days of naze
|as i ponder weak and weary
An obnoxiously large
(101k .wav) audio greeting
from the Author.
|March 13, 1999
I'd like to take you to a concert I went to Saturday night.
Right this way into my trusty 2-door steed. And we're off. The nice part of living in the inner-city is the short drive downtown.
Slap! [Me whacking your hand as you reach to turn on the radio.] Sorry. That's one of my little pre-concert rituals. When I had a regular gig I purposely left the stereo off on the way to the hall. The idea is that the first music of the journey is the sound of your warm up noodling or the first tones of the performers. The sensually-attenuated among you may prefer to consider this a sort of inverted foreplay.
Down the Boulevard, across the bridge, up Alder, around the corner into the parking garage (or as Moe of The Simpsons prefers "car hole").
What was that? Oh, yes, thank you. You look very nice tonight as well. No, I haven't won The Masters recently. It just so happens that my only really good sports jacket is green wool.
A short four block jaunt and the volunteer ticket taker awaits us at the rear entrance to The Schnitz (no one but the press calls it the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall). This is the part where I have to pretend you're invisible. No hard feelings, eh?
Pretty good seats, huh? This box seat is one of my few luxuries. They weren't terribly expensive. I bought my first season tickets shortly after graduating out of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. My pals in the office made sure I got front and center.
A rather stout fellow in a yellow shirt and suspenders takes the seat to my immediate right. I don't recognize him. He looks a touch like Burl Ives but with white hair. Puffing and wheezing, he settles into his seat. I've been fighting off a cold for the last few weeks and so I've set out five partially unwrapped cough drops on the balcony edge immediately in front of us. Uncontrollable and/or persistant coughing is just not cool at a concert. Nor is the crinkling of cough drop wrappers in a quiet section.
I offer the gentleman the use of my cough drop supply should he have need. He gallantly reciprocates by extracting a small leather purse from his pocket -- it is filled with Skittles™.
Glancing down the row past you to my left is a gentleman with a very large camera on a tripod. This must be a serious badass deal because there is no way they would ever allow a camera flash to go off during the concert.
The camera man is sitting exactly in the seats that had been reserved for the family of Maestro Emeritus Jacob Avshalomov. I'm seriously pissed. My understanding is that the PYP Association is no longer sending him complimentary tickets. Can you imagine being snubbed by the very organization you invested forty years of your life building? It reeks of some serious bullshit politics.
Let's speak no more of it tonight -- it will surely disrupt our wa.
The lights dim. The co-concertmaster (a young lady - no, it's not "concertmistress") takes her place beside the podium to direct the tuning. Moments after, Huw Edwards, the conductor makes a dashing entrance in his black tails and raises his baton.
I have taken to closing my eyes just prior to the first note of music through the first several phrases. I feel a bit self-conscious doing so, concerned that my fellow-concertgoers will think I've nodded off. Not so concerned, mind you, that I open them. The reward is sweet. Smooth dense, organ-like chords from the strings fill the hall. The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Concert has begun with Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) by Ralph (don't forget the famous English silent "L"!) Vaughan Williams.
I played this piece with the orchestra about thirteen years ago. The sound and texture is a product of the scoring -- the ensemble (consisting solely of strings) is divided into two mini-orchestras. Mr. A had one orchestra on the left and the other on the right for a stereo type effect. Huw opts for a very interesting forward/back split that produces an echo interaction between them.
I am not nervous, which shouldn't trigger a sense of melancholy but it does. Whenever I have to perform in front of a group of any size, the adrenalin starts to pump. Before making it into the PYP proper I watched the concerts with a great vicarious excitement and anticipation that one day I would be up there. Once I made it in, I never lost the sweaty palms and pre-concert jitters. As odd as it may seem, as an alumnus out in the audience, I experienced an involuntary nervous thrill predicated on the bedrock truth that essentially a thousand things could happen that would wreck the performance.
It's been twelve years. Am I just another member of the audience now? Or is it a blessing to be freed to let the music come to me on it's own terms?
Someone on the orchestra level of the hall claps loudly before the last dying notes of the Vaughn Williams have faded. People, the best way to avoid intruding into the piece is to watch the conductor. If his arms are still up, hang on until he drops them. [Oo, I'm strict!]
Stage change. Piano rolled out. Wind players rolled out. Burl Ives asks me about the filament line that extends straight from the outside of the balcony edge. I point to one of two microphones suspended high above the audience and how the filament keeps it from swaying. He gives me a devilish look and reaches over to the one nearest us and asks, "How about if I give this one a yank?".
I'm starting to like this old coot.
A pretty seventeen year old woman with porcelain skin and short black hair in a jewelled hairband [Ladies, is that what it's called?] takes the stage. She's wearing a fun ensemble that I will try to describe. The top part is black, sleeveless and fairly tight. It triggers the snide description of "jogging top" from my seatmate. The skirt part is white with a pink sash-like deal that twines around her torso down around the skirt. I dig it. I believe that a soloist should seize the moment; you are in front of 2500 people, no need to be coy.
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4. I am not a huge piano concerto fan, but am a true believer in Ludwig so I focus on listening and scribbling my impressions down on the program. The first movement is unusual in that the soloist's part is calm and soothing while the orchestra plays the role of rabble rouser.
Program defiled by scribblings. Bitchy-ness: not much looking back; hate the new welded violin logo. The cartouche had history and grace. However, it was musically a very fine concert.
Her hand placements and releases have a balletic quality. The second movement (Andante con moto) gives me a feeling of nostalgia, not a mopey, self-pitying kind, but a nobler sort. The young woman, very much in the moment, softly shakes her head, eyebrows raised. She's not signaling to the conductor -- it's a response to the feelings that arise from the music. She's probably not even aware of it. It's the "no" of "I can't believe how much beauty there is in this sadness".
Performance is always a dialogue to some degree with the composer.
While I am drawn into this spectacle, our new friend seems to have nodded off and is emitting quiet snoring noises.
(I swear to god I hear a sympathetic vibration from the snare drum in the unmanned percussion section. Someone must have forgotten to switch that puppy off. Bad percussion players! Bad!)
The last movement rouses him with it's Rossini-like gallop.
I formally introduce myself to Burl, who turns out to be a fellow alumnus -- a horn player who graduated out in 1945. D.B. (yes, his real initials!) remembered sitting in the back row of this massive balcony at a Ravi Shankar concert in the late 60's back when this place was the Paramount.
He spent a good part of the Fifties in NYC where he jammed with a somewhat notorious blind, experimental street musician named MoonDog. D.B. says he played some horn on a couple of the albums, but mostly percussion. These things I would not have guessed.
The lobbies of the second and third floors end in balconies that overlook a grand lobby entryway of white marble. I was zoning out a bit when through the main doors a tall Scandinavian woman in a white blouse and black skirt appears and sashays across the stone floor generating some intense heat.
During most PYP intermissions I'm able to find one or two folks I recognize in the crowd. I circulate. I'll be damned if I didn't walk right past a woman who could pass for Rob's wife, Julie.
Bong, bong. Back to the concert. Care for a mint?
Huw takes to the microphone to say a few words, in his own quiet, understated fashion, about the anniversary. The orchestra will be traveling to many outlying cities in the region to celebrate. "In fact, we'll be visiting more Oregon cities than the New Carissa."
Ever the punster.
Greeting Prelude "Happy Birthday" by Igor Stravinsky. Huge horn section. D.B. is pumped. Brass swagger. And then it's over. About 90 seconds. Kind of a symphonic "guess what? that's what!" deal.
The program finishes with a very technically challenging work by Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances. Sergei wrote this in 1940 for the Philadelphia Orchestra. It turned out to be the last thing he lived to write.
It all begins with a percussive chip-chip-chip spicatto from the strings. The winds glide melodically above. The second movement continues the slightly creepy tone of the work with a menacing waltz. Muted brass, mild dissonance, clarinet runs, great upswells that rise and then sink into nothing. A soli (plural for solo) section for the violas!
Some people clap between movements which doesn't bother me much anymore. The old school dictates that one holds applause for the end of the piece. The pause between the movements is part of the work. That was one of the snobby rules that helped differentiate you from the uninitiated. The new school gained ground after the head of a major music school published an essay called "Why I Clap Between Movements". I have not read the essay but can easily form arguments to support that thesis. A genuine relationship between audience and performer should allow for spontaneous expression. If you really, really dig the second movement of the Symphonie Fantastique, shouldn't you be able to clap and shout a "bravo!" at the movement's close? Saving it all up for the end doesn't really give the musicians a sense of which parts resonated most with you.
The final movement begins slowly with another waltz and then kicks into high gear. A Gregorian chant-like theme dominates. D.B. informs me that Sergei was obssessed with them. The rhythmic push and pull keeps me off balance, wondering where the composer will take us next. My question is answered in the final lines where everything fades to a final, measured stroke of the gong. Huw holds and allows it to recede into nothingness.
I stand and clap loudly.
Here is my standing ovation policy. A standing o is your personal seal of special favor, and as such, it should be used with discretion. There are several components to most performances; one or many may be deserving of something greater than a perfunctory clap: the composition itself, the performance (ensemble and/or soloists), the challenge presented by the piece in relation to the caliber of the performers, and various and sundry elements of chemistry floating about in the night.
I have no problem standing for a good, solid performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. It's an unbelievable piece of writing. I'm standing for the orchestra but I'm standing perhaps even moreso for Ludwig. The bottom line is that a standing o must be earned. Otherwise it becomes a devalued currency, like the peso.
Tonight I'm standing for the orchestra. This piece was a helluva stretch for a youth symphony. There were a few bumps along the way but overall it was very impressive. And props (although I'm not sure I'm actually qualified to use b-boy praise) to Sergei for an unusual and lovely score.
Afterwards as I'm leaving a low key reception for the orchestra at a nearby location (at which I recognize no one but my new friend D.B.), I nearly run into a rather large, well dressed black man. Ben Canada, the new superintendant of Portland Public Schools, who we recently lured away from Atlanta. Local celebrity! I extend hand and congratulate him on his early successes; he lauds the performance for a sentence or two until others leaving spot Canada, glom on for the celebrity buzz and pull him away.
Heading back toward the car takes me past the backstage entrance and smack dab into the maestro himself: Huw. He has changed into casual clothes and is loading an expensive looking flower arrangement into the passenger seat of his Honda. I congratulate him for the strong performance. He's clearly still buzzed on the adrenaline although he must be exhausted. Huw offers that there were a few "edgy" bits in the Rachmaninov. I agree but counter that programming the piece was a gutsy move that worked.
Perhaps I am mistaking his subdued demeanor for regret; I walk with him for a half block as he heads to the reception offering words of encouragement and a pat on the back, as one should with a comrade one has downed a few pints with.
Canada, again moving to leave spots Huw -- I bid him good night and amble back to my transport.
There is one final element of tonight's ritual: the drive home. I love the city at night in the rain. Sans rain it ain't too bad either. I turn on the radio. Jazz. Always jazz after a night at the symphony. The aural equivalent of raspberry sorbet after a great dinner. Nice.
Crossing the Willamette, the Portland skyline reflected in the river, a woman who has known the blues sings "Good morning, Heartache / come in and sit down".
p.s. Hello University of Texas, Ohio State, Glaxowellcome, and Bigbear.net. :-)
|previously on days of naze:
a lesson in humility
what have you done for
|May you never be more active
when you are doing nothing.
|in the feedbag:
job: A couple friends of mine left the company for greener pastures, leaving a vacuum that presented a "sideways up". Some more pesos and a whole lot more heat. I'm kind of excited, kind of freaked, and wondering if it will push out the days already ponderous update frequency...
radio: A few days after I put up the last piece, public radio's Fresh Aire featured throat-singing master, Ondar of Tuva. Practice your LLLGHGH!'s. We're on the leading edge of this thing.
book: A Traveller's History of England by Christopher Daniell
vcr: The Truman Show - surprisingly good in spite of the Hollywood ending.
film: Rushmore - I've raved about several movies over the last 6 mos, so I wouldn't blame you if you ignored this one. Smart, funny and touching without ever getting mushy or taking the easy way out. The supporting cast is brilliant.
pc game: Need for Speed III - the best demonstration i've seen of what 266Mhz, 64 meg RAM and 4 meg 3D card is actually capable of.
|how many more times the puppy will poop on the floor before it learns to go outside|