If my blog seems overly zealous and critical today, it’s because I’m reading the book, ‘1984,’ by George Orwell. Almost everyone knows that ‘1984’ is about a society in which people cannot talk, act, or think freely. So when I sat down at the symphony on Friday night, with words such as ‘Ingsoc’ and ‘Thoughtcrime’ going through my mind, I felt an acute sense of relief that I was entitled to my own opinion. No one, I reflected, was going to tell me what to think. I could hate the symphony and still be free to express my opinion. (Incidentally, I didn’t hate the symphony. But if I had, I could still tell people my thoughts.)
I greatly enjoyed Christopher Theofanidis’s ‘Rainbow Body.’ While I think it’s funny to compare our immortal souls with particles of light such as supernovas, the music and the pictures of outer space really went well together. I confess I was a little apprehensive when the screen first came down—visions of sappy photos swam through my head—but the slideshow was tasteful and interesting. I don’t think Theofanidis’s music required it, but it did serve as a nice illustration. And the story of Hildegard of Bingen was certainly interesting.
Mr. Bronfman played, as would seem obvious, very well. I enjoyed
Beethoven’s ‘Concerto No. 1’ not only because I had heard parts of it
before, but also because of the delightfully disarming manner of Mr.
Bronfman. (I don’t feel the need to say anything about how well the
orchestra played; surely that’s taken for granted by now?) The audience
couldn’t help themselves and broke into rapturous applause at the end
of the first movement, and Mr. Bronfman himself seemed quite pleased
with the performance. He even amiably offered his handkerchief to Mr.
Oundjian, the conductor, to blot away hard earned sweat.
Now, I must say—and this statement may be influenced by ‘1984’ and my
curiously freed tongue—Pittsburghers are a little too zealous in their
applause. Not that I don’t think the musicians deserve it—oh no! On the
contrary, I think we have some of the finest musicians in the country,
and they certainly grace us with splendid music and wonderful shows.
But after the sixth bow it does get a little tiring. I am lately
thinking of taking my grandfather up on his suggestion of inventing a
clapping machine that will do all the work and save my poor hands every
week. Indeed, it’s gotten to the point that performers must know they
did a very bad job if they don’t get a standing ovation. Yet I will
admit all that clapping did some good; Mr. Bronfman gave us an encore
that was superb.
As I’ve said before, I greatly enjoy watching the conductors, and Mr.
Oundjian was a delight to watch. His movements, instead of being
energetic, like some conductors, or slow and calculated, like others,
were precise and rich. I felt as if I was watching a dancer performing
a dance that was well thought out and known by heart, and yet loved so
much by the performer that every movement was a delight to him. In any
case, I also enjoyed Mahler’s ‘Symphony No. 1’ immensely. The last
movement alternately gave me chills and made me want to laugh; it
seemed that Mahler tried to end it at least three or four times, only
to realize that he had more to say. By the end I was feeling a little
giddy; all the build-ups, followed by more music and not the triumphant
ending I had anticipated, made me disbelieve the ending when it really
did arrive. Yet as I rose to my feet and joined the audience in calling
the performers out for interminable bows, I felt elated and joyful. The
music had been beautiful, once again. And, I told myself with a shock
of delight, I can write whatever I want about it.