Monday, March 26, 2007

Ahhhh, Alfred

Tonight was the Alfred Brendel concert. Really, it was. We ended up having Lovely with us after all, so instead of getting one of my students to babysit, we bought two more tickets and took Lovely and the student too. It's not like they are going to have oodles of opportunities to see him perform.

It was amazing.

Again with the ticket mishap though. When we arrived, we discovered that the box office had not sold us 2 additional tickets in the same vicinity. They had sold us two additional tickets on the opposite side of the auditorium. Plus, people were already in our seats when we arrived (at the nick of time), and we didn't have time to argue with them. We had already wasted valuable time telling the usher that, no, the girls' tickets were not in the box with the man for whom the concert hall was named.

"Excuse me, Dr. Bigname who basically purchased this concert hall, I think you are sitting in my 11 year old's seat. Scoot."

So we went around to where Lovely and IO's seat were actually located. It was on the wrong side to see Mr. Brendel's hands. I thought all they were going to see was piano lid. But by then we had to just grab a couple of seats near theirs because the concert was starting.

I have never been so pleasantly surprised.

True, we could not see his hands. What we saw though, was his face. Alfred Brendel is 76 years old and has recorded at least 72 albums, and is my most favorite Beethoven performer. He is also a brilliant live performer.

I watched his face express every nuance that came from the piano. His jaw kept time and shook with each trill. Every smile that exploded when he milked just the right tone from the piano would melt into a furrowed brow and closed eyes as the phrase he was loving ended. Our seats were directly in his line of vision, had he been looking.

But he was not.

When his head came up and his eyes were pointed at us, they were closed. He was looking only at the colors created as he painted Beethoven in fresh paints, on a brand new canvas.

This audience has been spoiled though. At a normal symphony concert, the good looking Welsh conductor they have hired gives them plenty of time between movements to shift in their seats, clear their throats, speak to their neighbor, and rustle their programs.

Brendel had no time for this. He is 76 for crying out loud. Get comfortable. Sit still. Don't cough. And please don't talk. Ever. I had warned the girls. IO asked, "Can we at least breathe?" My reply, "Maybe. But don't make any noise when you do it."

When he began the second Schubert Impromptu (your favorite, Bach - I'm so sorry I didn't drag you there!), there was the typical noise of shifting in the auditorium. Only with the addition of a couple of real hackers. Granted, the people were probably genuinely ill and needed to cough, but Brendel didn't care.

About halfway through the theme of the Impromptu, he stopped. I knew it was coming. He had twice before looked into the audience as he played and shook his head as if to say, "I hear you and you are about to get it." And we got it.

He stopped, turned to the audience and basically said, "I am trying to concentrate," but with his Czech accent and a lot more words. But I couldn't hear what he said after that. I'm hoping T is going to leave a comment and fill in the blanks.

He called us out. I, along with the entire audience, have been scolded by Alfred Brendel. I am so embarrassed, and I didn't even breathe loudly. And at the same time, it was awesome. I'm so glad that Lovely and IO got to see that and realize that performers DO notice the audience. You are not invisible at a concert, and the performer can hear you unwrapping that candy wrapper. Doing it slowly doesn't make it any quieter by the way!

I have been at two other concerts where performers stopped and proclaimed their displeasure. One was Tori Amos. Some people were talking and she stopped to tell them they were rude and needed to shut up or leave. The audience cheered.

The other was Blind Melon. They were playing in a small club with crappy sound. Shannon Hoon had complained several times about his monitor mix to no avail. At this point, I feel the need to point out though, that the club was too small to even need monitors for the amount of volume they were pumping. Turn the hell down and maybe you could hear something. Anywhooo, poor dumb sound monkey comes up on stage to check the cable running to Shannon's monitor when he gets jumped. By Shannon. In the middle of the song. A freaking brawl. It was awesome, but I was also young and stupid. Today, I would have probably been mortified and fled the club.

So tonight, I add Mr. Alfred Brendel to the ranks of Tori Amos and Shannon Hoon. Performers who aren't beyond stopping and demanding that their environment be conducive to what they are offering. I'm sure he is so incredibly proud.

And yes, I totally see how ludicrous it is to group those three musicians all together. But I like it. I like to see the common thread. And it's funny.

Thank you, Mr. Brendel, for a perfect evening. For putting up with a less than perfect audience. For playing your heart out. It was spectacular.