No room at the Royal, no room at the Albany. On my way to Pine Parkade and then Nicol Square if necessary, I find a parking place in Soldiers Way. Why shouldn’t I go into my own city? I brave it out.
I arrive late, and the lady won’t take any money from me, just waves me through. For the people on the stage, it’s as if they were not on the stage. They’re so colourfully, sloppily dressed. It’s delightful chaos. Can’t see a conductor. Everyone’s doing their own thing.
Crashing chords, cascading ripples, chunks of sound from the grand piano.
The first violionist is standing chatting, laughing, holding a thermos. The violinist who sits behind her is on her cellphone – how can she hear anything?
The first violinist now claps her hands and there’s instant silence, then tuning up. The conductor perhaps has been there all along – I spot him, standing on the podium, but it’s behind the piano.
A guy stands on the left of the stage, cap backwards on his head, filming the rehearsal. All is going well with Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. This is just like being at the concert, minus the elegant black attire. In fact the orchestra’s in jeans and shorts. I wish the conductor would bring it all to a stop, then start it up again!
But not right now. After a brief pause, this solo piano is flowing so tenderly, limpidly I’d not like it interrupted. The notes trickle from the high octaves to the lower…. all of them are in the pianist’s memory.
How many hours upon hours upon hours has he spent perfecting this?
How could the composer have imagined, and organized all of this in his mind….
That’s it, go for it, trombones, blast out in magnificence. The players’ chests expand as they inhale. They finish their moment in the limelight and I catch them exchanging a grin.
Oh for that A4 pad under the kitchen basket! I’m using my shopping list, won’t be able to read a thing.
The pianist’s foot jabs at the pedal, he bounces on the seat, crescendo now, I do want Nick to see and hear this tonight, what a climax, and we applaud.
There’s a pause of a few minutes, and I move nearer, about ten rows from the front, on the left.
Was there ever such a thing as the human hand?
Yay, he stops the music. There’s conversation between the conductor, Kazem Abdullah, and the pianist, Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort. The conductor is hard to hear, specially as he’s hardly speaking to me, but I think I do hear, “Let’s start please from the last arpeggio.”
I’d like us to be three rows from the front, on the left, tonight.
In the silence, after another consultation, the conductor’s hands describe soundless shapes in the air as he leads the double basses in. His movements seem like too much, till you hear the beauty of their opening bars.
It’s fascinating to see the collaboration between conductor and soloist – the pianist has just indicated to him to speed the orchestra up! They’re stopping and starting quite a bit with this piece. We reach the end.
Nothing would keep me away tonight.
A violinist in an orange shirt jumps from the stage to the floor of the City Hall. Quicker. It’s Interval and all head for the urns of tea. I pass close to the huge cases of the double basses. One has been around a while, it has on it a big N, and a P, and an O. Only.
On my way back from the Ladies, I give the first violinist a big smile, and she gives me a big smile back.
The darling man behind the counter has given me not one, but three, pieces of paper. Riches.
I continue out, to lift my face to the sun. Two women are talking about their mutual friend, whose hair has begun falling out from chemo. This morning I saw that Nick’s anniversary card to us had been painted by mouth by a lady who lives in Waterfall. At the time that card was printed, she could only move her head and neck, due to her debilitating multiple sclerosis. She was formerly an avid equestrian and tennis player. What am I, what are we all, doing with our health and our well-functioning bodies.
I sit down on the City Hall steps. It’s so free, being on your own.
Back in my new seat, the lady in the row behind asks me, what am I writing. “Just my impressions.” I take the opportunity to ask if I can borrow her programme for a while. The easy companionship of women.
Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra begins with the double basses and cellos. Love them getting a turn on their own, together.
The violins shiver. I’ve not seen the bow used like that before. Wonder what the word is for that sound. The flutes briefly make melody, then it’s back to the big boys and my pen can’t keep up.
Kazem Abdullah makes an athletic business of his conducting, powerful, vigorous then lyrical.
Perhaps I’ll come back as a baton and always be held carefully and be in the middle of the party…
Here go the trombones again, their clashing sounds seeming barely under control.
It sounds as if there’s construction going on behind the closed doors to my left. The tapping and hammering is not in time.
Now that I have a programme before me, it’s enlightening. I think we just had the Introduzione. The second movement starts with a tattoo on the drum, then the bassoons feature in a lilting tune that has me tapping my toes. It’s merry and cosy, flittybitty. Drum moment in the sun, then the trombones get the chance to show their softer side, smooth and soothing as hot fudge sauce. This movement ends as it began, with the drum.
Another pause, then the orchestra sound like sadness. I look at the programme and see… Elegia: Andante, non troppo. A solitary harp string is plucked.
The percussionist is standing now. He hits the gong six times with a washing up brush, or something that looks like one. After the last strike, he massages the sound to stillness.
Two people have been very kind to me, the man who gave me these pages, and the lady who’s lent me her programme. Somehow I must try to retain this one, or lay my hands on another, to use when I make my notes before tonight. That movement ended with the piccolo (well I think so, being not too well-informed.)
The fourth movement is called Intermezzo interrotto: Allegretto. It starts with a hectic dance, then a circus sound from the trombones – this has been their showtime morning – a dramatic bash of the gong, then a melody rich as velvet gathers pace and sweeps all along before subsiding and fading away.
The final movement begins, I think, with the English horn. Then arms move wildly in a zizziness, zigger zagger buzz bizz zip zap zonk, turn the page quick, pretty triangle, boom bang boom bang stern baton.
I love how the musicians sometimes need to tend their instruments inbetween playing them.
In a quiet bit, we hear the soft-hearted harps and the plucking of the violin strings.
I take a quick glance at the rest of the programme and there’s just so much I don’t, and will never know.
Could make me think I should just shut up and put my pen down but it makes me think, all the more to find out.
The drummer is breathing hard. The cymbals clash, and stop.
The lady from the row behind says, “You can keep that. I was going to hand it back anyway.”
People drift off.
The conductor is speaking, flipping back through his score in its huge green book, the members of the orchestra attentive. His hands are expressive as he talks. I think I catch a few phrases, “go too slow” “in the second movement” “in the first movement” “1,2, 3…. 1,2… 1,2…. 1,2,3…. 1,2… 1,2”
He looks to the double bass players with a word of praise. One of them queries a point and he responds but I don’t hear the words.
It’s really over.
Someone plays a jolly snatch of tune then all start to stand and gather their things. I’m off to play my words.
Passing Medwood Gardens (how long will it keep this name) I see the headline of the newspaper, the Post. ‘Devotees offer chocolate to deities’ and think, what a wonderful world. A bench in the Gardens beckons to sit in the warm sun for a while, to write that down before it goes, but I dare not.
Instead I continue to the car, still there, and tip the car guard.
At the traffic lights, I leave a car’s length between me and the car in front so I can move forward suddenly if I need to. Scanning my surroundings with a cautious eye, I scribble some more. We move on and the next time I have to wait for a light, I’m alongside another headline, ‘Raped while reading Bible.’
Back in our world.