Vasilas Kostas seated with his lute

Concert for One

Though it was the first day of fall, the lunchtime sun in the plaza pushed the temperature over 90. Luckily, the shipping container was air-conditioned.

I’d come for a Concert for One, not knowing what to expect. The concerts were the brainchild of Rayna Yun Chou, a violist who, along with many of her fellow classical musicians, felt isolated from the audiences for whom she played. To remedy the situation, she created one-on-one concerts at which one musician plays for one person for one minute. Chou staged the first concerts in her native Taiwan. Now she was collaborating with Celebrity Series of Boston.

The shipping container, painted an impossible-to-miss yellow, was next to a tandoori food truck and across from two pro-gun activists, who sat at a table with a sign that read “I’M PRO CHOICE. PICK YOUR GUN.” above drawings of a handgun, an automatic rifle, and a shotgun.

Plaza with yellow shipping container and food trucksSeveral young women in blue T-shirts hovered officially near the container and next to the informational signs, shade umbrellas, and rented palm plants. There didn’t seem to be a line. I approached the blue-shirted woman holding the clip board and told her I’d come for a concert.

I waited behind the one guy ahead of me. We stood on the strip of artificial grass running along the edge of the container. Everything was new and clean and perfectly organized. I both admired and was annoyed by the flawlessness of the operation. It seemed at odds with intimacy.

Another blue-shirted young woman stood by the door and acted as gate keeper, timing each minute on her iPhone, then gently rapping on the door when the minute was up. We couldn’t hear the music inside or tell what instrument was being played. Another gentle rap. The guy ahead of me went in. Another rap. My turn.

The inside of the cargo container was surprisingly bright. Afternoon light flooded through the retrofitted window. The door shut behind me. I shook hands with the handsome man holding a lute. He looked 30ish. We sat down in chairs opposite each other, our knees not far apart. He had thick brown hair, a moustache and light beard. He was dressed in a linen jacket over a gray T-shirt with black pants and brown leather shoes. Calmly, unhurriedly, the lute player introduced himself as Vasilis Kostas.

Photos and recordings were prohibited, yet I asked if I could take his picture. Graciously, he agreed. I quickly took a photo and put my phone away. He looked at me, then down at the steel strings of his lute, and began to play.

He played beautifully. I know little about music and had no idea what the song was, though it sounded Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean. It took just a few moments to know I loved the music, and a few moments to lament how soon it would end, then my attention returned to the music. I found joy in the generous minute and then there was a rap at the door.