All the AMF musicians being great individually, when they come together in a full orchestra, they are a powerful force indeed. I like to sit in the side galleries when I can, so I can view the conductor's face, and see down the full rows of woodwinds* and brass, because one of them is always up to something. Also, the rest of the crowd (of which I was happy to see a large turnout Saturday night) usually sits elsewhere, so I have freedom of movement. Unfortunately, there's been this covered upright piano parked right in front of my favored zone this year, but I could still see over the top passably well.
Saturday night started for me with an unwelcome companion - an elderly "Earthmother" type, fond of slipping her shoes off and putting her bare feet on the back of the pew in front of her, and even in the hymnal rack on the back of the pew. She bounced in at the last moment, even as concertmaster Dennis Kim stood to call the orchestra and audience to attention. She entered through the stage door, and I had a tense moment when I expected the audience would start applauding, thinking the conductor was coming out, but it was only her with her cup of coffee in hand.
Luckily, the crowd didn't take a miscue. She swept over and plunked down next to me. She was wearing perfume of the scent-category I least like, which was quite noticeable in the still, humid air of Lorimer. I was scooched away a bit, diminishing my carefully planned view.
The orchestra began with Beethoven's powerful Coriolan Overture in C minor. I was previously unfamiliar with this piece, and I now rate it "Awesome", with the capital A. I was somewhat distracted by my seat-neighbor's habit of matching the conductor's vigorous arm-swoops. It was a great piece and a great performance. I'll have to see about getting a recording of it. I applauded enthusiastically but was completely outdone by my neighbor, who leapt to her feet, waved her hands over her head, and hooted a bit. I think one of the flutists noticed and was a bit taken aback. I was leaning to my right, away from her, trying to use body language to inform the audience that "I do NOT know this woman."
Part way through the performance, I realized my mind was dwelling on her, and not the music. I knew I had to move a little farther down the pew. My ex-seatmate seemed to take no offense, as it afforded her the opportunity to stretch her legs out on the pew where I had been seated, and she could half-turn conveniently to set her coffee on the windowsill. My move inhibited my view further, but soothed my psyche.
The second piece was Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 2 in E flat minor. Performance - 5 stars. Composition - 2 stars. I'm just not going to be a Schoenberg-lover I guess. The conductor was correct that the finale was powerful, and I did enjoy that bit as a demonstration of orchestral shock-and-awe. I'll tell you who does appear to love Schoenberg - clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich. When not playing, he was staring at the score, swaying with the intensity of the music, and sometimes grinning as if agreeing with and approving Schoenberg's intentions. So while I didn't connect with Schoenberg myself, it was neat to see Gleb enjoying it. The clarinet parts appeared pretty challenging and during the bows I did give a standing ovation** directed at Gleb for his enthusiasm. I have no doubts about his skill after the last Salon Series concert.
It was also then that I had the thought that Schoenberg was communicating with Gleb, with the orchestra, with all of us, over the years and from beyond the grave, through those notes on the scores. I thought it amazing this system of musical notation, a true international language, has been created to allow the greatest composers to communicate with us over the centuries. For their thoughts and feelings and emotions to survive in a kind of immortality. And then my brain connected this to painting and literature, and then it seemed to be a commonplace and unremarkable thought and...oh well.
During intermission I took the opportunity to relocate entirely. I scouted the center balcony, but chose to sit in the nave. It wasn't a great seat, but I had a pretty good view of pianist Zoe Lu during Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major. The orchestra was mostly blocked from view by the grand piano. Zoe Lu was very energetic, and brought a powerful sound from the piano despite her petite frame. She earned a standing ovation and three bows from the audience and I. My own applause was targeted at her skill and in recognition of the colossal time and dedication it must have taken to master the piece.
Another fine night. It's quite an artsy summer for me, as the week after AMF ends, I'll be visiting NYC for three Broadway shows, a tour of Juilliard with my oboe-playing daughter, a visit to MOMA and more.
*I asked my wife, "Is a flute considered a woodwind?" She said yes. I sat in silence mulling this. Knowing exactly what I was thinking, she added, "Light on the wood, heavy on the wind." File under: Reasons Why I Love Her.
**On the issue of standing ovations, I am mindful of my beloved bride's disdain for standing-O pushovers, who give a standing ovation at the drop of a hat. There's really a lot of considerations for standing ovations. My family has and does view performances by little kids, junior high, and high school bands and choruses, dance recitals, music camp orchestras and jazz bands, high school plays, theater performances at Theater at Monmouth and Maine State Music Theater, and professional Broadway companies. So I usually adjust my standing ovation criteria. Sometimes it's based on the composition, sometimes the skill, sometimes the enthusiasm, sometimes what the rest of the crowd does. I'm self-conscious about being perceived as an unsophisticated pushover, but also as a grouchy hold-out. [sigh] It's so complicated. And some nights at AMF, things are so great I'd be giving a standing ovation to every piece. I guess I kind of grade on a curve.