The Value of SacPhil Tickets
To start with, it’s necessary to explain how my husband and I wound up with two tickets to see SacPhil perform their concert Bascially Beethoven last night. Our neighbors, who are season ticket holders, decided to go on vacation this week. So, they gave their tickets — B5 and B6 — to our other neighbors, my fifteen year old cello friend and his mother. At the last minute my neighbor — the fifteen year old — got invited to go up to Portland with a friend for the school system’s “furlough week.” As a result, his mom decided it was better to help him pack and get ready — even though his train was leaving 3 hours after the concert got over — instead of going to see SacPhil. She also decided it was the right time to rearrange all her furniture. Even though none of this conflicted time-wise, she felt it was more important to take care of other things than go to the performance. And this is someone who is very involved with orchestral music — she’s one of the leading parent volunteers for DSOMA, our local school system’s booster organization for orchestral music. In fact, she is so involved that the school system’s orchestra director Angelo Moreno wants her as the first ever full time staff member for the organization to take on larger projects for the benefit of the the organization and the students it serves. Unfortunately they are having a hard time trying to convince the board of directors, but that’s beside the point. I want everyone reading this to understand how little value these tickets had to these two people to whom orchestral music has so much value.
For the most part SacPhil plays at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. You can see more pictures here and here, which I think are more representative of what you will see when there, although it’s actually much more crowded when you’re at a concert — only a small percentage of the people attending can actually stand in the lobby at once. Also, there is only one set of restroom and as a result most people actually leave the building at intermission to go to the bathroom. In fact, there are signs pointing us to the Sacramento Convention Center building across the way so we don’t get lost. In short, the theater is really truly inadequate. It’s dated, crowded, and the seats are worse than in any lecture hall I ever had a class in while attending UC Davis. This makes going to the symphony a decidedly unglamorous event.
On the other hand, there are many beautiful facilities in the area, including the Three Stages at Folsom Lake College and the Mondavi Center in Davis. I’ve never been to the Three Stages, but from it’s photos it looks gorgeous. I’ve been to Mondavi and all I can say is that the photos don’t do it justice. Even the bathrooms are breathtaking. The first time I walked into one I was with a friend and all we could do for a couple minutes was exclaim “Wow!” and “Oh my GOD!” while looking around in wonder. SacPhil does perform concerts at both of these venues, but these are the concerts they consider less important, where they don’t have their oh-so-important guest soloists.
To start with, the entire concert was dedicated to a dead patron, one of their important individual financial supporters. I’m sure she was a terrific lady and that it meant a great deal to her family, who were in attendance, that last night’s performance was in memory of her. But here’s the thing: their patrons are getting old and dying. More on this in the next section, demographics.
The next part of the announcement was tacky and very telling of the financial situation of the phil. The announcer explained to us that only 40% of their revenue was from ticket sales and the other 60% from private donations. He then went on to tell us to look in our programs and notice the envelopes inside. Which he asked us to fill, whether with five dollars or five with a whole lot of zeros on the end. This did not happen last time — the envelopes were new as of last night — and was even weirder in the context of the dedication to the dead patron.
There was, however, one improvement. I’m assuming that after the Russian themed concert last October, before which the orchestra played the American National Anthem and had the audience sing along, a lot of people complained. It was genuinely offensive, especially after the announcer spent ten minutes thanking the local Russian community for coming out to the concert. This time there was no national anthem, the absence of which made the experience far classier. I’ll take tacky plea for money over offensive nationalism any day.
Last concert I went to, there were a large number of the local Russian community in attendance, which is certainly diversity in the context of professional orchestras. I thought the phil did a great job reaching out to a local ethnic community with a program that might interest its members. That being said, the concert wasn’t even close to being sold out, to the point that no one cared that those sitting far away started moving a couple dozen rows forward.
Last night had decidedly less diversity, which is sad because the local media talked about a really awesome last minute addition to last night’s program (more about that later.) Young people — by which I mean people under 50 — appeared to be less than 5% of the attendees. I’m hoping the horrible lighting in the lobby made people appear a couple decades older so that in reality there were quite a number of young people there last night. Also, nearly everyone was white. Old and white. SacPhil didn’t do a good job getting a wider variety of people out, which they could have done with the addition of the piece by Nader Abbassi, particularly because he’s Egyptian and Egypt has been in the news more than just a little bit lately. I think there was a lost opportunity. That being said, a heck of a lot more seats were filled than last time.
The name of the event was Basically Beethoven. This might lead one to think that the concert would consist primarily of Beethoven. What one wouldn’t expect is this:
1. The Creation of the World – Darius Milhaud
2. Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 – W. A. Mozart
3. New Conception – Nader Abbassi
4. Symphony No. 7 in A Major – Ludwig Van Beethoven
I understand the piece by Abbassi doesn’t fit and wouldn’t expect it too — it was a last minute addition in support of a friend of the phil. I’m cool with Mozart being played with Beethoven. I can make sense of that. What I couldn’t make sense of was the piece by Milhaud. He was a modern composer — he didn’t even die until 1974 — and his work was quite unrelated to Beethoven. The work was chaotic, silly, weird, mournful, sad, exciting, and boring. All at the same time. Also, it involved a saxophone, which was beautiful, but made me seriously wonder how it ended up as part of the program called Basically Beethoven. All together, the program made absolutely no thematic sense.
The Soloist and the Orchestra
The soloists, pianist Sara Davis Buchner, was a very good musician, as one would expect of a guest soloist. Likewise, the musicians of SacPhil played beautifully as one would expect of a professional orchestra. This, however, is not enough. While Mozart’s Piano Concerto was well done, it was odd with the rest of the night — weird modern piece, piano concerto, strings-only Egyptian piece, and generic Beethoven. Also, the hubby and I agreed there was just too much orchestra with the piano — it was hard to pay attention to the piano part because there was just so much sound from the orchestra competing with the piano. It was too bad because I’m not that in to piano concertos, but I will enjoy a well played piece on piano even if I’m not fond of the composition itself. Unfortunately, it was hard to hear her. Also, the beautiful shiny black Steinway had hand prints and smudges all over it. That seriously annoyed me. Details are important, especially when there’s not much visually going on.
A Diamond in the Rough
With all that I’ve said, it sounds like I must be quite disappointed with last night. I would be, except the phil offered one gem that was worth all the annoyances before and after: the piece New Conception by Nader Abbassi. After the intermission, the last minuet addition was announced. The conductor explained to the audience that Abbassi is a friend of SacPhil. He has been there several times to conduct and our conductor has visited Cairo to conduct his orchestra. The conductor then explained that in light off all that has been happening in Egypt, he wanted to do something for his friend that he’d been meaning to do for a long time — play one of Addassi’s compositions. He had a heck of a time finding a copy of the score with everything happening in Egypt, but, thankfully, there happened to be a copy in the US that he was able to obtain. Less than a week before the performance (yikes!) It was a piece for strings only, short and only a single movement. The orchestra was obviously not that into it, not like they were with their more familiar pieces, but they played it well. I absolutely loved the piece. It was delicate and powerful, tender, joyous, tragic. It was like the first time I listened to the Bach Suites. It filled me with feeling that’s still there. It was relevant emotionally and politically. Thank you Michael Morgan.
I have tried to find audio or video files of the piece and have been unsuccessful, much to my disappointment. I really wanted to share something of this with you and it saddens me that I can’t. I did, however, find a video of him conducting a piece by Egyptian composer Omar Khairat which I enjoyed very much. Here it is:
Gosh, before I wrote about that piece I thought I had a lot more to say. Now, I’m just thinking about Abbassi and wishing I could hear his piece once more. Thanks, SacPhil, for such a beautiful piece that I could never have heard anywhere else.