Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mind the Gap


Went to opening night at the symphony yesterday, where my presence in the audience helped bring down the average age considerably. But that was in the audience only. Our conductor, (see photo) who is starting his 3rd season with us, is considerably younger than me. (His new wife was there tonight. She looks about 22). The first piece was by a composer younger than me by several years and the guest artist was a good bit younger still. Being the opening night, the conductor (who is not only young, but hot) introduced new members of the orchestra. The new oboeist looks approximately 13.

So, the audience made me feel young. The musicians made me feel old.

The first piece, Rainbow Body, by Christopher Theofanidis, won an international competition for new compositions when he was about 35. (He's an old man at 40 now and working on a new opera.) It was a lush, lovely piece. Jennifer Frautischi played Tchaikovsky's violin concerto in D to a standing ovation (two actually). She played with energy and drama. (And her dress was fab -- showed off her toned body very nicely, as she seems to spend almost as much time at Pilates as on her violin. Maybe that's what got all those old men to their feet). The second half was Elgar's Enigma Variations, which I found charming and beautiful. Mom said that was not her favorite Elgar, so I'm going to have to find some more of his stuff. We went to the pre-symphony talk -- always helpful for listening, I think -- and I was a little worried when I heard the Elgar was 33 minutes. I get restless with long compositions or long sermons. But the time flew.

Back to the age gap. Classical musicians have been worrying about graying audiences for a long time. And for those of us who have grown up moving to our music, it is such a different experience to sit very still for all that music. In fact, we didn't grow up sitting for much -- church, school, all the places a previous generation would have been expected to sit very still and quiet for long hours -- all changed in the 70s and beyond. A young couple sat in front of us -- he in the torn jeans and tee -- and were very affectionate with each other. You could see the uncomfortable responses on all sides as he sensuously kissed her fingers during the Tchaikovsky. My mom said after the first piece, "They need to get a bedroom."

It cracked me up, but brought to mind this whole audience age gap thing. At a rock concert touching would be not only fine, but expected. At the pre-talk the young conductor and guest artist joked about how some music gets old and boring for them after they've done it several times. Mom thought they were airing their dirty laundry and didn't like it. I thought it was authentic and interesting. But then, I'm part of the therapy generation where we talk about what we feel and think. My mom is of the "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything" school.

A final thought: I was startled by the abrupt beginning of the concert with the National Anthem. Has that always been done and I just don't remember? I could never afford going to the symphony in DC, where I would have expected the stars and stripes, but back in Rochester, I don't remember the Philharmonic starting its concerts that way. Can anyone enlighten?

9 comments:

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Weird. I've been to the NSO multiple times, and don't ever remember hearing the National Anthem...

The conductor is most definitely hot.

I'm a huge classical music fan, and--like you---I'm almost always one of the youngest people in the audience. Which is weird, given that I'm 44.

I think most people just don't have the attention span to enjoy a full symphony, which is a shame. I'm terrible about being able to identify particular pieces and composers, but that kind of music can transport me in ways that nothing else will.

I am a particular sucker for the cello---I've been fortunate to hear Yo Yo Ma and Rostropovich, and they could both make the angels weep.

Diane said...

I've never heard of the National anthem opening the symphony. but I don't go so often either. I'd love to, though. Maybe I need to reorient my priorities.
Even though I love classical music, I think if I were go to a concert, it would end up being jazz or bluegrass or something kind of funky.
byw, glad to see a new post.

Grandmère Mimi said...

LJ, I loved your description of the event, especially that you did the contrast of attitudes and reactions between you and your mom.

I'm delighted to hear about the young artists and composers, but who will be the audience when the grays die off? I think prices for season tickets have an effect, too.

I have never heard a symphony concert begin with the "National Anthem", unless it was a July 4th pops celebration. Let's hope it's not a trend.

pj said...

Never heard of any kind of concert opening with the national anthem. Well, maybe 4th-of-July concerts, but that's all.

What a cute conductor!

Sadly, I am representative of my generation in my complete lack of knowledge of classical music. But when I do listen to it, I tend to favor the really old stuff over the modern.

And ticket prices are prohibitive for all kinds of music these days!

lj said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one surprised by the National Anthem. I thought it was weird.

mompriest said...

I concur. I've been to the symphony in Chicago at a variety of formats (Orchestra Hall, Grant Park, Millennium Park, Ravinia - summer outdoor options) and I have never heard the National Anthem....hum. Have you read, "Broken We Kneel" by Diana Butler Bass....I think she may speak to this...

eileen said...

I've played in orchestras in high school, (high school and a high school amature/pro combo local thingy), but I've never been to see a symphony orchestra. I can identify some classical music (most of it in the Bach/Tchiachosky/Brahams/Handel variety), but I don't have anyone who would go to a symphony with me, that I'd enjoy going with.

And I agree with Doxy about the cello - YoYo Ma soothes my soul. When I'm distracted and need to focus, I play him in the background (especially for writing or analyzing tasks) and I am able to get through.

johnieb said...

Cello: the best, uber alles.

I suppose I wouldn't affect the audience age average much at 62, but I'm enough of a rebel to not mind a little romantic interaction, as long as they don't make distracting noises or attention-getting behavior, i.e., getting up and moving down the aisle, dancing in place, lighting a Bic, etc.

The NYP and Maezel (sp?) opened their Lincoln Center performance (& season) last night with the National Anthem.

lj said...

Johnieb, at 62, you would have been on the younger end of the crowd with me!

Distracting noises. heh.

Maybe the Anthem is an opening night thing?