Christine and I went to the Symphony last night. I have been to Benaroya Hall many times, but ironically never for the Symphony. My last Seattle Symphony experience was at the old Seattle Opera house before they knocked that down and replaced it with the polychromatic McCaw Hall. I was overdue. Christine, the more cultured of our pairing, had been many times last year when I was spending so much time out of town.
On the docket were three pieces: Dvořák's Slavonic Dances, Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat major, Op. 73, "Emperor" with guest artist John Lill.
Seattle is a town with populist tastes. We seem to like what we know, and know what we like, so the fine Slavonic Dances were entertaining, and Bartók--well, I'll have more to say about that shortly, but it was Beethoven that the crowd showed up for. The crowd that did show up, that is--seats were empty all around us.
So, at the end of the night it was Beethoven and John Lill that received the standing ovation. I hate standing ovations. Every performance I go to these days gets a goddamned standing ovation. Why? The performance was quite nice--spot on, and even slightly spirited in places, but I would not say it was exemplary, or transcendental or even sublime. It was a by-the-numbers (which I don't mean pejoratively) performance of one of the minor works of a major composer. It was if the crowd wished to reward Gerard Schwarz and John Lill for filling their expectations exactly. Personally, I feel that standing ovation's should be held for any performance that was so spectacular and moving that the house is preternaturally still during the show, as if the hive audience mind reverts to a primitive state during the music.
Sad to say that this didn't happen during Bartók's piece, although I certainly felt that it could have. My feeling, from the sniffling, shifting, sneezing, coughing, jangling, paper crinkling and jewelry rubbing happening throughout the hall was that the crowd was simply waiting through Bartok for the bigger B. It's a shame, because this work is all about mood and expectation, and it was extremely well played. A few modernist junkies were in the crowd, shouting "Bravo!" at the end, but I wish we could have quieted the shifters to better take in this stirring performance. Quite good! I used to think Gerard Schwarz was all about the popular choices, but I have come to realize that he's trying his damnedest to insert some modernism while still having to play to the patrons who only want to hear what they know. Not to disparage the great historical works, but just like art galleries when I get really sick of looking at Impressionists within a few minutes, I'd much rather listen to something challenging. Or, as Christine christened the last movement Allegro Molto "Don't go into the basement."
We took the bus home from the performance, and sitting behind us where some very entertaining teenagers, two girls and a boy--a Three's Company that made themselves at home on the back seat (Much to the driver's annoyance, who had to get on the PA to tell them not to lay down on the bus). I learned that "hella" is hella popular with this set. When some other young men got on the bus and sat with the trio, they were informed that they were "hella familiar," that the speaker was "hella confused" and that the school they attended was "Hella da bomb."
One of the young boys, taking his cue from the bomb part, talked about how he is about to ship out to Iraq. "But I won't be killed. And even if I do, I'm going to take a few with me. I'm not going down without a fight." I resisted turning around and talking about roadside IED's, or snipers, or suicide bombers. After the boys declined an invite to go to a party in the park, they strutted off the bus in search of slightly older targets. One of the trio in the back was slightly embarrassed (and obviously a bit proud) that she had accidentally flashed her very large nipple (which I am reporting not from viewing, but from their conversation about just how large it was) at one of the boys that had just debussed. Her friend reassured her "But, guys, totally: everything that's between us is between us forever."
Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: October 8, 2005 10:43 AM