Memories of my years with him occupy my mind all week long. There are so many. Because the partnership between orchestra director and principal conductor is one that goes through a lot together. Just like an artistic director and managing director, for that matter. You have joint responsibility, so the cliché ‘for better or worse’ applies in full force. If it clicks, like with Ted and me, you can form a wonderful team. It was like that with Yakov too. And yet I knew hardly anything about him. Because even though his manner was extrovert and extremely warm-hearted, he still kept his heart and soul to himself. The closest I ever got to him was straight after a concert, when I went to see him in the conductor’s room. He had just spoken through the music; opened up and shared himself. The first glance we exchanged said everything about what had happened between us that evening. I had been given a glimpse of his soul and he could read in my eyes what I’d seen. Through Beethoven, he’d told about his will power, through Mahler about his hope, through Strauss about his humour, through Rachmaninov about his warmth and through Shostakovitch about his loneliness. I had recognised it and felt it myself. Just like all the other people who were there.
I’m reminded of it later in the week, when watching the masterclass given by John Neumeier for the Friends of the Dutch National Ballet. Modestly, yet passionately, the American choreographer talked about ‘his’ Sylvia. It is an old ballet with a classical story and a prescribed score, but he re-choreographed it and told it differently. First and foremost, Neumeier’s Sylvia is a story about people and their emotions. The dancing in Sylvia is not for the sake of dancing, but for expressing something; for telling a story.
In the masterclass, Jurgita and Arthur dance one of the final scenes. The two lovers central to the story meet one another again by chance after many years. They are together again for a short while. But they also know that it will soon be over. Life has other plans for them.
Neumeier is sitting with Ted in the corner by the piano, where our pianist Micha emulates the sounds of the orchestra. 150 people are packed into Studio 4, deep in the basement of The Amsterdam Music Theatre. The fluorescent lighting is harsh and merciless. Jurgita and Arthur are wearing practice clothes. They have no make-up on. There is no stage.
But John Neumeier does not need a theatre, scenery, costumes and orchestra in order to open up our souls. He speaks with movement, and that is enough. For a brief moment, Studio 4 is the most beautiful place on earth. I may possibly have imagined it, but when the lovers have to let each other go at the end of the pas de deux, I see tears in the eyes of all the Friends. In those few minutes, John Neumeier has told us something about his Sylvia. About unfulfilled desires, about broken illusions and about cherished dreams. And we have recognised it and felt it ourselves.
On that sad Wednesday evening, he told me something about untimely partings. About dancing together, and then letting the other person go. And about life, which sometimes has other plans for us.