Heinz Hall Was Not Ringing with the Sound of Silence

Aug 13, 2000 (Updated Apr 26, 2004)

The Bottom Line Absolutely enchanting. Celestial singer, stupendous songs, inspired instrumentalists. Highly recommended for anyone.

On July seventh, I had the distinct pleasure of attending an Art Garfunkel concert in Pittsburgh. Earlier in spring, I had rekindled my lifelong interest in this fantastic performer, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover in June that he would be appearing in Pittsburgh, a mere two-hour drive from my home in Erie. I of course insisted that we get tickets, and my mom, dad and I purchased tickets in the twenty-five dollar bracket. There were five price ranges, with seventy-five being the most expensive.

The way Heinz Hall was arranged, the theater was on an incline so that no matter where you were, you had a good view of the stage. Of course, since we were nearly at the top, it was hard to make out Mr. Garfunkel's facial features, but we could see him clearly throughout the concert. The one disappointment I had was that Mr. Garfunkel did not show up until after the intermission. The Pittsburgh Philharmonic was fantastic, but I'm afraid I was so busy anticipating Artie that I didn't enjoy it much.

After the intermission, the lights dimmed, then dimmed some more, and then some more. Soon it was pitch black with just a dim light on part of the orchestra. I was sure that they were doing this so Art Garfunkel could sneak onstage and suddenly the lights would come on and he would be there, so I watched very carefully. As soon as I saw that vest, I knew I'd spotted him. A moment later he was in the spotlight, and he began to sing The Things We've Handed Down. Well, that's how it turned out, but it was hard to hear him at all because the crowd was so busy applauding.

Once the welcome committee died down, he sang the song, and it was phenomenal. He then introduced himself as "the tall, very serious Art Garfunkel." "I'll bet you're surprised," he chuckled, "that a man my age could have this much hair. The years have been good to my hairline." After saying how glad he was to be performing at Heinz Hall with the Philharmonic, he launched into A Heart in New York.

Then came a short reverie on the state of America, and by way of introduction Art said that this was one of the most beautiful songs Paul had ever written. Then he sang a heart-wrenching rendition of American Tune, the melody of which was based on a Bach chorale which Art had shown Paul back in the sixties. I was lost in the magic at this point, and I can't clearly recall the order of his programme.

He paid tribute to Jimmy Webb, who he hailed as the greatest romantic songwriter of our time, and he sang Skywriter, a song Webb had written for and about him during the eighties. He mentioned his "adorable nine-year-old son" and sang Dreamland, a Mary Chapin Carpenter song found on his Songs from a Parent to a Child. When he sang I Only Have Eyes for You, he introduced it by saying, "This is one of your favorite songs, and I hope it's one of mine as well." I thought I could just make out a Gene Wilder "scratch that, reverse it" face after that one.

Of course it was the Simon and Garfunkel tunes that most of the audience was most familiar with, and therefore most eager to hear. El Condor Pasa was the first, I believe. Cecilia was pure fun, amplified by a minutes-long drum solo by Garfunkel's percussionist. By the time he was done, the drummer looked about ready to have a heart attack.

Before Mrs. Robinson, Artie launched into a monologue about the reasons he and Paul broke up. "It could be," he mused, "that in the beginning, I wanted to call the group Garfunkel and Simon. He cleverly convinced me that the names really should be in alphabetical order...Or it could be this. Once, I suggested we make an extremely minor change in Mrs. Robinson. I suggested instead of 'Jesus loves you more that you may know, whoa, whoa, whoa!' we sing 'Jesus loves you more than you ever knew, woo, woo, woo!' But he's so touchy!" When he came to that part the last time, he sang his version, and the audience applauded and laughed, and I thought I caught a glance of a sheepish grin.

It's hard to say what the best part of the concert was for me. I was utterly swept away by the intensity of his gorgeous love song, All I Know, during which his pianist had a chance to show off his remarkable talent. This segued directly into the ethereal Bright Eyes, which was executed with quiet perfection. After this heart-stopping medley, I thought my hands would fall off from clapping.

But I knew the concert had to end with Bridge Over Troubled Water, and I needed to save a little energy for that. If anything, it was more incredible seeing him do it live, in concert, hitting that high note with all the volume and strength he could muster, than it was to hear it on that album that was such a glorious sunset for Simon and Garfunkel. The applause after Bridge was, of course, thunderous, and everyone was on their feet. He left then, but he returned for an encore.

He did Scarborough Fair, the one song I had figured he wouldn't do, but the orchestra did an admirable job of playing Canticle since there was no one else to sing it. He then talked about his college days, "before I realized I was just waiting for Sound of Silence to come along and change my life." And he spoke of his days of street-singing with Paul in England, with Kathy collecting money. He called the song "pure nostalgia" but also said it was the most beautiful love song Paul ever wrote. And he sang Kathy's Song with all the loveliness that we were used to hearing in For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.

Finally he sang The Sound of Silence, and the orchestra assisted in creating a very spooky effect. It started out very quiet and unassuming, but it grew more intense as the song wore on, and Garfunkel paced the stage and actually shouted at one point. The song ended on a discordant note, and it was very effective. He then thanked the orchestra and the audience again, and he left. Then he returned once again with an almost apologetic "We're gonna do one more" and sang Goodnight, My Love.

It was a pretty full night. The conductor had mentioned at the beginning that he had rarely enjoyed working with a performer more than he had with Art Garfunkel. And as I watched him on the stage, I did not notice the slightly receding hairline or the weathered quality about his face. I just saw the same old Artie, dressed comfortably in a pair of jeans and a vest, at once the most ordinary of people and possessor of an extraordinary voice that transcends all normalcy. I couldn't help but walk away feeling dazed; I had been just hundreds of feet away from a living legend.

I was utterly astonished by my good fortune when I discovered he would be coming to Erie this autumn. What are the chances of that happening?? I now look forward to an even cozier setting in my hometown, and an evening of just Art Garfunkel (and maybe, if I'm extra lucky, his son?). I could see him a hundred times in concert and never get bored. You've still got it, Artie, and it just keeps getting better. Something tells me we won't be hearing the sound of silence from him for a long, long time.

Garfunkel reviews:
Up 'Til Now
Everything Waits to Be Noticed
Songs from a Parent to a Child
The Animals' Christmas
Angel Clare
Across America - DVD
Pittsburgh in Concert
Erie in Concert
Art Garfunkel website

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