Well, we got on the bus at six prompt. The parents and younger siblings - being parents and younger siblings - all sat in the front of the bus. The teenage musicians - being teenage musicians - all sat near the back. I compromised and found a seat with Mother that was just about near the dividing line between teenagers and parents. Our symphony's concertmistress sat behind us, and she was eating all the way...she always eats, though...it's very funny...and as we passed the various towns on the way to the Cities, Mom and I were smelling everything from popcorn to Oreos.
When we arrived at the Ordway, it was awfully difficult to keep my composure intact. Here were all these beautifully dressed people luxuriating in one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen... I'm used to the dinginess of my local theatre...not so much to an ambling three-story lobby with sparkling bar counters on every level and distinguished ushers wearing suits and standing erect against the wall, like light fixtures. After asking directions from three various ushers, who kindly ushered us onward to the next ushering checkpoint, we found our way up three curving staircases, all with a delightful view of downtown St. Paul and the distant lights of the Radisson.
Being a group, of course, they stuck us in the third, highest, and cheapest tier up. The seats weren't bad, though - the view was spectacular, and you got a commanding view of all the rich folk beneath. But being on top of the Ordway, with literally only one row of seats left behind you, is a beautiful and exhilarating experience. Being extremely near-sighted, my only complaint was that I couldn't see the soloist's technique too well. Octaves looked like a piece of cake. But that's partly my fault, too - I should have worn my glasses. :)
The program opened with Mozart's thirty-third symphony, Joseph Silverstein conducting...and all I can say is wow. I had always revered the Saint Paul Chamber for its various exquisite recordings, but seeing them in action, so perfectly attuned to one another, uniting all the themes in such a nonchalantly elegant fashion...it was a breathless experience. It was cloud-like Mozart, my favorite kind, and I venture to say this was the best Mozart performance I've ever heard, period. As pleasurable as gourmet chocolate! Good thing we were at the top of the auditorium, because otherwise I think I would have wanted to float up and away...
From there, some of the musicians left the stage to perform Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat for Strings. Frankly, I can't see any of my sixteen-year-old acquaintances (much less any of my male sixteen-year-old acquaintances) penning something so beautiful and compelling...nor can I see any other group besides the SPCO giving a more silken performance of it. Mr. Silverstein took a violin-part here, which was delightful, and together the eight performers crafted a little piece of heaven for all those in attendance...
Somewhere in here, I realized that there was an usher standing by the door and watching the concert. This usher became almost a distraction, although he was doing nothing but standing there, absolutely still and silent, hands clasped neatly behind his back. I wanted to tell him to sit down and relax his legs...mine hurt just watching him stand there, stiff and unmoving for movement upon movement of Mozart and Mendelssohn...but at the beginning of intermission, he gallantly stepped outward toward the door and held it for the people going out, showing no sign of fatigue whatsoever. If any of those immobile ushers are reading this, you have my sincere admiration. It can't be easy to stand so still, so silently, for such a long period of time...and you add such a distinguished air to everything. You made me feel wealthy and influential and special for two hours' time, and it felt wonderful. Thank you very much.
Intermission passed quickly and the moment we were all waiting for arrived... Ms. Chang swept onstage wearing a bright hot pink dress and took her place besides the conductor. With that, the concerto began...and it truly was a very pretty performance. Not very intellectually stimulating, but very fiery and energetic and youthful, and it was a fine reading as compared to some other artists I could name. Anyway, being a fourth-year student wrestling with the Vivaldi a-minor, I'm not exactly in a position to criticize. I respect anyone who can play the Dvorak concerto, makes no apparent mistakes, and seems remarkably at ease in front of a huge audience. I'll just say other artists have impressed me more emotionally and intellectually...but I still have a lot of respect and admiration for Ms. Chang, anyway.
My only complaint (if it can be called a complaint) is that the orchestra seemed a tad bit more uncomfortable during the concerto, but apparently this was the first time they've ever played the orchestral accompaniment, so a little uncomfortableness is warranted, I think... After such beautiful and concentrated Mozart and Mendelssohn, too, I'm sure they were a little tired, anyway. Still, they and the soloist did a remarkable job. It was a delightful concert I'm sure I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Back down the flights of stairs, we got in line to get Ms. Chang's autograph. She must have signed at least two hundred programs, and all with a smile...it was remarkable. My impression of her was that she was very childlike in person, very free and very innocent...I don't know if this is really true, of course, but she seemed very childlike last night. Two autographs later, one for me and one for my friend, we left the gorgeous Ordway and got back onto the bus. Since it was eleven o' clock, the teenagers - being teenagers - suddenly began waking up and feeling energized, while the parents - being parents - were dozing away in the front of the bus.
About halfway home, the lights all went out in the bus. An audible gasp went up and down the aisle. All the better to view the prairie starlight, though...it was beautiful, and a fitting close to a warm and wonderful evening. Boyfriend-girlfriend couples started cuddling away. The concertmistress started eating again. After a two-hour drive, we got out at our rehearsal hall's parking lot and scattered out to our cars and drove away in the early-spring chill...it was a delightful evening, and certainly worth the twelve-dollar ticket price.
You know you’ve gone off the violinistic deep end when you start considering coincidences on the Arts channel good omens....
“Hello?” I said.
I recognized the voice straightaway. It belonged to one of my favorite teachers from eighth-grade, a tall, congenial, typically-Midwestern fellow with kind eyes, a piercing gaze, and a unique ability to discern everything about everyone. It’s impossible to fool him. I’ve seen a few people try, but nobody’s ever succeeded. He simply knows too much about the human race to be fooled. If our class failed to study before a major exam, all he had to do was shuffle through the graded test-papers in the front of the classroom, set his piercing gaze toward us, and raise his ever-present bottle of Mountain Dew...and we would know we had sinned, and we would promptly repent.
Other than that, though, he’s a remarkably average Wisconsin guy. He plays sports. He coaches teams. As a side-hobby, he interprets current events - and he's extremely good at it, too. He’s got a wicked sense of humor. He’s a slow typist. And he knows nothing about the violin.
Funny, then, that he should befriend a teenager who A) wants to be a violinist, B) can’t catch a football worth a darn, and C) hates the taste of Mountain Dew. I’m sure he was bewildered when I first starting moaning about how in love I was with music. I was bewildered myself. But despite that, he urged me to pursue my ambition, anyway. He didn’t protest when I brought him a tape containing the Twenty-fourth Caprice, the Meditation from Thais, and the Finale from the Scottish Fantasy...in fact, he seemed to enjoy it...and although there we've not always understood each other (I once wrote a report about Fritz Kreisler, and before reading it, he joked about why I was writing about the head of an automobile corporation), he has stayed in touch. Always, he has kept one of those piercing eyes on me, watching.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
I hesitated for a minute, wondering if I should tell him the truth. “Pretty badly,” I finally admitted.
“Where do you live?” he asked.
Bewildered, I gave him my address.
“I’m going to be there in fifteen minutes,” he said. “Be ready.”
With that, the phone went dead.
I scurried around slapping on some clean clothes and brushing my teeth, arriving in the front hall just as he pulled into the driveway. I waved good-bye to Mother and got into the car. As per usual, he was grinning and holding a lime bottle of Mountain Dew.
“If you could go anywhere within a fifteen mile radius on a limited budget, where would you go?” he asked me, pulling out of the driveway.
“I have no idea,” I said.
“How about going out for pie?”
Ten minutes later we were sitting in a restaurant booth and glancing through a menu. He ordered an omlette. “I’ll have half a slice of cherry pie,” I told the waitress.
“Make it a whole piece and put the other half in a doggie bag,” he said.
The waitress obliged. Under those piercing eyes, she could do little else.
After she left, there was a moment of silence and he looked at me. I hesitated, then rushed into it headlong. I told him all the awful woes of my teenaged life - the quest for braces, the strain of schoolwork, the difficulties of having such fantastical dreams and so few resources to carry them out with. I’m sure most of you can relate.
I told him absolutely everything that flitted across my mind, and he did something few people ever do: he listened. After thirty minutes of outpour and another thirty of advice, he paid the bill and left the tip and drove me home again.
As we rode the last few miles back to my house, both of us rather silent, my strength was renewed. In a way, however, I felt a little guilty, too. Not a bad sort of guilty, not a “shoot, sob, wail, where’s the ashes and sackcloth” kind of guilty. It was more of a dawning sense of “oh, yes, you dummy, that’s the kind of human being you ought to be”...it’s the best kind of guilt a person can have.
Since I’m an ambitious musician with a primal urge to be the best I can be, I oftentimes lose sight of what’s really important...that it’s not the number of hours I practice each day, or the number of etudes I master, or the number of prunes I consume...but rather the time I spend being a kind and considerate human being.
Hurrah for teachers who not only teach you about the things they’re getting paid to teach you about, but also the things they won’t ever get much credit for...the things that help their students become better people. That cheer is not only for my eighth-grade history teacher and his endless liters of Mountain Dew, but for all the teachers out there who are reading this! Thank you SO MUCH for your investments in us, no matter how pointless and fruitless they may seem at the time...
As a closing note, I recommend everyone try and hear Pablo de Sarasate play the finale from Zigeurnerweisen whenever possible...I have a recording from 1904 on the exquisite “20 Great Violinists Play 20 Masterpieces” disc. Although a little difficult to hear behind all the static, the fire of his playing still glows...amazing playing for a sixty-year old guy. Charisma and pizzazz abound!
A while ago, I got the lunatic idea it would be fun to graduate from high-school a year early... Now I’m struggling to wrap up my freshman year by the fifteenth so I can start attacking tenth grade over the summer. Finishing a schoolyear, of course, means loads and loads of semester exams, and this year is no exception...I have sixteen end-of-year essays to write this week alone. “Discuss the process known as the Four Modernizations” - “What role has the concept of nationalism played in the life of Russia in the past and present?” - “Explain how epics reveal a civilization’s customs, manners, and values” - “Describe how a rocket works” - and the list goes on and on. Because I obviously don’t want to write any of these essays, and because I also want to appear like I’m doing something constructive about them, I’ve decided to do some calculating using my handy dandy computer calculator.
If I finish my essays in five days, it equals out to...
3.2 essays a day
.13 essays an hour
.002 essays a minute
3.7037037037037037037037037037037e-5 essays a second.
Amazingly enough, this was a big inspiration to me. “Wow, I only need to do 3.7037037037037037037037037037037e-5 essays a second, Mom! Gee, why didn’t I start tackling them earlier?!?!?!”
For interested parties in the Minneapolis area, Sarah Chang is coming to perform with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra on April 23rd, playing the Dvorak violin concerto. Lucky for me, tickets only cost twelve dollars through my orchestra...incredibly enough, the treasury is absorbing at least half of the ticket price. So two Fridays hence, I’ll be boarding a bus that will, I’m sure, mainly consist of gossiping woodwind players, achey and paralyzed track veterans, and the occasional nut wearing earphones and listening to Chang’s Dvorak concerto (namely, me).
As a side-note, it amazes me that the two cheapest concerts I’ve bought tickets for - this one with the SPCO, and another fifteen-dollar one at which James Ehnes played the seventh Beethoven violin sonata - are the ones featuring the most famous artists. Hopefully this cheap-tickets-to-see-great-violinists trend will continue!
Happy Easter or Passover or second weekend in April or whatever holiday you might be observing right now... Practice hard and gorge yourselves with chocolate-covered, rabbit-shaped prunes! As for me, I’ll be investigating how rockets work.
So, unfortunately, I have not been playing violin or cello or piano as much as I'd like to lately.
(Interesting side-note... My mother asked the nurse what medical students practice on when they're first learning how to draw blood. Apparently they don't start on apples or oranges or kiwis like you'd think, but rather...drumroll, please...on their fellow classmates! This was fascinating - and admittedly a little repulsive, too. "We just mottled each other up," the nurse said cheerfully, "but thankfully I had good veins. The others weren't so lucky." Something to think about next time you get your blood drawn!)
I apologize for the lack of musicality in my blog entries so far. I hope I haven't been boring you. Hopefully I will be a little more violinistic once the pain in my arm subsides and I am able to play again.
In closing, here's one of my favorite musical quotes, said by Karlheinz Stockhausen when he was instructing a friend how to interpret one of his compositions. "Think nothing. Wait until it is absolutely still within you. When you have attained this, begin to play."
Such a beautiful philosophy! I wish more performers would follow it.
More entries: May 2004 March 2004
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