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Last night I had the opportunity to hear my teacher perform for the first time. Sure, I could have gone to any number of performances in the past, but she hadn’t invited me. She’s 18 and I figured to stay out of her life unless otherwise invited since I’m (sort of) a real grown up now. So, since she invited me (yay!) I went to see her perform with the Sac State Symphony Orchestra last night.

On the menu for the evening (yes, I said menu. It was yummy):
Brahams — Hungarian Dances Nos. 1, 3, 6, 10, and 5
Shostakovich — Violin Concerto No. 1
Mahler — Symphony No. 1

Right. First, before the performance. So, my hubby was busy for the evening and my neighbors, the 15 year old former student of my teacher and his mom, were unable to come with me as originally planned. So, it was me by my lonesome, off to the Sac State campus for the first time since my mom was a student there when I was in 5th grade. In the dark and in the rain. I only got lost once, which I consider an extreme success. I managed to find the performance hall and promptly ran into my teacher. Yay! She’d told me to come find her, which I thought would be an impossible task, so that she knew I was there. I said hi but then had to get in line to get my ticket. And then I turned around and looked at the person who had gotten in line behind me, who looked like his head would explode as soon as he saw me. It was one of my coworkers — the trumpet player. His reaction was pretty much WTF are YOU doing here? Me: See that girl over there? She invited me. I still didn’t tell him I play cello. Really. ‘Cause I’m THAT awesome.

So now is the point where I start thinking about my experiences with SacPhil and comparing those experiences with this one. We’ll start with the venue. It’s small, cramped, I have no idea how all the musicians fit on the stage for Mahler, and it reeked of sweat before the music even started. That being said, I really didn’t care. Seriously. It was so damn cramped that it felt like you right inside the middle of the music, feeling it in your body, feeling the vibrations in your seat. Not even the second row at the Sacramento Community Center Theater was awesome like that. I don’t know about anyone else, but I love the physical feeling of the music. It’s one of the things I love about playing cello. It’s soothing and I think it’s why I can play open strings for hours on end. Muscles sore and knotted? Playing cello will vibrate me until I relax. So it was great having everything so cramped.

So, before the performance still, my coworker and I were chatting. He’s friends with members of the orchestra and has been at their rehearsals. Apparently, they didn’t make it through a single rehearsal without totally screwing it up (according to him.) He was telling me he had no idea if they’d actually manage to pull off this performance. Awesome. They did pull it off, although with a few little missteps and a number of musicians looked like they were going to pass out the whole time. Which actually somehow made the whole thing more enjoyable. These are peopleplaying, not robots (unlike SacPhil, which employs only performers who check their personalities at the door.) Okay, so that was insulting, but really, I’d much rather be wondering if the soloist is going to pass out than wishing for at least one person to have facial expressions. One of the things my teacher spends a lot of time talking about is how we as performers (okay, just her, but we’ll assume one day I will be a performer) need to make everything we do look easy. Even when it’s really effing hard. If I’m playing something really hard for me, she’ll stop me, make me take some deep breaths, and smile. And if I stop smiling she makes me stop and start over, which she does until I can smile all the way through. From there it’s easy enough to have whatever expression I want, but she never ever ever ever ever lets me forget that musicians are actors as well as instrumentalists.

So maybe that’s why the barely conscious dripped in sweat soloist amused me so much. When she walked out she was in this beautiful dress, hair done nicely with a flower in it, make up perfect. By the end her dress was rumpled, her hair falling apart, she was coated in sweat, and she was on the verge of passing out. Her performance wasn’t flawless and it was clear she was an undergraduate who was still in the process of learning, but her youthful energy was fun and I enjoyed her playing for where it was at in her life long journey as a violinist. There’s something sort of boring about a flawless performance to me. Sort of how I was playing Haydn last week. I’d rather have the feeling that anything, really anything, could happen in a performance sometimes. It’s just a bit more human. Actually, the conductor kept turning around to silently check on the violinist between movements. She’d nod to him that she was okay(ish) and the show would go on. What a great way to make the audience nervous! Seriously, I loved it. Also, the conductor spoke to the audience and he spoke well and it was just wonderful. There was a real connection between the audience and the musicians that I never felt at SacPhil.

Now to the programming. I really loved it. My coworker wasn’t fond of the Shostakovich, but I really loved it. But then I love pieces that take you emotionally to the one place you don’t want to go, which this piece did over and over and over again. Overall, the program was well thought out. Unlike SacPhil, which seems to decide what they will perform by writing down all possible choices on little slips of paper and drawing them at random, these pieces made sense together. I liked the order in which they performed them. All three pieces were full of an energy that meshed well with the youthful energy on the stage. I also need to comment on the programs. They were so vastly different from SacPhil’s. Seriously, the descriptions of the pieces made me laugh. Out loud. Several times. There was even profanity — in a quote by Mahler: “Sometimes it sent shivers down my spine. Damn it all, where to people keep their ears and their hearts if they can’t hear that!” SacPhil would never ever ever ever include that in a program. Someone young obviously wrote the program and wrote it to appeal to young people. I loved it.

Overall, the performance was not flawless. Actually, my coworker laughed (silently) at a few of the missteps. But this made it feel more alive, more spontaneous. The feeling, the emotion, the energy was all there. There was a lack of stiffness that always goes with SacPhil. The musicians are kids, and that was the greatest part. When we were clapping for the soloist and the conductor, they wildly stomped their feet and cheered. They totally got the audience excited with their enthusiasm. After the violin concerto (I think) someone in the audience actually screamed out “YEAH!!!” as soon as the conductor turned around, which caused the rest of the audience to erupt in an uproar. The audience was having fun (yet actually managed to NOT clap between movements.) It was just a wonderful energy. Notice I said the audience had fun. They didn’t just enjoy the concert, they had fun. Next time they have a concert I’m definitely going.

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5 responses »

  1. The Shotakovich Violin Concerto is one of my all time favorite concertos. I even love it more than the two cello concertos and the 2nd violin concerto he wrote. It was a truly inspired piece written for probably my favorite violinist of all times, David Oistrakh!

      • He has tons of great stuff and has always had problems with the Soviet Censors so alot of the music tends to be politically motivated and “angry” music.

        Suggestions for you:
        Cello Concerto no. 1 (probably the most similar to the Violin concerto you heard of all his concertos)
        Sonata for Cello and Piano
        Symphony No. 5 + 7

        Here’s a great vid of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (members are under the age of 25) from Venezuela performing movement 2 of Shostakovich’s 10th symphony!

    • There was a while where my teacher would write SMILE in big block letters all over whatever piece I was working on and would tell me my only job was to practice smiling regardless of how it sounded. I don’t usually smile but it stopped the furrowed brows and grimaces!

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