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  • There is a dark and furious piece of music that always reminds me of him. It is naked, bold, demanding, it takes my breath away. “Schnittke will do that to you,” he said. He tried to teach me to play, and while that was amusing for a while, I certainly preferred his fingers on the instrument rather than my own.

    The first time I met him was at a bizarre dance performance in the old theatre in my hometown, many years ago. There were five dancers, the men dressed in crimson red, the women in golden silk dresses that seemed to change colour with every move, it was as if they were on fire. They tiptoed swiftly across the stage, their nimble movements contradicted by sudden gusts of breath. For several minutes, the sound of their exertions was left unaccompanied, creating a nervous atmosphere that made me feel uneasy. Then the tense silence broke, like a dam, and the music overflowed.

    I was unprepared. The dancers stopped, abruptly, in awkward positions, their heads turned toward the edge of the stage, and the light fell on the two musicians in the orchestra pit. I had come mainly because the pianist was a friend, but I soon forgot about him; it was the cellist that caught my attention. His head was tilted, his mouth was half open but his eyes were tightly closed. The light scattered when it hit his face, and droplets of shadows enhanced his sharp features, sketching brutish messages between the lines on his face; the shadow-play had me entranced.

    My eyes followed his hand as it slid down the slender neck of the glowing, auburn cello, her full body trapped between his solid thighs. His fingers pressed on the strings, forcefully, his arm moved in sharp, sudden turns across her waist, and she wailed. The dancers began to move, slowly at first, then faster and faster, around and around, spinning like whirligigs, their breath a supplementary rhythm. I felt dizzy; I couldn’t look at them.

    *

    The way he bowed his neck, approaching her deep tones, and the way she seemed to soften, leaning back toward his chest and shoulder, surrendering to the timbre and intensely vibrating under his versed touch. His arm lifted, he pulled the bow slowly across the thin A-string, all the way to the tip, and she whined, a sound so high-pitched it echoed the noise of metal against glass, a sustained and tormenting screech. She was begging for pizzicato, and he dropped the bow. His fingers transformed her sonorous voice into short and percussive sounds, plucking so hard that the strings hit the wood. And then, finally, he brought her down, gently, with a continuous glissando, holding the tone until it faded into a whisper.


    To this day, I can’t listen to that piece of music without feeling a certain tingling sensation. Schnittke might do that to you.
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