Maestro Suzuki doesn't buy it. In his insatiable sense of perfection he interrupts, waving and clapping so as to tear even the last stragglers out of their blissful state of raucous rapture and bring them back into the reality of rehearsal. "Please, keep cool." We are familiar with this directive. By now, it is almost a mantra. Keep Cool. Our continuo score, a veteran of six full performances on Léa's and my stand, has "KEEP COOL" written in large letters over at least five movements (some with added googly eyes in the O's). To top things off, schola cantorum's unofficial tour t-shirts say "Keep Cool" on the back (the front was reserved for Maestro Suzuki's face).
At first it was hard to understand the motivation behind this request. Keep Cool. In the thick of playing such music, how are we supposed to keep cool, and why? Performances and recordings with Maestro Suzuki at the helm are far from cool, at least in the sense of "of or at a fairly low temperature" i.e. dispassionate. He does not believe in the effect of excitement achieved through chaos, but rather has convincingly shown that precision, even/especially in thick, polyphonic and agitated stretches of music is a sound path toward creating whatever the desired effect. But still: it's just no fun to keep cool all the time.
Join me please for a quick flashback: It is our first full day in Japan. (It's hard to say by now how long ago that was – sometime last month.) I had promised myself not to nap for more than 30 minutes. Having a Spanish roommate seemed to provide some redundant justification for a solid siesta. Two hours later, 4 pm. I could sleep for a few more hours, but Antonio silently and gently drags me out of bed simply by studying a map of Tokyo and putting on his shoes in my line of vision – the perfect roommate for a tour! We are going to Ginza. Getting to the subway is painful, the waking-up process thoroughly unfinished. It's worth the pain when we get to this bustling neighborhood, the tiny restaurants draping the sides of the elevated train tracks and lining the adjacent alleys by the dozens. The tight quarters in these eateries are intimidating, as though the general lack of English menus weren't enough. Antonio is over it, though, and just goes for it. A perfect travel companion.
We end up at a sushi bar, standing room only, maximum capacity: 12. No english menus, but much to point at. Either at the pictures on the menu or at the neat piles of fish lined up behind the glass along the bar. The two business men in the corner on the on side of where we squeeze in seem to find us amusing, but how couldn't they. The sushi-barista rolls out two cane leaves in front of us – that's where the sushi goes. Here we go. We order two at a time, the sushi-barista nods (or does he?), gently makes a mark on our tab with a red pencil without looking and wordlessly assembles our order within seconds: he takes a small portion of the rice from the large wooden tray, forms it into a bite-sized shape, adds whatever it is we ordered to be on top, and places it on our respective leaf. The sashimi he elegantly wraps into a cone of dried sea-weed and hands it directly to us.
All in all, for Japan this is probably an unremarkable restaurant, but we are grateful for the feeling of having penetrated at least one thin layer of Japanese everyday life and culinary culture. And as odd as it may sound, I suddenly feel like I have a new understanding of Keep Cool. The sushi-barista is living it. Hardly ever a word (not just to us disoriented white people). But we always know that he has registered our order despite the lack of any tangible gesture. His movements look slow, but everything is done gracefully and efficiently with precision within a few seconds, the elegant presentation included. Keep Cool. There is no direct correlation between making sushi and conducting Bach's B minor mass. (Please direct any refutes of this statement to email@example.com, and cc Christoph Wolff.) I don't even want to say that coolness is a prevailing Japanese thing (though I did meet some cool Japanese people over the past two weeks!). But when I saw Mr. Sushi-Barista living Keep Cool in the heart of crazy bustling Ginza, I also saw right before me Maestro Suzuki conducting Cum Spiritu Sancto, and I smiled. A gluttonous feast of the senses!