this ain't no rock show

Last Friday night I took Jessica to the ballet. We primped and preened ourselves into our finest threads and hesitantly made our way to the State Theater at Lincoln Center. Tonight there would be no need for earplugs, no merch tables, and definitely no stamp on the hand. Tonight we were part of the cultured elite, or at least we were going to fake it.

As we made our way through the lobby we did our best to blend in and I was pleased to see that we were probably the youngest people there. It was like the polar opposite of us going to an early show at Knitting Factory. I had decided to take Jessica to the ballet for Valentines Day since she's been taking ballet classes again. The truth is I was pretty excited to go. We both had seen the Nutcracker as children, but I was definitely too young to appreciate it. So this would be, in essence, my first time, and rather than a full ballet I picked a performance that featured four different shorter pieces.

As I had not seen a seating chart when I purchased the tickets online, I was relieved to see our orchestra seats were slightly to the left of center and only about a dozen rows back. The cliché sound of the orchestra tuning up made me giddy as Jess and I leafed through our playbill. In fact, I may have been more excited to hear a live orchestra perform Debussy and Bartok than the ballet. Not like I'm a huge fan of classical music. I own about 20 or 30 cds and I definitely have a few favorite pieces, but classical music is its own separate world. As a rock guy I think it's pretty easy to rub shoulders with a Jazz guy or a Folk guy or a Soul guy. They're all dirty and gritty in their own way. You can make noise in those genres without rules. Classical however, is full of pomp, circumstance and pretension. I know, I work in a record store and I've dealt with classical customers. They're arrogant and demanding, and sadly most of them don't know as much about the music as they pretend to. Over the years I've developed the ability to confidently fake it when helping a classical customer. You just need to drop such convincing lines such as:

"Bernstein's version is definitely superior."
"The fidelity of the EMI Classics label is second to none, trust Me."
"Tebaldi has a certain breathtaking quality that you don't hear in other sopranos."

In truth, I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, but I say it with enough arrogant authority to convince the customer. Most classical customers just come in looking for the same thing anyways which is usually whatever The Times gave a glowing review of that week. It's all very strange and sad, but in the end the music remains. Music that has existed for years, decades, centuries. And in the end, I will always appreciate that about Classical music, its ability to remain timeless as pop music has the ability to celebrate and dispose of an artist within a single month.

As the lights fell and the crowd began applauding I spied our conductor for the evening, a spry older gentleman who beamed over the rim of the orchestra pit. The curtain rose to reveal a group of diminutive and delicate ballerinas in pose as the opening strains of the "Raymonda Variations" by Alexander Glazounov began. I was unfamiliar with this piece of music, but they could have played an orchestral version of a Deep Purple song, I didn't care- it was a live orchestra and it was amazing; the accuracy of the performance, the perfectly nuanced tones of each instrument blending, the crispness, the color of sound. My eyes tended to follow the movements of the ballerinas, but I was more focused on the movements of the music. Slowly, the initial thrill of hearing a live orchestra ebbed away and I was able to appreciate the dancers. I wish I could describe the certain movements they made, but I'm not equipped to communicate about Dance. Just think about the most graceful thing you've ever seen- a deer jumping over a log, a feather falling through the air, a spinning top. Translate that to a person and you get the idea.

Suffice to say the rest of the evening was great and Jess and I both enjoyed it in different ways. However, when we returned from the second Intermission there seemed to be an extended wait. The final performance of the night was to be set against music from Bela Bartok. This piqued my interest as what I have heard of his work was pretty dissonant and chaotic. Finally, a voice boomed from the PA to tell us that "The Maestro had fallen ill" and that the performance would simply be done on the piano without the full orchestra. The crowd let out a concerned gasp, which was kind of sweet and stupid. I mean, if the announcer just said "The conductor had a bad piece of Salmon earlier tonight and he's vomiting in the bathroom" that sigh wouldn't have happened. But by using his proper title of "maestro" and the phrase "fallen ill" it all just seemed so dramatic. Maybe he just had bad gas. Regardless, getting the chance to see the pianist sweat his way through the entire schizophrenic piece himself was a treat, and in the end he was rewarded with liberal bellowings of "Bravo". Yes, the crowd actually shouts that out and don't think I let the opportunity to shout it myself pass me by.

So I don't know if I'll be going to the ballet again anytime soon, but I did find it an interesting experience and a nice departure from the usual rock show. Next on my list is the Opera. Jessica's grandparents are huge opera buffs and they know that shit inside and out so hopefully they'll give us some recommendations. Until them, I'll happily return to venues that feature drink specials, surly sound guys and big fat guitar amps.

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Blogger d said...

Nice post George. I'm not sure if it's still going on but Julie Taymor has/had a production of The Magic Flute going on at Lincoln Center. You guys would LOVE that one.

10:58 AM, February 20, 2007  

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