It seemed simple enough, as soon as I heard that the College had planned a concert of the finer works of the Romantic masters and The Collegian wished to cover it, I jumped at the opportunity. Having wasted my youth studying the musical arts, my passion for the pieces of Schubert, Brahms, and Beethoven is more intense than for the works of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That is why it offends me personally to report that this concert was more than a disappointment.
Excitement filled my soul as I entered the Stocker Center and stood in line for a ticket for my associate. A young woman approached eyeing me cautiously. My mind reeled with the possibility of having to send my associate off on the strange chance that this look would cultivate into a bit of hanky-panky, but it turns out she only meant to give me a free ticket. Perhaps next time.
With our tickets in hand we sauntered into the auditorium and found seats towards the back. I find that it’s better to sit in the back, because most regular patrons don’t enjoy the sight of a young man doubled over scribbling notes during each of the pieces. This crowd seemed no different, if not a bit more forgiving due to their status as either family members of the performers or apparently recent escapees from the old folk’s home. These types of mobs always interest me most; it’s interesting how a few sour notes can turn even the most doting throng into a pack of famished llamas ready to tear a conductor (or a young reporter) to shreds. Why llamas you wonder? The spitting. Parents and old fogies just love spitting. Watching an angry group of octogenarians and soccer moms is like sitting in the dugout at an Indians game, usually minus all the gratuitous groin adjustment.
Safely ensconced in our seats, the anticipation within me seemed to boil over and I reached a point where my only options would be to listen to some high quality choral music or begin running laps about the place to relieve the pressure. Luckily for my shirts, the choir began to materialize on stage quickly followed by the conductor.
I feel at this point that an accurate account of the conductor would assist in your understanding of what happened next. You see, despite the public conception of the art of conducting, the person who holds the baton is supposed to be doing more than just waving his arms in a decorative manner. The goal of a quality conductor is to lead the flock of sheep that is their orchestra. I specify orchestra because any conductor worth their salt is leading an orchestra. The problem that struck my associate and me from the back of the auditorium was that this conductor didn’t seem to be leading anyone in particular, except perhaps one poor chap in the front row of the choir. Gods bless that sad little man.
It’s actually fortuitous that the ensemble at large performed in ignorance of the weird man in the overpriced tuxedo with the stick. With the exception of the strange lad in the front row, the whole choir and orchestra seemed to not raise their heads from their music stands except to see when the piece was beginning and ending. This is the best course of action they could have taken and I can only assume that it was only possible due to a last-minute backroom meeting in which the section leaders decided, that if the conductor couldn’t give a solid downbeat or a three, well, they can’t be expected to just go down with him. We can only assume that the strange chap in the front row wasn’t invited or had taken a phone call when that subject came up. Poor lad.
As my associate and I looked on in horror at the spectacle of the conductor making an ass of himself before hundreds of people, I was taken by a peculiar sound. Surely my ears must be playing tricks on me. My years as a young rock and roll hellion have come back to haunt me in the form of a mild tinnitus that has just chosen now to manifest itself in order to punish me. Snowball, the stray cat God of New Guinea strikes again, so to speak. But, alas at the end of each movement my ears reverberated clearly with the sound of auditorium silence (which as John Cage will tell you isn’t very silent at all). I surely must be losing my mind, but as the ensemble began again and the weird guy with the expensive jacket began to gesticulate wildly once more it hit me. With a look of recognition passed between my associate and I, it became all too obvious that the entire violin section was either hopelessly out of tune, or were incapable of hitting the correct notes.
This barely deserves comment, though. I believe the shame those poor violinists feel is far worse than any amount of admonishment I can heap here. So let’s just blame it on the weather, shall we?
The true highlight of the evening was the choir’s performance. They truly seemed to both know the music well and, despite the man in the expensive jacket’s best efforts, they performed it with a grace and flair that surprised and refreshed my embattled ears. Even the soloists performed in such an admirable fashion that the only complaint my associate and I could levy against them was that the tenor must have been fearful of a draft, because he wore his winter coat through his performance.
If this concert had only included the choir, I would be more than happy to put my stamp of approval on it. Alas, the violins were a great detriment to the overall evening. Had the conductor pulled a Jean Baptiste Lully my associate and I would have leapt for joy and began singing like the munchkins from Wizard of Oz, but he did not. Sadly, all these factors add up to a less than satisfying evening and despite the choir’s best efforts I couldn’t help but walk away thoroughly unfulfilled.