Paul Greenberg

LITTLE ROCK -- It's a beautiful sunset, as always, when seen from the Great Hall of the Clinton Library with a glass of wine in your hand and the chamber music about to begin. The anticipation is palpable. Good things are imminent. You can feel it.

Old friends are here and there in the crowd, new friends about to be made. Everything seems suspended in that moment before the first note. We need only find the right key, and all else will follow. Chord after chord. Beauty awaits. We know it.

Silver-haired ladies, lovers of music all, can be seen scattered like sentinels on guard. So long as they're here, there is still continuity, there is still civilization.

This is the last concert of the season. Is it my always pessimistic imagination, or aren't there as many grandes dames as usual in attendance? What will happen when they are gone? A brief shiver runs through me.

The sun is blinding at this time of day through all the glass, a whole wall of it, in the Great Hall, but it will soon set and the music will go on. Sight is a nice complement to sound, just as this chamber is to chamber music. But the visual isn't essential, as comforting and familiar as the sight of Little Rock's snaggle-toothed skyline is outside. It is the music that counts, that changes everything: the day, daily thoughts, daily assumptions.

Music, like style, isn't something that's just applied later, an Extra Added Attraction. It is central. It permeates. It transforms. It changes everything. Wallace Stevens's lines from "The Man With The Blue Guitar" come back:

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."
The man replied,
"Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

Tonight's first piece, according to the program, is "Corner in Manhattan" by Michael Torke. We're told it comes complete with taxicab horns. In homage to Gershwin's "An American in Paris." In short, it's been done. I wince. This is going to be awful.

As happens with embarrassing regularity, I am mistaken. The first movement, "Sixth Ave. in the Afternoon," is energetic, engaging, enchanting. Delightful, delicious, de-lovely, as Cole Porter would say. And did.

There's a rhythmic theme to the whole piece, like the Mozartian accompaniment to all those stagecoach rides in Milos Forman's "Amadeus." You don't just hear the hoof beats but feel them. Now you're in Little Rock., Ark., but you're on Sixth Avenue in New York, too.

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.