Thursday, July 06, 2006

Summer Shostakovich (Part Three)

[Marci and I enjoyed a truly unique -- and truly bizarre -- evening in Amsterdam's Vondelpark last week. But... to do justice to the experience, I wanted to try painting with smaller strokes and a more varied pallette in my writing. But... realizing that the blogging format is not ideally suited for longer blocks of text, I wanted to try a different publishing strategy: a serial. But... the success of this strategy -- and your enjoyment of these posts -- depends on your willingness to follow along. See Summer Shostakovich (Part One) and Summer Shostakovich (Part Two) to catch up and join the adventure...]

* * * * *

...The Trio's second set awakened the dormant masses. If the first set had been politely received with knowing smiles, as a prim and proper hostess at a formal dinner party -- the second set was affectionately embraced, like an old friend with open arms and sloppy kisses. The violinist pitched and swayed in a fevered pitch. The clarinetist closed his eyes and wailed, as if he was playing jazz. The pianist commanded the concert grand to louder louds and softer softs. Their music somehow meant more. And the audience understood this. They either signaled their comprehension by becoming more active -- like the silver-headed woman in the red dress up front who could be seen beaming and swaying in time to the music -- or by becoming perfectly still. Like the flaming sailorman and his partner and his lady friend... Like the woman in the next seat over and her dog... Like me. We became enchanted statues, listening to the frenzied arpeggios with a sense of awe and exhilaration. And when the set was closed, and the Orneüs Trio took their bows, the musicians had earned their applause. Any embarrassment of a previously unsolicited encore was loudly forgotten.

The barritone enunciator broke in with an explanation that he would be coming around with a collection box, to help support the costs of the summer concert series. And as he ushered his way through the aisles, I pushed my way back to the café area for some refreshments. People crowded around the bar and ordered coffee, liquor, candy. The wait staff buzzed from coffee machine to customer, beer tap to cash register, refrigerator to bar... As I waited in line, I noticed the Orneüs Trio, sitting at a nearby table -- just the three of them and the pianist's page turner (presumably some underclassman at the Conservatory). No mothers. No teachers. No girlfriends. Just the three of them and their drinks. I almost said something to them. I almost bought them a round of drinks.


In the end, I succumbed to the foreigner's flu -- that startlingly temporary affliction which instinctively shuts one's mouth in order to maintain anonymity and avoid betrayal of an accent or a poorly structured sentence, lest one is subjected to fantasmical scenarios of betrayal as a poser, a foreigner, an outcast, an enemy, a loser, someone needing to be mob-lynched. So I secretly stared at the spent musicians from my peripheral vision, and I said nothing. I got my plastic cup of koffie verkeerd and micro-carton of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough Ice Cream; and I returned to my seat to watch the next performance that was just being introduced.

The featured act was De Kamer van Sjostakovitj (Shostakovich's Chamber). A lone pianist with frizzy black hair and an uncomfortable black tuxedo started with a discourse about his passion for Shostakovich and his pleasure at such a beautiful opportunity to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Russian composer's birth. He was to start his performance with a piano ballet composed around the theme of adventures with Soviet soccer hooligans (seriously); then his cellist colleague would come out to join him for a couple of concertos; and for the finale, vocalists would be added to the ensemble -- bringing the full glory of Dmitri Shostakovich to the humble masses assembled in the Vondelpark.

The hooligans' ballet was interesting, engaging, entertaining -- imaginatively composed music interpreted imaginitively and lovingly. Nevertheless, I found my gaze wandering upward -- above the jet-black euro-fro of the pianist, above the jet-black lid of the grand piano, above the red and blue gelled fresnels and lighting trusses -- to the pigeons that nestled beneath the rafters of the amphitheater's concert shell, huddled together in clumps of two and three with their beaks burried into their puffed out chests.

They had likely been there all along, from the very beginning of the evening; but I was instantly piqued by my discovery of their presence, and I studied them as the chords and clashes of the piano filled the air. Such odd birds. Such city birds. Cosmopolitan and campy at the same time. They seemed not to notice de Kamer van Sjostakovitj beneath them. They seemed not to care about Shostakovich's 100th birthday. Or his penchant for mixing ballet and soccer hooliganism. Or the surreal mix of personalities that made up the audience beneath them. The pigeons epitomized apathy... until the grand conclusion of the hooligans' ballet.

Tapping into the ecstatic and eccentric vibe of the evening, the piano crescendoed and shouted forth a barrage of power chords that shook the stage and the audience. Even the pigeons. One clump of pigeons, in particular, were stirred by a particularly powerful pound of the pianist's left hand -- and their wings started to flutter in an act of surprise and desperation to maintain equilibrium. In the process, one downy underfeather from one of the startled pigeons was dislodged, and it began a slow dancing descent toward the stage. I followed it the whole way with my eyes. Down, down, down. It drifted toward the center of the stage, and I started to think that it might land on top of the piano. Or inside the piano -- which is, as a matter of fact, exactly where the feather ended up.

The feather dropped into the cavernous interior of the ebony instrument. And in the moments that followed, I can only assume that this meant something...

[to be continued...]


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