I got home from work on Friday after a particularly hectic week and was looking forward to a quiet night in. Maybe some reading, maybe watch a movie, maybe early bed. But you know what Jane Siberry asks: “What in the world will the world bring today?” I was quickly checking Facebook before supper and a message popped up from my cousin Laurie. She had just won 4 tickets to our local Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert of the season and wanted to know if my wife and I wanted to use two of them. The concert was at 8 pm. The message came in at 5:52 pm. My initial thought was to write back and say “Thanks for thinking of us, but we just couldn’t.” I mentioned it in passing to my wife as I headed out the door to light the BBQ, and she said, “Well I’m not up for it, but you could go.” That’s just one of the things that makes my wife great. She’s been home all day with a rangy 4 year old and she looked bloody exhausted. I offered to stay home with our daughter so she could have a night out, but instead she was totally fine with me going. And she’s not one of those people who says it’s totally fine and then makes you pay for it in weird passive-aggressive ways the next day. If she say’s she okay with something she’s genuinely okay with it.
I thought about it a bit more and decided to google the line up. If it was something lame, I probably wouldn’t bother. It turned out to be a Rachmaninoff concerto (#3, but that meant nothing to me), and Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”. Wow! I’m familiar with The Planets but I never heard it performed live and knew it would probably be pretty great.
I decided I would go.
I just needed to find a “date”. I was in the middle of getting supper ready, so I didn’t have a lot of time to call anyone, so I just tweeted a general invite to anyone who wanted to go and see if there was any interest.
I was distracted by this unexpected evening ahead of me, and so I was not as diligent at the BBQ as I normally would be. I was planking some salmon and it smelled AMAZING but when I brought in inside and cut into it, I realized that it was still PRETTY MUCH RAW on the inside. I was supposed to meet my cousin outside the concert hall in about 45 minutes, so I didn’t have enough time to stick it back on the BBQ. I fired up the oven, issuing apologies to my wife and daughter, who were already seated at the table, and waited for the required 10 minutes or so of additional baking to really finish it off. In the meantime I ate rice and green beans and left the salmon for them.
I was feeling slightly guilty for taking off, but only slightly. As it turned out, only one friend responded to my tweet, but as I had thought, it was just too short of notice to get anything put together, so I went alone.
Which was fine, because I wasn’t really alone. I was meeting my quirky fun cousin Laurie and her friend Etta. I think I’d go out on a limb and say that Laurie is probably one of my favourite cousins. She’s my uncle Doug’s eldest daughter and has many of his mannerisms and turns of phrase. My uncle passed away ten years ago this November, and I still grieve his loss, but when I’m with my cousin Laurie I can fall into the same kinds of conversations and whatnot with her as I did with my uncle, because it’s sort of like having my uncle there, except in lady form. Oh, and I always seem to make Laurie laugh, and she has this great laugh. I’d go so far as to call it a cackle. She cackles at almost everything I say, and I don’t think I’m even being all that funny, but her laugh gets me laughing and the two of us will start a weird chicken and egg laugh spree that is hard to suppress. Did I mention I like and love my cousin Laurie?
Also, she is SUPER LUCKY. She’s always entering contests and winning them. In fact, she had one another contest that very day to a football game but gave them away. Last Christmas, my wife went with her to see the Nutcracker Ballet using tickets that she won. And she’s not just lucky with contests. About fifteen (okay, maybe even twenty) years ago, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer and was given six months to live. She sought treatment and fought and well, her she is, 20 some years later, cancer free for the last 10 and going strong. She’s also traveled to over 40 countries in her life, usually on her own, and I enjoy hearing her stories about all her adventures.
Our seats were great. Row 11 near the middle. Pretty much the sweet spot, I’d reckon, which is kind of funny because you’d think there isn’t much to see at a symphony orchestra concert. You’re there for the music. It’s like David Sedaris joking about the people in the cheap seats when he does a reading. “You people aren’t missing anything!” But I quite liked being that close. You noticed the little things, like the hand placement of the pianist during the Rachmaninoff, or the subtle eye rolling between two violinists who obviously missed something so minute it was unnoticeable to the audience. And it’s always fun to watch the director and how he interacts with the orchestra and the soloist, always in control even when it looks like he’s letting go. I often wonder how much of his movements are for the orchestra, how much are theatre for the audience, and how much is just him reacting viscerally to what’s unfolding before him? I’d imagine a little from each column. I do know that this particular maestro is really fun to sing for, and that you must never take your eyes off of him. Last year, our choir did a joint concert with the symphony and at all the rehearsals we took the piece at a certain tempo, but on the night of the concert, I don’t know if it was adreniline, the mood of the room, or what he had for supper, but he took us all faster than we’d ever gone before and it seemed like the right tempo for that night and time, but it sure was nerve-wracking for those of us who were comfortable with a certain pace. I guess that was the lesson I learned that night: don’t get too comfortable.
As I found out later, the Rachmaninoff concerto #3 was the famous one that was featured in that movie “Shine” with Geoffrey Rush, but I’ve never seen that movie, so how would I know? Not knowing that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it, that’s for sure.
The second half was Holst, and my cousin and her friend had never heard of “The Planets”, so I explained to them that each piece was based on one of the planets, but it was based more on their astrological characteristics than their astronomical ones, which is why there is no movement for Earth. There is also no movement for Pluto because it was not discovered with Holst composed it in the early part of the 20th century. So Holst looked PRETTY SMART when Pluto got demoted a few years ago. What’s the status of Pluto now, anyway? Planet? Not a planet? Can we get the fanbase with their iPads on to this right now? I’m on a roll and can’t stop for fact checking.
“The Planets” isn’t my first choice of classical listening, but it was pretty exciting to hear “Mars: The Bringer of War” get played live. I was struck by how many sci-fi soundtrack composers owe such a huge debt to Holst, not the least of which being John Williams. You can’t listen to Mars without hearing Star Wars themes at the same time.
The other big number in the piece is “Jupiter” and its wonderfully lyrical melody that comes out of no where (space, I guess) in the middle. It was adapted by Holst into a hymn and it often gets played on Remembrance Day. I’m sure you’d know it if you heard it. I wouldn’t say I often leave classical music concerts humming memorable tunes, but I can say that I was humming Jupiter this morning as I poached some eggs.
The entire thing ends with “Neptune”, a mystical, contemplative piece that actually has a women’s choir singing off stage at the end. I recognized one of the women from my wife’s community choir, but I’m terrible with names and I think also descriptions because I described her to my wife when I got home and she didn’t have a clue. But in any case, the women’s voices come in softly, so delicately, and then they start to fade away, bit by bit, until you’re not sure