weekend roundup

by pieces of moments

In my mind I live this fantasy life where I adore jumping out of bed at 5 or 6 AM and sip espresso (from this cup), read, cross stitch, and listen to the complete Bartok string quartets or something. In reality I hate getting up before 9 AM. In high school I would go around proclaiming that no one should ever have to get up and do anything prior to 9 AM (spoken like a girl who planned on becoming a professional musician). So, Mondays. I love Mondays because I’m all on an Interlochen-type schedule where my weekend is Sunday/Monday not Saturday/Sunday, which means that I CAN get up on or after 9 AM. Yes.

It’s a slow gray day…again. We had a couple of days of sunshine, thankfully, but today it’s back to 3rd ring level gray. Sigh. I was browsing (read: drooling) over things at Anthropologie and found myself staring blankly at the wooden tennis racquet prop. I’m so ready for spring and summer that I just stared at their homepage thinking about wanting to try playing with my grandfather’s wooden racquet and the feeling of a warm breeze on my sweaty brow as I walk back to the baseline from the net.

But, before we run for the great outdoors, we have to stay in, and if I have to stay in then at least I get to hang out in awesome places like Symphony Center with my home team, the CSO, on a Saturday night. The best thing about going to concerts is that they can really change your life. When I was 12 years old I went to hear Christopher O’Riley (with whom I would work later at From the Top) perform the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. I was a seasoned concert-goer by then (thanks to my parents and grandparents) but something about the combination of the piece of music, the performance, and my being ready to accept the challenge, clicked inside of me and I couldn’t move. Like, really, I couldn’t move. I remember clearly sitting in my seat, stage left, utterly convinced that I was under some kind of fantastic spell and should I move an inch it would be broken. That was a Thursday night. I begged my parents to go to the concert on Saturday as well. We sat in the balcony for that one. That was it. I decided that weekend that my love for music had to become a career, and my life has been going in that direction ever since.

So, Brahms piano concertos. These seem to be magical things. This past Saturday night I was chillin’ in box seats thanks to the generosity of some great people I know and was able to witness something really special. Yefim Bronfman was performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with Michael Tilson Thomas guest conducting. At the end of the first movement the audience was so taken by the performance that they couldn’t help but allow their hands to burst into applause. Now, usually when faced with this situation many soloists give a conciliatory nod of the head and continue on their merry way through the last two movements. But in this case, Bronfman jumped up from the keyboard and full out bowed! Amazing! I’ve never seen that happen – ever. It gets even better. MTT, that master of audience engagement, stepped down off the podium, reached for his bright blue pocket handkerchief and proceeded to feign wiping off Bronfman’s brow! (!!!!!!) Audience bursts out into delighted giggles because they all know they have seen something that Never Happens. But wait – there’s more! Bronfman then returns the gesture by rising from the bench yet again to offer his hanky to MTT who is now back on the podium! WTF!? Best Ever. Now that’s audience engagement. Everyone in that hall was invited into the stage experience and with the most immediate tool – humour: an inside joke, a shared knowing glance, a collective experience. Then, Bronfman raised his hands back onto the old black and whites and the show went on. But now the audience wasn’t separated by the stage because in some way we had been on stage with the performers through that shared human experience moment. That, to me, is the key. Audience engagement is about meeting people at human levels first and foremost; sewing together a musical experience using the common thread of life on earth. Everyone understands funny. Everyone understands sweating. Everyone understands joking with friends. Consequently, everyone in that hall understood that being on stage is, in part, something very familiar to them even if they have never performed on stage in their entire lives. Well done, CSO+MTT+Bronfman.

I should also mention that MTT did a brilliant thing prior to the performance of Anton Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces (a potentially complicated piece for audience members to digest). He grabbed a microphone and talked the audience through several key points punctuated with excerpts performed by the orchestra members. Everyone in the boxes around me made comments about that. Everyone loved having an explanation. Again, they were being invited on stage in some way. It’s akin to the breaking of the fourth wall in film.

Ban mediocrity.

And now a brief word on mediocrity. I really have a hard time with mediocrity. I don’t think things have to be done perfectly. In fact, a lot of times slight imperfections create a kind of richness that glossy perfection lacks. So, don’t confuse dislike of mediocrity with perfectionism. I’m just saying, do your work thoroughly and like you mean it, or if you’re gonna do a half-done job, do it badly boldly rather than trying to pass it along as a job well done. Two examples: 1) the pre-concert lecture at the CSO on Saturday night and 2) the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new ad campaign that people are talking about.

I want to tread lightly in saying this, because I mean no offense to the lecturer, and the pre-concert lectures I’ve attended at the CSO previously have been quite good, but this past weekend it was bad news bears. My jaw dropped a couple of times. I felt badly, but my face couldn’t contain its shock. At one point there was an effort made to connect one of the themes in the first movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” in which the lecturer even sang the song over the top of the Brahms. Woah. His point? The theme sounds patriotic. What? What does that have to do with Brahms? Expand on that point? At another moment there was an effort to describe “early syncopation” and “pedal point.” Okay, first of all, syncopation was not an invention of the Classic or Romantic eras. It was around way before then. Second of all, Brahms was obsessed with hemiola but not a word was mentioned about it in light of “syncopation”? (???!!?!?) Also, “pedal point,” was referenced as something Bach did a lot. Okay, sure, but it’s not a device of the Baroque, it goes way back to Medieval choral music for crying out loud. F.r.u.s.t.r.a.t.i.o.n. I’m just saying – be thorough, people. Be thorough. Know Your Stuff and keep things relatable, but challenge your audience because they are smarter than they think.

{Side note: there was a big group of high school students in attendance at the pre-concert lecture and I made a point of observing them throughout: yawns, blank faces, the occasional snicker and elbow jab with their neighbor, and any and all manner of disinterested body language. That was not a good situation.}

I’m not going to say a lot about the Philadelphia Orchestra’s “Unexpect Yourself” slogan except to point you to this mention and this mention and to the site itself. In light of the extreme financial troubles over at the Philly O, it just seems like a mediocre effort to fix a major problem. It’s like, the ad says, “well, duh you wouldn’t go to a classical concert normally” and also, again, no offense, but it’s really unimaginatively written:”So set aside an evening for anything but the same-old-same-old” …?? It is getting them press, but not the kind they wanted, I’m sure. It’s not good when your ad campaign catches the eyes of New York Magazine and ends up on the “Highbrow Despicable” end of their so-called “Approval Matrix.”

Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? My friend the fantastic pianist James Rhodes has a new CD out soon, and Diller Scofidio+Renfro have a rockin’ bizarre design for the addition over at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC. This picture of awesome piano hair happening.  Lonny Magazine, which is basically the child of the now defunct Domino Magazine, is online and amazing with decorating ideas for the modern person.