Saturday, September 10, 2005

Chris Pops A String

Friday, September 9

We arrive a few minutes before 6:00 to pick up the free tickets Chris and Kevin have reserved for us. The Swiss are nothing if they are not sticklers for time, so we have to wait until precisely 6:00 p.m. We sit outside under the soaring roof of the concert hall and watch lightning in the darkening sky.

A few minutes after 6, we go in and get our tickets. They are not together, but the helpful staff exchange them for two that are together. We find seats in the lobby and watch the gathering crowd. This concert is in the main hall, the hall where the famous orchestras of the world have been playing in August and September, the only concert scheduled for this evening.

Rosalee spots a woman wearing a dress exactly like hers. You just cannot trust designers anymore to give you one-of-a-kind dresses. But Rosalee wears her dress much better than the other woman, presumably Swiss.

At 6:15, we are permitted into the main concert hall to await the 6:30 talk by Boulez. We are hoping that it will be in English. Chris said that Boulez uses English as the language in which to talk to the orchestra.

The program tonight will start with Alban Berg's "Lyrische Suite" and end with "Amerique" by Edgard Varese. In between will be three works by young composers, commissioned especially for the Lucerne Festival. They are Christopher Bertrand, Dai Fujykama and Bruno Montovani (no, not the elevator music guy.)

At precisely, 6:30, Boulez comes wout with Fujykama and Bertrand, and someone else, who is apparently the master of ceremonies. He speaks in German, and I eventually pick out that he will be interviewing, Boulez, Bertrand and Fujykama and that he and Boulez will be speaking German, Fujykama, will speak English and Bertrand will speak French. Why did those people at Babel have to build that damned tower? We can only hope the Japanese guy gets plenty of time to speak.

The moderator and Boulez talk for a long time. As they talk, I look around the hall. It is very modern, but not as stark as the smaller venue where Jack played Monday night. It is relatively narrow, long and very high. There are four balconies. Imposing organ pipes are high up in front. There is lots of wood, but the walls are made of white textured tiles. Chris has told us that the sound is very good. I do not know the seating capacity, but would guess it is about the same as Krannert Center in Champaign which holds several thousand.

Ah, now it is Fujykama's turn and the moderator speaks flawless English. Fujykama was a piano student. He came to Europe from Japan when he was 15. He is 28 now. He first heard traditional Japanese music at Damstadt, Germany in 1997. Before that, he had only studied classical music. This was an awakening for him and he tries to incorporate traditional Japanese sounds into his music. Boulez interrupts to say (in English) that Fujykama had sent two scores to him with his application, pieces written two years apart. Boulez saw such a progression in the complexity of the ideas in the two compositions that he decided to commission him to write for Lucerne.

After about 15 minutes, it is Bertrand´s turn. The moderator switches seemingly flawlessly between German, English and French, but then I could not tell about German and French. At 7:15, the conversations end, and we go find our concert seats, which are in the first balcony, on the right side, with a clear view of the conductor and the string section. It is also a good vantage point to look over the hall. It looks like it will be pretty well filled. There are people all the way up in the fourth balcony. Although I do not get quite the same sense of affluence of the crowd as the people we saw in the lobby on Monday night, this was a well-dressed crowd. Black was the predominant color for both men and women. There were lots of bare and partially bare shoulders and strapless gowns. But the guy directly in front of me is wearing a plaid shirt with a mashed up collar. Probably a musician, who is here to hear, not to be seen.

I wonder where all the money comes from to support this enterprise. The orchestra has about 125 members, about one-third of them for the states. They are all being paid their airfare, room and board to come here and play. That has got to be big bucks, even though they recoup a some of the money in ticket sales. In looking over the roster, I see solid pedigrees. There are musicians here from the New England Conservatory, Julliard, Indiana, Oberlin, Northwestern, as well as Eastman. Christopher´s assistant concertmaster is a PhD student in violin from Indiana University, already has a paying job as concertmaster of the Montgomery Symphony, has premiered a violin work at Carnegie Hall. How the heck this Amishman´s kid, who only yesterday was playing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" in the talent show at the Champaign County fair, and who did not major in violin, but in composition, at Eastman, can be the concertmaster is beyond my grasp.

It is 7:30. From where I sit, the main floor looks to be 90 percent full; the first and second balconies completely full; the third balcony about 75 percent full and the fourth balcony completely full. This is a good crowd. There is an announcement; then, hey, an English translation. "You must turn off all cellphones. No photographs or recordings may be taken." They would not allow me to take my briefcase containing my camera into the hall. I had to check them one of the cloak rooms. Rosalee got in with her purse, the camera inside. She had planned to take a photograph at the end, but decides not to after the stern warning.

The orchestra files in. No, it´s not the full orchestra, just the string section. The Berg must be just for strings. From our angle, we can see Chris just outside the side door to the stage, waiting for his cue. He walks slowly in, to polite applause, takes a slow bow and then tunes the orchestra and sits down. The lights go down. Boulez walks in to similar applause. He shakes Chris´s hand and then takes the podium.

The piece starts very softly; very melodic; very listenable, even for a non-musician. It is a beautiful piece. Wait, that´s Chris doing a solo in the first movement. He has a longer solo in the third movement. At the end, the music fades out very softly. It is very beautiful. There is nice applause, nothing thunderous. Boulez is brought back twice for bows. He doesn´t give Chris any special recognition for the solos. Bummer.

The orchestra goes out and the chairs are re-arranged for the full orchestra. This time, Chris does not do a special entrance. This piece features a bassoon soloist. The brass are more predominant than the strings. This sounds less like traditional classical music, but it is still very listenable. The piece ends and the soloist takes several bows, and then calls up the composer, Montovani.

Rosalee remarks that this is probably the best orchestra in which Christopher has ever played and I agree. They sound phenomenal. The chairs are rearranged for the Fukyjama piece. The violins are in the back, middle; the cellos are in the front. The orchestra comes back out, Chris with them. He tunes the orchestra and then sits down. This piece sounds more like the stereotypical new music with strange sounds. It sounds like Halloween music. Chris has another solo in this piece. In fact he has the last note.

The audience claps enthusiastically. The composer is brought out and the audience keeps clapping. This piece is probably the best received of them all so far. The composer is wearing a tuxedo coat, white shirt, no tie; with his shirt tail hanging out. He said during the pre-concert conversation that his mother is here. I wonder what she is thinking about his get-up. I know what Christopher´s mother would be thinking. "Where have I gone wrong?"

Then there is intermission. The lobby is full of smoke. The Swiss do love their cigarettes. After 20 minutes, we go back inside for the second half.

The orchestra comes out; Christopher with them. No special entrance. The piece starts with percussion and then the flutes and woodwinds. This is the Bertrand piece.

Oh, no, it looks like Chris has broken a string. He is pulling on something up near the scroll during a lull in which the strings are not playing. I hope he does not have a solo. When Chris is playing again, I watch his fingerings and see that they are different from the fingerings of the associate concertmaster. I´ll bet that he is transposing the piece as he plays and playing on the three remaining strings.

The audience claps enthusiastically at the end. They bring the composer back several times. No standing ovation. Chris is having an animated conversation with his stand partner. The orchestra goes out and the stage is reorganized.

The orchestra comes back out for the final piece. Hopefully, Chris has had time to replace his string. He stands and tunes the orchestra. He does not like what he hears and makes a hand gesture. Then, satisfied, he sits back down. Boulez comes out, takes his bow and takes the podium. This is the Varese piece.

The oboes and the harps start this piece off. This is the strangest sounding piece of the program. Some of it is very forlorn and lovely. Then sirens go off and the timpani boom, boom, boom. I like it. In the climax, there is a great deal of wood clapping with a wood clapper.

The piece ends with an ear splitting boom from the percussion. There are many cheers and bravos, not only from me. Boulez takes several bows, then shakes Chris´s hand and the hands of all the front row players. Boulez goes off, then is called back yet again. He recognizes the percussion and brass. The audience starts standing. (I swear, I was not the first. I was not the last either.) Then Boulez grabs Chris´s hand and extends both their hands in the air, like politicians just nominated for political office. I get something in my eye that requires a handkerchief. Finally, Boulez grabs Christopher´s violin and holds it aloft while pushing Chris off stage ahead of him. That is a signal for the orchestra to leave even though the audience has not stopped clapping.

We head out the door and I ask one of the uniformed guards how to get backstage. She directs me out the door and to the back. There another uniformed guard lets Rosalee and me in. I go so fast I forget to stop at the box office to get my camera. We ask for Chris and are given conflicting directions, but then come upon Boulez. I wait while an older gentleman talks with him for several minutes and some orchestra members have their pictures taken, then introduce myself. He murmurs sweet nothings. "Fine musician." "Glad to have him" etc. I was hoping he would give me some better quotes like, "Most extraordinary violinist of his generation," or something.

We go find Chris. He is being congratulated by other orchestra members. It turns out his string did break, and he did try to play on the remaining strings. I asked him what he would have done if it had happened before one of his solos. He said he would have nodded to the associate concertmaster who would have taken over. Another musician there said he saw it happen once to the Boston Symphony concertmaster, and he just handed over his violin with the broken string to his associate and played his violin. The associate handed the violin back, and it kept being passed back until it landed in the hands of the last violinist, who was stuck with going off stage and fixing it.

We do not spend too much time with Chris. He needs to be with his friends. His plane leaves at 10:00 on Saturday, and he will probably be up all night. That is okay. He is 21, and does not need any advice from us.

By the time we leave the concert hall, it is pouring down rain, the first bad weather of the week. We have one umbrella between us, and wind up pretty wet back at Villa Maria. Tomorrow, we will hang around Lucerne all day, and then head to Zurich for the night and then home. Be home Sunday afternoon about 5:30. This trip was well worth the time and money.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow !! Your comments are so fully descriptive, especially in describing the concert, the arrangement of the orchestra, the placement of instruments for various pieces and all. Without a sound coming from my computer I was able to have a sense of the sounds in that concert hall. I could feel the tension building, especially knowing from your heading that a dastardly string breaks somewhere along the way. How remarkable was the post concert downpour, considering the emotional peaks throughout the evening. You both must have been bursting with pride and tremendous sense of accomplishment. Thanks, Becky