Monday, May 24, 2010

Tchaikovsky Concerto in Chatham

Last night before the concert, a tall high-school girl in an evening gown spoke to her dad in the front row of the audience, asking him to make sure he would remember to do something. I was sitting in the second row directly behind him, so I could hear her tone. She seemed very even-tempered despite her gown. Maybe there was some of that good-humored concern in her voice, the sort you get from people who have been through some screw-ups and know they'll survive -- like maybe she's experienced her dad not pressing "record" on the camera while she accepted her diploma -- but none of the excited fluttering that goes on with most teenagers in evening gowns. This teenager had more to think about than just getting her picture taken. She had work to do in her gown. Her fingers needed to fly, in tune.

Later in the concert, after the Durham Symphony had played the mutually antagonistic overtures to Nabuco and Rienzi, she walked out, the tallest person on stage, this year's winner of this orchestra's concerto competition, to play Tchaikovsky's violin concerto.

She toyed with the first statement of the first theme in a way I like. The piece soon engulfs the audience in a sweet tidal wave of melody, but at the start, it's appropriate that the soloist just toy with it, as if assembling it by accident, like a little kid pushing matchbox cars around on the rug.

She had that singing quality that shows she is paying attention on a very musical level, not just dealing with the notes. She seemed to purposefully hit some notes a little flat and draw them up to pitch, the way a soulful singer would. She slid around the phrases, making her stringed instrument feel as though it were breathing. Sometimes the technically hard passages had her stiffly sawing through, but mostly, through the difficult stuff, she kept up her expressiveness; and when that first tidal wave of orchestra did hit (a mark of Tchaikovsky that folks could cynically criticize, though we must acknowledge how few composers could rely so extensively on melody), ushered in by her series of arpeggiation gymnastics so impressive live, and framed expertly in the LCD screen of the dad's camera in front of me as if the camera were in its own TV commercial, she took half a step back from her spot on stage and cast her eyes down, hardly in shame, but more to suppress the little smile of satisfaction tweaking her mouth, indicating that she knew she had pretty much banged it.

(In that recording was Pinchas Zuckerman with the Israeli Philharmonic showing a much better side of Israel than settling the West bank)

The soloist with the Durham Symphony in Chatham is a student at Jordan High School and takes lessons from Eric Pritchard. Expect great things to come from her.

Thanks to the Chatham Arts Council for putting on such a great event. In addition to the wonderful Tchaikovsky, the excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess were a Durham Symphony highlight. According to some, this was the first symphony concert ever in Chatham county. I suppose this could be true if none of the schools in Chatham have student orchestras (just bands instead), and the NC Symphony has never traveled there. As conductor William Henry Curry said to the audience, let's hope this starts an ongoing collaboration, continuing with, perhaps a Christmas concert.

(This blogger thinks maybe the world does not need yet another Christmas concert. But he understands that the Durham Symphony can only learn so much music; and if their fall rehearsals are focusing on the holidays, then that's the kind of music they'll be able to play next fall.)

One problem is the acoustics in the concert hall at Northwoods High School. When a musical group plays on stage, much sound is lost among the curtains hanging overhead in the small flyway. On the other hand, there is a wide "pit" in front of the first audience row which is large enough for a small orchestra, and is not really a pit at all since the floor is on level with the audience floor. So why not put the orchestra there, where more of its sound will reach the audience directly? And if the pit is not big enough for the orchestra, then some orchestra members could sit on the front portion of the stage. This would bring the whole orchestra forward, out from under the flyway, and probably improve acoustics for orchestra concerts.

Continue . . .

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's Too Bad . . .

. . . that the bastion of morals, the Catholic Church, has done so much to protect the pedophiles in its ranks.

. . . that while we were supposed to be experiencing the economic growth that comes from cutting taxes on the rich, we have an economic collapse caused, in part, by the rich who most directly benefitted from the tax cuts.

. . . that just two years after Republicans at their convention chanted "Drill Baby Drill" in support of offshore drilling, an offshore oil rig explodes and creates one of our nations worst environmental disasters.

It's not that we should wholly condemn the Catholic church or never cut taxes or never drill for oil offshore. It's that we should give up mantras and lines of absolute thinking. Wise regulation on all fronts would be good. Of course, a politician can never campaign on a platform of "wise regulation."

Continue . . .

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Brunch Crunch

What is the deal with Foster’s Market? Parking is like perpetual festival parking, the sort of parking you do twice a year at Shakori or the county fair -- but here it’s every day. At least the festivals have volunteers with colored arrows and vests to help you make your way. There is no such service here. You just have to make your own space in the dust and gravel. And the people leaving Fosters don’t go straight back to their cars and vacate their spots. They linger, talking, finishing up that conversation about how Republicans are selling our country out to big business and big oil, all the while clogging the lot and hindering us new customers trying to come to this small business, our engines burning fuel, our turn signals desperately flashing our intent to use their parking spaces until the filaments go numb.

Inside, there’s a line of people waiting to order. Except they are not really waiting to order, they are just waiting to get to where they can see to figure out how to order. From this line you can’t see the chalk-written menus; you can’t see the process whereby you order hot food from the workers and forage on your own baked food and drink. In order to learn this, you have to take a chance and leave your place in line to go around to the front of the counter. This requires pushing yourself through thickets of wandering customers all holding small plates and saucers with teacups at about the eye level of a short person. These folks don’t know how hungry you are. They don’t understand your need for certain information to connect you with your food. What is with their soulless gazes, their needing to be told several times “Excuse me please” before they shuffle a little to the side?

At Moe’s Southwest Grill, you can view the menu while you wait in line, and all your food is ordered in the same place at the end of that line. Now, isn’t that a grand idea?

You steal a glance at the menu and rush back to the line before you lose much ground. Now you have to remember what you saw on the menu. If you do forget, you can’t see it until you are about to order at the head of the line. At that moment, faced with a clerk ready to take your order, you have mere seconds to tilt your head way back and re-read the menu and make your decision. But you realize that now, and during your previous glance, you only saw the breakfast menu. There is a lunch menu hanging a few feet away -- but you can’t read that now because of the glare. So you have to leave your front place in line and go look at that, then come back and make an instant decision, all the while holding up the whole line behind you.

The workers there should be commended for their patience with beleaguered customers. They take your order as if nothing’s wrong, and you feel a little chilled out, even when they tell you there will be a 20 minute wait on “all breakfast orders.”

Umm, okay. 20 minute wait. Now what? There is only one thing to do. Join the ranks of the soulless wanderers you had to push through earlier. You’re in limbo with them now, walking the rough-hewn creaky wooden floor back in forth in front of the counter, getting in the way of those other customers who, like you once did, sought direction and sense in their quest to order food.

This is a health-conscious grocery store, you think. Shouldn’t there be high quality coffee and tea somewhere? You spy it way back in a corner, and you get some. There is juice in a fridge case next to it, so you get one of those too. Now you’ve got a cup and saucer in one hand, and a bottle in the other, and you’re holding them at the eye level of short people.

You overhear a father bringing tea to his family at a table. “Took me a while to get this,” he said, and you’re glad someone else has given voice to the disorder.

You wander back along the counter area because you think you saw muffins somewhere. You had not thought you’d get one, but now, with this wait, you figure, you might as well spend the extra money to have something to nibble on. But you realize the muffins are behind glass and you need to signal counter help to get them -- and the counter help is busy dealing with the folks in line. To get someone's attention you would have to holler as if you were at a crowded bar, and you hate doing that. So you stay mired in your limbo, and Foster’s loses a small sale. How many times a day does this happen? You turn to head back across the counter area again, and nearly bump into an old guy behind you.

“I’m following you,” he says. Which is sad for him, given all you’ve accomplished here.

At Bruegger’s, all the food is in on place. You get it in a single line as your bagel is prepared. You pay and you are free to go.

You have a ticket that was stuck in your hand when you ordered that breakfast. The clerk told you they would bring it to you. You figure, you might as well sit down. You don’t know how they are going to find you, but somehow, there must be a reasonable end to all this. So you get in the cash register line. Now, finally, there is some sense of progress. You pay for the items in your hands -- the tea and the juice, and for what is on the ticket which will be brought to you later. You wish you had it all with you now, but whatever. At least you get to sit down.

Behind you in the register line, a teenager needs to worm her way up past people to get to some chocolate on the shelf. “Excuse me,” she says repeatedly. She snags the chocolate and retreats, only to rejoin the line later and pass the chocolate shelf again on her way to check out.

Customers sit at picnic tables distributed through several interior rooms, a porch, and the lawn. When your food is ready, the counter workers have to go all through the place calling out your name until you raise your hand. You can hardly hear what they are saying. Surely this wears on the nerves of the poor staff. And how many people wander off the street, sit down, and just raise their hands when a clerk is passing with an order?

One member of your party of friends had arranged for you all to meet at Foster’s this Sunday. You had warned them, saying, “It’s like a chaotic web page where you can’t figure out where to log in.” Another friend says, “I hate this place.” None of you will be coming back.

Continue . . .