to play together." For the most part, they succeed.

The talented musicians do their best to slouch toward anarchy but never quite get there. That's the thing about order; it has this way of emerging on its own, as in time and nature and geometry, imposing itself despite our best efforts to upset it. Much like the laws of random selection, which are anything but random.

The musicians wear funereal black, fitting for a work that's not supposed to have a pulse. Are they beginning now, or only tuning up? It isn't clear, a sure indication they're following the composer's instructions.

It's all pretty dreadful but there's a fascination to it. Where'll they go next? Do they know? Does it matter? Just as long as it ends, please God.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.