Turangalila and Roulette in Monte Carlo
I'm in the middle of a mini-tour of tax havens at the moment. Currently I'm staying with some very dear friends in Vevey, who were my hosts when I played in the Clara Haskil competition almost 20 years ago (I have a couple of concerts with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra at the beginning of this week). And last week I played Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic and Yakov Kreizberg. This was a rather exceptional experience, and not only because of the monumental feeling that Kreizberg brought to the piece. It was a much-awaited event for the orchestra and audience because he had been ill for a number of months and this was the first concert he was able to undertake as the orchestra's new chief conductor; the combination of these facts and the great performance led to the most crazy, seemingly endless ovation I ever experienced. It is one thing for an audience to love a performance but to see an orchestra respond with such respect and admiration for a conductor was really touching, and it was clear that Kreizberg got the message.
After a post-concert meal, I went to the grand casino to play roulette with Cynthia Millar, who had just performed her 100th Turangalila on that electronic marvel, the Ondes Martenot. Neither of us had ever gambled in our lives before, and strangely enough I had a really good feeling about it in the afternoon. In the event I went in with 40 euros and came out with 210! There are many activities in life where one can be successful the first time because one is not yet aware of the difficulties, and my instinct was to imagine this was the case with my roulette experience. My wife tells me she also was very successful the first time she went to the casino. But of course, roulette is a game of pure chance - there is no skill in picking the right number. I don't think you can even maximise your chances according to what kind of bet you place because the return of a winning bet seems to be strictly related to the amount of risk you take, so I suspect that a monkey would do just as well as the most seasoned roulette player. And if I think back on the day, I remember I had lost my 'lucky feeling' by the evening, and I won anyway. So why should I connect my success to my lucky feeling and not to my lack of it later on? I guess it is more attractive for the ego to imagine one has a subtle influence over these things than to acknowledge one is helpless in the face of pure chance. I think this desire to believe in a control we do not have must be true to an extent because, absurdly, there is a display beside the roulette table showing the previous 15 or so numbers to come up. What possible reason can there be for this except to encourage people to find patterns, to feel that they can give themselves a better chance of winning next time?