Chapter One of PERCEVAL’S SECRET


Chapter 1

“Maestro Quinn?” said the stage manager behind him at the stage door.

Evan Quinn adjusted the gold cufflinks he’d inherited from Joseph Caine so his arms could move freely in his white tie and tails. He felt exhilarated and anxious about conducting music forbidden in America: Joseph Caine’s Fifth Symphony “Summer Wind.” Uncle Joe would approve of his defiance. He’d defied the ruling New Economic Party and its Arts Council too. Evan heard the muffled voices of the audience in the concert hall. The lights clicked off leaving him in darkness. He imagined the sound of the first note, visualized the score’s first page. A man’s bass voice spoke from memory:

“You are a true son of America.”

No, not now. He must think only of Uncle Joe’s music. Why think about the deal he’d made with them now? Why not now? He was on the threshold of his future. But not now! He turned to the stage door as he pushed that voice back into his memory’s farthest closet. He must think only of Uncle Joe’s music – his heart and soul. That’s all that mattered in this moment. The audience waited for it.

He inhaled a deep breath and handed his half-full water bottle to the stage manager. The door swung wide. With brisk confidence, he strode on stage through the cello section, his shoulders squared and chin up. Applause rippled the air.

At center stage, Evan bowed, taking in the mass of faces, the giant sparkling crystal chandeliers overhead and the serene gold goddess statues at regular intervals along the walls of the Grosser Saal of Vienna’s Musikverein. Not your usual work place. But his usual job and where he was at home. Smiling, Evan leapt up onto the podium and faced the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra, baton in hand, the symphony’s score open to the first page on the waist-high conductor’s stand. Above and behind the orchestra, burnished organ pipes extended to the ceiling. The applause subsided into the silent, energized anticipation he loved.

Evan gave the downbeat for the basses and cellos to begin the Caine symphony’s brooding introduction. His arms winged wide as if to embrace the violins. Their bowing mirrored his fluid movements.

He knew the grief in this music. Moving his left hand like a seagull riding a gentle air current, Evan quieted the strings as the main theme’s taut melody emerged. The violins played over a menacing line in the cellos, basses and bassoons where he heard Caine’s musical voice again. His sense of time faded into Caine’s musical time which pulsed through his body and guided his hands.

Wood smoke and oranges. He had been four when Uncle Joe had pulled him out from under the grand piano, his favorite place to listen to Uncle Joe play or compose music, and stood him before the keyboard. Uncle Joe had smelled of wood smoke and oranges that day. He’d taught him the correct fingering and arpeggio chords for the C major scale. His first music lesson.

Uncle Joe’s music swelled, and with it, Evan swayed up on his toes and down. Strings and woodwinds keened the return of the introduction. Evan nodded for the brass to enter. The music ascended out of its sorrow but then descended into a grim ostinato. He controlled this angry lamentation, the pizzicato strings, the piano’s brash chords, and the acceleration into a caricature of itself as Caine intended. The galloping rhythms vibrated within his body. He thrust his arms up as if to release them out over the musicians. They were all of one mind, one body: Joseph Caine’s.

Music had been his home since before that first lesson with Uncle Joe. Music had filled the Caine’s house. He had felt loved there, safe and protected. He had wondered if he had been born into the wrong family.

Evan brought his arms close in to his body to restrain his beat for the dirge that diminished into the whisper of the first movement’s final notes. After the cut-off, he brushed a lock of his hair from his eyes and allowed himself a wry smile, catching the eye of the principal flute player. Conducting both humbled and empowered him. Uncle Joe had told him once that music was the brandy of the damned.

After an energetic downbeat, Evan prodded the Scherzo’s droll rhythm out of the basses and cellos as if goading a recalcitrant circus bear. The melodic line in the woodwinds skipped over the lilting, clownish line in the lower strings. The higher voices of the violins taunted them all. Under his breath, Evan sang snatches of the mocking music. He caught the eye of the principal cellist whose mouth twitched with amusement.

A solo violin picked up the cheeky melody, echoed whimsically by a flute. Evan heard Caine’s acerbic snickering in the music. His father’s sardonic laughter. His dead father. Bile flowed into his empty stomach, its sour vapor rising to his throat. The music fell like a guillotine blade to its end. His body rigid, Evan slipped a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped sweat from his face. The silence pressed against his back.

To begin the Largo movement, Evan leaned toward the violins, his eyes intent on them.  Each note of the sad theme drew him back to the summer up north at the cabin the year before Caine’s arrest when Caine was composing this symphony. He, Paul, and Uncle Joe had fished every day, and after they’d set their fishing lines at night, Uncle Joe became their giant cave troll, his long blonde hair falling over his face. He growled and chased them through the shadowy birch, aspen and pine grove behind the cabin until they had fallen into a pile of screaming giggles.

His throat muscles tightened. This musical elegy climbed to a sharp dissonant peak where it hovered unresolved. He listened and watched the musicians and when he turned to the cellos, a shadow of Harold’s face leered at him from above their heads – Harold Smith, Vigiciv gang leader and terror of their neighborhood. The music wailed the shadow away and its sorrow reminded him of his mother’s melancholy face, the pain in her eyes. His movements and beat delicate, he flowed with the strings through to the Largo’s tentative end.

Without a pause, he plunged them into the Finale, into Caine’s summer wind — not the gentle, early morning lake breeze up north, but the hammering gusts of a Minnesotan thunderstorm that demolished barns, ripped up trees and peeled off cabin roofs. Carried by its intensity, Evan moved from side to side. His mind raced ahead while his heart and blood beat in tempo. He must cue the trumpet, breathe with him: Caine’s single trumpet sounded a call defying power and oppression. Strident strings echoed it, and Evan brought them all to a grinding halt.

Exhaling through pursed lips, he directed the movement’s inner section, the violins’ line poignant with memory of loss, the harmony in the violas and cellos tense with grief’s disbelief. His mother had said this music would kill her. His choice to conduct it without AC approval could kill him. His American reality.

Clarinets and oboes played the defiant main theme at half tempo to introduce the Finale’s last section. Evan cued the flute. The strings, trumpets and horns joined the woodwinds. He stooped as if to lift the orchestra and straightened with the music’s long crescendo back into Caine’s muscular summer wind. He fixed on the timpanist’s eye, beating out the deliberate tempo like heavy goosesteps, and the timpani pounded with it through to the end. Evan flung his arms wide to hold the last full-orchestra chord, twisting his body for the cut-off as if to hurl that note at the organ pipes above the musicians.

“Hurrah! Bravo!”

A massive eruption of sound rolled over him in waves. After shaking hands with the concertmaster, who pushed him forward, Evan faced the hall. The audience cheered and applauded; the undulating hands above heads dizzied him. Smiling, he bowed low, whirled back to the orchestra and, with a flourish, motioned them to stand with him. After another bow, he left the stage. The stage manager handed him a towel and his water bottle. Richard, his AC escort waited there too, arms folded across his chest. Evan stuck out his tongue at Richard who grinned and wagged a finger at him.

As usual, Evan wanted to run to the solitude of his dressing room as fast as he could to preserve the music in his mind, but the roar in the hall called him back for bows again and again. The orchestra twice refused to stand with him, applauding as he stepped back into their midst. Several people handed red roses up to him which left him breathless with surprised pleasure. No one gave conductors flowers in America anymore. The audience responded to Joseph Caine’s music, not him. They loved Caine’s music.

Each time he left the stage, he saw Richard enter something in his palm-sized PDA. Of course, Richard counted his bows. Of course, he’d noted his change in the former AC-approved program here in Vienna, especially that he’d conducted a banned symphony by Joseph Caine.  Of course, Richard would make his report.

Giddy and grinning, Evan strode off stage for the last time and directly to his Arts Council escort. “Here, Richard. Thought you might like these to give to your Austrian girlfriends tonight.” He laid the two dozen red roses on top of Richard’s hands and the PDA.

“This better not be a bribe, Quinn.”

“You wouldn’t think to buy a woman flowers, would you?”

Richard gave him a sheepish look. “Thanks. This won’t change my report.”

Ausgezeichnet, Maestro! Excellent.” Robert Waldstein, the concertmaster, embraced Evan. “An unforgettable tribute to your father and to Joseph Caine. Come, please. One last time, Maestro.”

They went downstairs, Richard four steps behind. Musicians bustled in the corridor, putting away their instruments, talking and laughing. Evan paused to talk a moment with each musician, thanking each, telling each how much working with the Philharmonic had meant to him. They smiled at him, hugged him, thanked him for conducting the Caine symphony with them, and wished him a safe trip home the next day. Back upstairs, his other escort, Dave, leaned against the wall a foot left of the conductor’s dressing room door. Evan nodded in greeting to him. Dave only stared.

“Maestro, the reception?” Robert said, grasping his arm.

“Wouldn’t miss it. I’ll change first, Robert.”

Post-concert receptions gave him the cringes. Not many in America and most often for the Hartleben Quartet. He preferred to hang with musicians or go for a run. However, this was the last night of his tour and about half of the musicians planned to attend in his honor. He could never refuse musicians. They were his family. He changed out of his white tie and tails and into khaki-colored chinos and a navy blue sport jacket.

Voices and laughter spilled out of the Green Room into the hallways and nearby Brahms Saal, the smaller, more intimate concert hall and tonight a garden of floral perfume and wine. For the non-musicians, Evan slipped on his public persona – gracious, calm, helpful and smiling with a mental warehouse full of nice, noncommittal phrases to say. He skirted people in formal attire, the women dripping diamonds, rubies and pearls, and collided with a robust red-bearded Austrian who pumped his hand. Other hands brushed across his back, squeezed his shoulder, and patted his arm.

The first musician he encountered, the bearded timpanist, offered him a glass of champagne with the comment, “The watchdogs are letting you out to play tonight.”

“Yeah, it’s the last night in Europe. They want to play too. No alcohol for me, thanks, Bruno,” Evan said, looking around for a server.

“Really? But why not?” the timpanist said, taking a sip from his own glass. “We celebrate you tonight.”

“Food allergy,” he said with an apologetic shrug. This explanation had usually proved more useful than the truth; that is, his mother had been a sweet drunk, had overdosed intentionally on pills and booze, and he believed that his genetics predisposed him to become an alcoholic too. Alcohol caused a loss of control, caused mistakes and unclear thinking, created chaos in life, and killed the brain and liver. He must be clear and in control of himself at all times.

“You are certain they have not reported our telephone calls and the score we sent to you in London?” Robert Waldstein said as he joined them. Robert glanced at Richard across the room, helping himself to the sumptuous buffet.

“Positive.” He smiled. “I told them you needed to consult me about the program. They lost their chance to stop it at the first rehearsal. I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine.”

“We have heard about the American Arts Council’s punishments,” the timpanist said.

“I’ve been a good boy. I’ve made millions for them on this tour.” He heard the sarcasm in his voice and took a deep breath. “They understand the concept of public demand. They will understand the public demand for Caine’s music here. They’ll profit from it. Of course, the NEP profits handsomely somehow from everything.”

Robert grasped Evan’s hand. “I know I have said it before, Maestro, and the musicians, also, but you cannot imagine our joy that you wanted to play Joseph Caine’s music with us and you chose his ‘Summer Wind’ Symphony. Especially with its dedication to your father.”

“I’ve wanted to conduct the Caine Fifth since the first time I read through the score, a month after Caine’s arrest. Given the opportunity the Vienna Philharmonic offered, nothing was going to stop me.”

The timpanist grinned. “You know, we had a pool going on whether or not your watchdogs would let you come to this reception after conducting the Caine.”

“How much did you win?” Evan said, returning the timpanist’s grin.

Robert grunted. “Ja, and another pool to invite your two escorts to play.”

“Really?” Evan glanced at Richard stuffing his face as he ogled the women in the room. “Did they fall for it?”

“The friendly one, him.” The timpanist nodded toward Richard as two more musicians joined them. “The other only wagged his head.”

Evan nodded as the Japanese flutist touched his arm. “Evan, have you followed the Chinese-American talks here?”

“No. First heard about them when I arrived in London.” He noticed a familiar head of white hair above the crowd. “Will you excuse me?”

“Of course, you must mingle, Maestro,” Robert said.

“Come back and say good-bye, Evan,” the timpanist said.

Evan weaved around people toward the tall man with the abundant white hair swept back from his high forehead and skimming his collar. Nigel Fox. Artist Manager. Evan had met him after his first concert in London. Fox carried himself like a military officer in his custom-tailored navy blue pin-striped suit. The London musicians had told him that Fox was the best artist manager in Europe with contacts and connections all over the world and a stable of clients that included Anders Zukav. Evan had heard a lot about Zukav the last three weeks.

“Good to see you again, Nigel,” Evan said, shaking his hand.

Fox’s hawk-like face softened into a smile. “I loved the Caine, Evan. Brilliant.”

“Thanks. In town on business or pleasure?”

“To hear you conduct the Caine. But my offer still stands. If you decide to work without the Arts Council, you’ll need representation and I’d –”

“And protection. The AC would never allow it. But, I’ll keep your card.”

“Maestro! Maestro Quinn!”

“I’ll leave you to your public, Evan,” Nigel said with a chuckle.

A short wrestler of a man in his twenties cut through the crowd, his gait bouncing with energy, his shoulder-length blonde curls shimmering around his face in which wide-set large blue eyes flanked a prominent wolfish nose. A gold earring, a small hoop in his right earlobe, evoked a jolting memory for Evan – the glitter of a gold earring in Uncle Joe’s right ear, the same sunny exuberance, the same craggy face, prominent sharp nose curved off center from a childhood break, and the same long blonde hair. A statuesque African woman pursued this physical reincarnation of Uncle Joe. She collided with him when he stopped and smoothed his navy blue tunic before speaking.

“Maestro Quinn,” the Reincarnation said with a deferential bow of his head. “I loved Caine! Fantastic! And to hear Caine symphony under your baton, American conductor so close with composer –”

He recognized the Reincarnation’s accent. He’d known Juilliard students who spoke with the same accent. If Joseph Caine had been Russian, this guy would be him. Goosebumps raised the hairs on the back of Evan’s neck.

“Vasia,” the African woman said, her accent German. She grabbed his shoulder, with a quick glance at Evan. “The Maestro –”

“My God! So rude of me. Please allow me to introduce – I am Vassily Vladimirovich Bartyakov. I am pianist. I study at Hochshule für Musik. Here. In Vienna.”

Evan shook Bartyakov’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, Vassily. I’m always happy to meet a musician. Do you know Caine’s Piano Concerto?”

“Of course! I love it! We play it together, yes? A true honor for me to meet you, to talk with you — here, I give my phone number and –”

“Vasia, please let the Maestro –”

Bartyakov handed him a slip of paper. “Please you can call me anytime. Oh, so sorry.  May I to introduce my girlfriend, Greta Fasching. She works for radio station Österreich Eins.”

Evan cleared his throat as he shook her firm, dry hand. “I’ve been listening to your station while eating breakfast every morning this week, Ms. Fasching. Nice to meet you.”

Serenity radiated out of her ebony eyes and warmed him. She smelled of roses. Her black hair fell in a thick braid down her back over a white silk Cossack blouse.

“I loved the concert, Maestro. Especially the Caine.”

“Thank you. I’ve wanted to travel to Africa. What country are you from?”

“Austria, Maestro.” She smiled. “My mother emigrated with her parents from Somalia when she was a young girl. Maestro, we wish you might remain here with us.”

Evan nodded. “I’d love to stay in Vienna. Definitely.”

“Maestro Quinn!” A Viennese matron of indeterminate age, dressed in teal brocade and her face thick with make-up, pushed past Greta and Bartyakov. She grasped Evan’s hand and looked up at him. “You are the greatest conductor in the world!” the woman said in a loud, vibrato voice. “You must come to dinner tomorrow. You must hear my granddaughter play the violin.”

He glanced past the woman to Richard, PDA in hand, leaning against the wall across the room.

Copyright 2014 Cinda C. Yager

 

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