On this evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner at the Brooklyn, with a generous bowser bag to take home, and we heard in the first half of the concert a short Debussy piece that the composer wrote and used to win the Rome Prize, and then a modern violin concerto by Aaron Jay Kerins played by James Ehnes. This is the first violin concerto I ever heard where the violinist was actually shredding on his instrument like a heavy-metal rock guitarist. It was intriguing, and Jerry and I both admired Mr. Ehnes’ stamina and musicianship.
After the interval it was time for the Pastoral Symphony. I need to explain that this sixth symphony of Beethoven’s has a particular meaning for me. When I was four or five years old, I saw Walt Disney’s film, Fantasia, for the first time. There are a number of images in that film that I remember from my first very early viewing. Some things got burned into my brain. I remembered the giant devil in Night On Bald Mountain. I remembered the silly hippo ballerina in Dance of the Hours. I remembered the Waltz of the Flowers from Nutcracker Suite. There were frost fairies, and everywhere they touched turned to ice crystals and frost. When I saw the film again at the age of eleven and then once more after I was married and we had some time to kill one day in Texas, I was surprised how many details I still recalled.
Fantasia also included an audio/visual rendering of the Pastoral Symphony. I didn’t recall that sequence at all from when I was very small. Maybe I slept through it. What I think happened, though, was the Disney subject matter of it didn’t really register with me until I was older and more aware of what it was about. You see, most of that Disney segment had a story line about really cute scantily-clad girl centaurs meeting really buff boy centaurs and going off in pairs, presumably to mate and produce precious little baby centaurs.
Beethoven’s story line to the piece was about going out to the country on a summer day and relaxing by a stream and then happy villagers having a party and dancing, and a thunderstorm building up and disrupting everything and then peace and harmony replenishing themselves with a lovely, repetitive cadence that eventually concluded itself in a full resonant closing chord. It is a gorgeous piece, just lush in every way orchestrally and melodically, and of course like all Beethoven, it is jam-packed with wonderful themes and recapitulations of themes and descriptive music that paints pictures for the listener.
Because Disney got into my young brain first before Beethoven did, by the time I was in my teens and had seen the movie again, I could not hear the Pastoral without thinking of those centaurs and centaurettes getting themselves ready for their big dates. I remembered there were also adorable little cherubs as only Disney could create them flying around and helping the girls and boys primp and preen before going out.
At Benaroya, Jerry and I sat comfortably close to one another so that our arms and knees were touching. He was fully into the music, as was I, when at the beginning of the second movement, which to me is seductive and silky with those very smooth resonant string passages (especially the cellos), I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.
I was sitting next to a couple who were to my right. She was directly next to me and her escort (who I thought might be her husband) put his arm around her and began a figure-eight hand movement on her upper arm and shoulder that I think could be considered universal male body language for “I’ve got plans for me and you after this concert is over.” His companion laid her head on his shoulder and turned slightly towards him, which I suppose is universal date body language for “I’m just as interested as you are in doing what you’d like us to do after the concert.” So the second movement wound its suave way through time, and I realized that portions of the Pastoral could make excellent make-out music, and perhaps through time they have. The thought did not occur to me until I saw this couple. When the next livelier movement started, she laid her hand on his knee, and he covered her hand with his.
I could not watch them closely any longer. It would have been rude. Now I was enjoying the performance of some favorite music, and the centaurs and cherubs were busily dancing in my head. But I had seen enough of this couple that I was briefly and wildly tempted to hiss at them, “Get a room!” I minded my manners and said nothing. They enjoyed their concert hall version of necking, which was something like my concert hall version of tapping my foot -- I move my toes inside my shoe to the time, so that I show little movement and make no sound. Nothing can be more irritating at a classical music performance than a fellow audience member who hums, taps his foot or bobs his head. It is very tempting to move to the music, but you really must not.
These people were not being overtly disruptive to those around them, but they did set my imagination into motion. I fantasized that this was their last night together for all time. He was going to be taken away at dawn to prison somewhere up in the cold, dead wastes of northern Canada, and it was highly likely he would not survive. My other imaginary scenario was that they had just found each other again after entire lifetimes apart, her in Seattle and him in Sheboygan, married to other people and raising their families, and only were able at last to express to each other their great original love at the concert that night.
The Pastoral had now worked its way forward to the thunderstorm. I turned my attention to the tympani booms of the storm and the centaurs and centaurettes in my head all hurrying for cover. I tried to ignore the lovebirds sitting next to me.
I have to admit I did want to know better what they looked like. The woman appeared to be bird-bone slim and dressed in slacks and a red sweater. She had elegantly manicured hands, which looked older than mine, tipped with scarlet nails. She had a beautiful mane of ash-blond hair. She reminded me of my ex-sister-in-law’s Aunt Joan, who maintained herself exquisitely throughout her life. On the evening that I met Joan, I first saw her from behind with her slim figure and long fall of blonde hair, and I thought she was one of her daughters. Then she turned around, and although her face was beautifully made up, she did look older, and I realized she was Aunt Joan.
I did not see my concert neighbor’s face until we all stood up to applaud at the end. I took a quick peek and saw that she wore glasses and was probably my age or not much younger, which is to say she had been around the turntable a few times. From behind she looked maybe twenty. Her companion was bald with craggy features. He was dressed in jeans and had rather a crisp, military look with his chiseled face and no-nonsense air. I could not help thinking that now I knew his secret — beneath his crusty exterior was a sentimental lover who was wooing his lady with those shoulder-caresses in the Benaroya Hall orchestra section during the second movement of the Pastoral.
I am convinced that the mating call theme simply is implicit in the Pastoral and Uncle Walt’s artists picked up on that way back in the early nineteen-forties and cleverly embodied it in an art cartoon. Here, at Benaroya Hall down in the orchestra section, were two inarguably adult people who, like Disney’s adolescent centaurs, were recapitulating that same theme right next to me on my anniversary night.