My wife, Gina, and I had the pleasure of seeing the Symphony this past Saturday night. Apparently I and twenty-three others were e-mailed invitations by Eddie Silva, Publications Manager at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the man behind the SLSO Blog. The odd thing about me receiving this invite was that I never really considered myself part of a local bloggers guild, and that, for whatever reasons, either deliberately or unwittingly, I tend to operate slightly outside the mainstream and don’t ask for (nor expect) much in the way of recognition or respect for my meager contributions to the “blogosphere.” I’m just doing it to do it… not because I fancy myself as any kind of “writer” (far from it!), but, ya know, for shits and grins, so to speak. Yet, despite my unashamed “bloglodyte” status, I still got included on what appeared to me to be a pretty short list of local entertainment and/or pop-culture bloggers. Well alrighty, then! I suddenly feel like part of the local crowd! So I checked with my wife to make sure the evening was not already booked and sent my RSVP back to Mr. Silva. “Sounds great! I’d love to take you up on this,” I wrote. And, as it turned out, I was one of just nine (out of two dozen, mind you) to indeed take Eddie up on his offer and actually go. But I have to admit I felt pretty honored and privileged to do so. So even though I’ve already thanked him in person, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank him again for the opportunity to experience this!
Going into this, I really had no idea what to expect, because, for some reason, I don’t remember ever going to see the symphony—ANY symphony—ever before. Now, I may have gone as a kid and possibly during high school or college for Music Appreciation class, but again, I don’t remember it. And I’m pretty sure I would remember something as spectacular as this. Gina (my wife) had been once, but she, too, had not gone since she was a young girl. So this was a pretty big deal for us… this ain’t no pizza, PBR and trashy rock’n'roll at smoky dive bar, this is a get-all-gussied-up High Society kind of event featured world-class musicians—actual MUSICIANS (not ordinary people pretending to be)—at one of the world’s finest orchestral concert halls. Damn, we’re movin’ on up!
Rock’n'roll (and, specifically, garage rock), by its very nature, champions the musically inept. And it should. It’s the people’s music. Anyone can do it. And anyone DOES do it. Which is why not all of it is that great… in fact, very little of it is by any means great or entirely unique. Most is pretty bland and predictable. The performers that are the most memorable and also most successful are usually those that can come up with a certain shtick… they are those that can totally NAIL either a stage presence, look, swagger, attitude or novelty to their live show or recordings that excites people, causing them to want to buy records, produce podcasts and yell and scream for more. And I fully admit that I’m one of those guilty of screaming, dancing, and championing this stuff. The reason I love rock’n'roll isn’t because it’s the most interesting, complicated, and difficult music to play or appreciate. I love it because it’s fun to listen to and gets me to shake my ass. It’s debauchery and mindless fun set to music. This is obviously not the case with classical music. Not at all. It’s the exact opposite, in fact. (Or, at least, that’s what I thought…)
So did I feel a bit like a fish out of water as I entered the amazing Powell Symphony Hall Saturday night, decked out in my wedding-slash-funeral duds? As Sarah Palin might say, “You betcha!” I felt like I’d entered another world. Huge, beautiful chandeliers dangled in the lobby overhead, ornate fixtures and fancy-schmancy decor, lots of velvet, reds, golds… and lots of important-looking people dressed to the nines. I felt like I’d just strolled onto the set of a movie. The hall itself was even more impressive. Much larger than I imagined it would be, but even more magnificent in detail and design. “This is really something!” I thought to myself as we took our seats—fifth row, mind you—just as the music was starting.
The program that night, “Beat Movement,” featured David Robertson conducting two U.S. Premieres. It started off with jazz bass virtuoso John Patitucci playing a work for electric (standup) bass and electric bass guitar. That’s probably the first time I’ve heard a six-string bass. He performed Mark-Anthony Turnage‘s U.S. Premiere of A Prayer Out of Stillness. Fantastico! After that we were delighted by the amazing musicianship of Leila Josefowicz performing another U.S. Premiere, this time it was Steven Mackey‘s Beautiful Passing. The program in our hands told us Leila plays a violin that was made in 1724. As if that isn’t impressive enough, the woman was skilled enough to make me believe she’d been playing that instrument for that long a time, yet looked quite young. Was this science fiction? Pinch me.
Now, I won’t bore you with my ill-advised attempt at trying to critique the music beyond that. I couldn’t tell a violin virtuoso from a good amateur if my life depended on it, but I can tell you that I was totally, completely enthralled by what was happening on stage. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. “This,” I said to myself, “is my first REAL concert.” Yes, I’ve seen many “shows”—rock’n'roll and the like—but this was so amazing and different that I honestly felt like I was hearing music for the very first time, or at least I was hearing this level of music performed this exceptionally well and performed by such skilled professionals that I may as well be hearing it for the first time. It was so precise, so delicate, and despite the lack of electronics other than some carefully positioned microphones and a few small speakers, so LOUD (especially during The Rite of Spring) that I was totally blown away. I couldn’t help but stand and applaud after it was over. Magnificent.
Intermission. Time to relax for a few minutes, look around, breathe, run to the john and then down a quick martini at the bar before heading back in for the grande finale, Igor Stravinsky‘s powerful and controversial composition that helped to create jazz and other forms of modern music of ALL shapes and sizes, The Rite of Spring. I mean, if there is one symphony that a primitive, big-beat rock’n'roll fiend like me would appreciate, it’s THAT ONE. And one of the first things I did after experiencing this one live was to go online and order it on CD. I felt it was that important to own this music, along with my Sonics, Ramones, Stooges, Mummies, Cramps and Oblivians. Hearing more than a hundred musicians bumping and grinding along to the complex rhythm structures, timbres and dissonance had me literally moving in my seat. And it’s no wonder, the premiere of this ballet in Paris in 1913, with its complex music, violent dance steps and provocative story line, elicited catcalls, whistles and boos from the audience, which escalated into arguments and fistfights before finally degenerating into an all-out riot… Punk rock!!
So, yeah, it may have taken me forty-three years to finally make it out to the symphony, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be back. This was an experience I can’t wait to have again and again. And I can’t wait to take our son with us next time, too.
For more info on the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Powell Hall, visit www.slso.org.