On Friday, I braved the roadway in Snowpocalypse’s aftermath to drive to work. But getting to work wasn’t the point. All that digging out wasn’t for naught – I needed to drive for the after work part of the day: I had a ticket to the Symphony!
I went to the Symphony once. I was 10 or 11 and it was a field trip. I remember leaving with an even stronger desire than I already had to learn to play the piano. (It’s an activity I’ve relegated to my “bucket” list. I have little faith that it will ever happen.)
I would have no faith that it could happen except for my friend and colleague, KayO. KayO who is taking piano lessons NOW. KayO who emailed me a few weeks ago with a link to the St. Louis Symphony website and a ticket deal for their performance of Brahm’s Requiem at Powell Hall. KayO whose blog I am avoiding until I put up my own symphony post. (She is infinitely more knowledgeable about such performances and able to provide intelligent reviews of them.) I did not want to be influenced by Kay’s entry before completing my own. But I digress …
I got a little dressed up (which is saying a lot for the Queen of Casual), and KayO and I had dinner, a very nice dinner, using a Groupon I’d bought last spring. (But didn’t read the fine print about it being a dinner-only deal until I tried to use it for lunch one day last year.) So I had a drink and dinner and delightful banter with KayO then off we went to the concert.
I’d tucked my camera into my purse but they are pretty serious about not wanting you to take pictures AT ALL. Not even when they’re not performing. (Stupid, really. I was just fascinated by one of the ceiling’s manyf gorgeous ornamentations and wanted to capture it. And maybe a few other architectural details that Powell has to offer. You know I'm a sucker for old buildings!) Alas, there would be no photos. (But here's some I found online. Please note, the hall is NOT downtown.)
We arrived a little into the conductor’s pre-concert presentation or “liner notes.” David Robertson is warm and entertaining. I enjoyed listening to him speak not only about the Requiem but about the other piece we’d be hearing, Seven. The piece, which was dedicated to the Space Shuttle Columbia astronauts who died when it exploded in February 2003, was making its debut in the United States! Wow. I go to the symphony for the first time in decades and I get to see a piece debuted. Cool.
Showing how little I know about the symphony, I had no idea that the stage was arranged any differently than it should be. (There was a whole row of gongs and other percussion along the stage’s back wall.) “Wow. That’s a lotta gongs,” KayO said once we’d settled into our real seats. (We plopped into seats on the opposite side of the concert hall for the Robertson presentation.) “They’re going to have to put up a whole bunch of chairs.” Really? I wouldn’t know. “I guess there’s an intermission,” she added.
Well, that, I did know. There was a 20-minute intermission.
But back to Seven … There were violinists parked in the balconies during this piece. That made for an interesting sound. And the massive percussion session, punctuated by an occasional tuba, created very eerie ear candy. At one point, once the rest of the symphony began to meld itself with the industrial melody, it was a little like the soundtrack from the Red Violin meets the Wizard of Oz.
Then it was on to Brahms. I like Brahms. Please never refer to him as “The Lullaby Guy” in my presence. While that would be accurate, it would be insulting to make that his claim to fame. Not the guy I adore in particular for his Symphony No. 4. No. Just don’t go there.
But the notion of a requiem. (Ein deutches Requieum, Op. 45) I had read some years ago that this piece was never really meant to be mournful. I remembered that and it was something I used to gauge Friday’s performance. I was not disappointed.
For the record, I do not like opera; I am not a choral fan. In fact, my initial reaction was, “Aw, man. They’re gonna sing.”And in German, no less. (They had a screen up to translate. I was shocked by just how much German I knew.) I’m not proud of that reaction. In fact, after hearing not only the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and soloists Twyla Robinson and Stephen Powell. I’m quite red-faced with shame about my first response.
In a word, WOW. The chorus was great, but the booming baritone of Powell? Well, here comes WOW! again. I think I felt my seat shudder as his voice thundered through the hall whose name he shares. I sat in rapt attention as he belted out his part. When Robinson sang, in stark contrast to her male counterpart, her voice did not vibrate into the seats. No. It floated and soared. It was absolutely beautiful.
So, I can honestly say that between the two of them and that amazing chorus, they’ve wakened me from a state of walking idiocy – at least where music is concerned. Bravo. BRAVO!
The music wasn’t mournful. It was reverent and reminiscent of many Masses from my Catholic upbringing, yet uplifting. And while God and the hereafter were referred to, it was done so without the normal trappings of religion. (Something Brahms did purposely. For a piece of work debuting on Good Friday almost a century and a half ago. I knew I always liked this guy.)
Instead, the music drifted comfortably between somber and joyous. It was clear that this was music made for the living – not the dead. It was about honoring those lost (I did tear up at one point; it's a requiem -- you think about those who've gone on) but it was more about comforting the living.
And it was wonderful.