Last night I attended the concert that was aired on PBS on Wednesday. I felt it necessary to hear "The Swan of Tuonela" in person since it was the piece that opened my ears and heart to my instrument.
Sibelius's inscription at the top of his score: Tuonela, the land of death, the hell of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a large river with black waters and a rapid current, on which the Swan of Tuonela floats majestically, singing.
I decided to splurge a bit and try to get as close as possible to the musicians. My seat ended up being just three rows from the front but as far left as you could go. I didn't really like it because I wanted to be looking up at the soloists. The audience dynamics are so different way up in the front than where I usually sit. People were more visibly excited about being there. I started wondering if I could possibly switch into another seat. Perhaps some subscriber would not show up to the performance. I thought I was the only one thinking this way and was shy about it at first. But then I started looking around and there were several people looking around for other seats. At one point as the concert was about to really begin a bunch of us played musical chairs and moved around at the same time to other seats. At this point I am in the center aisle, three rows back. A minute later Natalie Portman sits across the aisle from me! She's a bit more petite than I had imagined her, just shy over 5 feet tall. She has a very beautiful face just like you see on the screen, even though she had almost no make up on and that ultra short hair do for the movie she's currently working on. She sat very quietly reading the program and probably trying to avoid all of us trying not to stare at her. She was there with her parents (They were sitting somewhere else though. She looks a lot like her Mom.) I always liked her and now that I know that she appreciates good music I like her even more. Anyway, as I was getting comfortable in my seat and the orchestra was about to start tuning the rightful owner showed up and I had to run to a seat in the very front and a bit off to the left. That's where I ended up staying the whole night. It was fun playing musical chairs at the NY Philharmonic! I didn't think that happened there. I got a good view of the violinists and I could actually glimpse at the lower joint and bell of the first oboist too. That was useful because I could anticipate the solos. Then again I didn't need the visual cue. Anytime the oboes sounded I'd break into an uncontrollable smile.
The first piece was Dukas's "Sorcerer's Apprentice". I haven't ever seen Fantasia so I did NOT have images of a wizardly Mickey Mouse in mind. The music was interesting and you have to love the bassoon lines. The Sibelius Violin Concerto was next. Gil Shaham executed it flawlessly. I don't know a lot about the violin but as a musician I was very pleased with the concerto. He was very expressive and his playing was beautiful. As Dulciana noted playing music is a lot more physically intensive than people realize. It was indeed great to see that these musicians are indeed mere mortals.
Two funny things happened during the violin concerto. There was a disheveled looking man sitting about two seats from me who apparently was a violinist or at least a violin enthusiast. At several points when Gil was playing all along this man was humming the tunes along with him! Sometimes out of tune! I don't think that Gil noticed but the violinists closest to us did and started giving him the evil eye. At one point I thought one of the men was going to come down and beat up on the guy. It was kind of funny. One of the female violinists caught me smiling at the whole thing and she smiled and winked at me. The other weird thing was that again people clapped in between movements. This time they clapped between all of them. I felt weird at first but felt obliged to join in. I guess folks were just very excited. I think that's ok in the case of a great soloist.
Speaking of physical strain while playing I had been thinking about this since I saw the broadcast on Wednesday. I was struck by how much Tom Stacy was shaking the entire time he was playing. The sound was great but whenever I looked at him I'd get anxious and worried. Last night I felt the same way again, that if I looked at how much he appeared to be straining I'd get all nervous about it. He seemed to be doing less of that shaking last night but I could tell that the piece is very taxing in terms of breath control. His English Horn sound is so dark and lovely, especially in the bottom register. I tried to recapture the feelings I felt the very first time I heard it. The crescendo at the beginning, the lovely cello (Carter Brey was awesome!), and then that mysterious wind instrument with the melancholic melodies. Back then I remember having images of a dark sky and of floating. Last night, I closed my eyes and felt the music come alive around me and go through me. I am very happy that I had the chance to listen to it live.
The last piece was a Suite from Firebird by Stravinsky, the 1919 version. Stravinsky has really grown on me. I can definitely say that I like his music. He was a bit difficult for me when I was in school and heard the Rite of Spring for the first time. But when I saw it earlier this Spring I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I enjoyed the piece last night as well.
Again people clapped after the first movement. This time it only came from a small block of people somewhere in the back orchestra seats. It went on for longer than expected though and kind of threw off David Robertson (the guest conductor, Maazel was ill). So he turned around and shouted "That's one of my favorite movements, too!" Everyone got a laugh at that and afterwards there was no more clapping until the very end.
I wish I could write more, but I best start working (it's already 10:30). I just wanted to make sure I said something about my concert.
Afterwards I went to my Mom's to wait for JC to get out of his rehearsal and I managed to squeeze in 30 minutes or so of practice. :-D