Time for another update. I had a breakthrough on Chapter 15, and I’ve made great progress. I’m up to the final scene – admittedly a long and involved one – so the completed first draft should be ready by the end of the weekend.
Life happened again since my last update, and it was one of those things that feel very Twilight Zone-ish to me.
I would be very surprised if any regular reader didn’t think attending a performance of either Beethoven’s 5th or 9th Symphonies was very high on my “Must Do” list. They’re Bucket List things for me.
Last winter, when I was writing Chapter 14, with its heavy focus on the 9th “Ode To Joy” Symphony (and my vote for the single best composition ever written by any human being), just for the hell of it one night I decided to try googling “Beethoven 9th symphony performances in 2014.” I hit “Enter”, and up popped dozens of concrete responses. I expected it might be on tap somewhere in Europe or Asia or even the West Coast, all places that might as well be on the moon.
I was shocked to see one of the first hits indicated it was being performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra – the very one I was then using as my model for The Epiphany – at their summer home, Tanglewood in western Massachusetts in late August. My wife thought I’d stuck my finger in an electrical socket from the way I started screaming. She was significantly less impressed than I was, but I didn’t care. We were going, come hell or high water. I ordered the tickets that night.
We went. The concert was in a roofed outdoor venue called The Shed, and it sits on rolling lawns, enabling people to sit in the cheap seats (the lawn) and picnic while pretending to listen to the concert. For me, it was everything I hoped for and then some. The sensation I had when the full choir exploded into the Ode To Joy climax was in the same ballpark as orgasmic. That’s the best I can describe it. But some people think I’m weird like that.
As awesome as the concert was, getting there was a nightmare. The traffic jam would make a downtown Boston 5:00 PM Friday gridlock look like an open freeway. We stayed at a motel 10 miles from the site to save time and hassle. We left at noon, half an hour before the gates opened thinking that would be plenty of time to get there, explore the grounds, and get some lunch before the 2:30 (sharp) start of the program.
The place holds several sold-out shows every summer. You’d think they’d have traffic control running like a well-oiled machine. Hah! It took us the full two hours, which we’d planned to use eating and exploring, to go 2 miles.
We finally got to the parking spot, then we had to run a quarter mile – uphill – and wade through several hundred rude, mostly intoxicated picnickers holding lawn passes to reach our seats.
We made it just as the last bell rang, announcing the start of the program – five minutes to spare. Breathless, flushed, and sweat soaked though I was, we made in time for the whole program, and nothing else mattered. It was… Beethoven triumphant!
When we got home, I waited a week to cool down before doing anything. Then I got a Robo-email from the Tanglewood people thanking us for attending, and hoping we had a good time. It had a contact link in case we had questions or comments. Yeah I had a comment, a few in fact. I let loose (mostly politely) and told them the traffic jam nearly ruined it, and there was no excuse for an organization like Tanglewood to not have something as basic as traffic control figured out.
I hit send, and to my utter shock, two hours later I got a return email from one of the Boss Ladies who apologized profusely. To show how sorry she (they) were, she refunded the full cost of our tickets to my credit card!
Since this was "found money" in a sense, and because they were so prompt with their apology, I decided to use it to go to some other program later this winter, only this time at symphony hall.
One day, I decided to see what Beethoven or Mozart programs there might be. I went to the BSO site and did a search. What do you think caught my eye? Well of course, what else? They were performing the 5th Symphony at Symphony Hall, but it was the following weekend! Holy shit! I had to act fast. I did a ticket search, and found two together in the Orchestra section – the symphony’s version of baseball’s box seats. Holy Grail category for me. We were going, and I ordered the tickets immediately. When we got the tickets, it dawned on me we were going to be in the second row from the stage! Wow!
We had getting there all figured out. From my research for Chapter 14, I knew we could take a train to North Station, and from there take the Green Line, stop at the Prudential Center to check out the mall, then hop on the Green Line to come out at Symphony Station. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned. The Green Line was down for maintenance, but the Orange Line had a stop on Massachusetts Avenue a block or so from symphony hall. There went our Prudential trip, and we had to walk a fair distance in heels, but we were there with plenty of time to spare. We found an awesome coffee shop where we relaxed for a couple of hours.
When it was time to go in, I had no idea what to expect. Would it be anything like how I described it in Chapter 14? I’m proud to say the only thing I got wrong was saying the organ pipes were polished brass when they’re in fact wood painted gold. I got everything else right.
A few pictures that I took from our seats (goddamned camera ran out of memory after four pictures, and did I have a memory card? Why on earth would you think that?)
The first two pieces — a Mozart concerto for four strings, and the aria to an opera by a Brazilian composer — dispensed with, it was intermission (one ladies room in the entire place). When it was time for the start of the program, the conductor came out, did a quick bow from the podium, and before the applause died down, those incredibly powerful and famous four notes burst out like shotgun blasts.
We were so close I could have reached out and tugged on the cellist’s tux tails. Apropos of nothing, but while the hall was filling up before the show, this one chubby and mostly non-descript arty woman started flirting with one of the bass violinists, a tall, homely, mostly bald middle age guy. Oh, she was such a fan of his, blah blah blah. I said to my wife, “I’ll be damned, even bass violinists have groupies – who woulda thunk it?”
It was… sublime, ethereal, triumphant. My favorite part is about 20 minutes or so in, when it’s getting close to the 4th movement. Everything goes quiet, the winds, the violins, the horns are very soft, pianissimo, the violins playing pizzicato, it feels to me like something is stealthily sneaking through the weeds, it doesn’t seem dangerous yet. At first, there’s no tympani, just strings, woods, and horns, but then ever so softly, ominously, the kettle drum starts tapping, and suddenly the tensions ratchets up. Something’s going to happen, something extremely powerful, maybe dangerous, who knows, but it’s closer, closer, the kettledrums and the increasing agitation of the violins, still ever so soft, the bass strings moaning ominously. The strings feel like a bow at full draw, it’s coming, it has to happen soon, annnnnnnnnnnd CRASH! The Amazonian Goddess explodes from the earth like a volcano, and she stands bestride the mountains announcing her triumphant return. I had a mental orgasm with that one, let me tell you. My brain reeled from the power and force of that brief passage. Again and again, the Goddess calls out her triumph over Fate!
Phew, sorry, I get carried away.
When it was over and we were heading out, my wife declared she wasn’t walking to the subway station in heels, at night, with me bawling like a baby, so she flagged a taxi to get us into the safe arms of Amtrak.
I had a bit of an emotional letdown after the intensity of the emotions the symphony wrought, and it took the better part of a week to shake the funk I was in.
But think of it. A few months ago, I was making up out of thin air a very important, even pivotal concert of Beethoven’s two signature symphonies for Karen and Laci to attend. Attending these two symphonies is high on my Bucket List. Out of the blue, I discover the 9th being performed at a time and place I can manage, by one of the 10 best orchestras in the world. Troubles getting to the concert lead to having my ticket money refunded, money I can now use to attend a future concert. This in turn leads me to the discovery that the 5th Symphony is being performed in Symphony Hall at a time that works for me – but only if I moved fast.
If you think of it, there are many odd coincidences in there. Whether it was my Muses’ sister Euterpe taking pity on me, or just the vagaries of luck, I’m just thankful I got to experience them as they were meant to be experienced.
I am a very happy woman.
Back to work, my friends, I promise.