Tuesday, July 18, 2006

NY Philharmonic in Central Park

Amy and I met up tonight for the mass collective flouting of the open-container law that is the free New York Philharmonic concert on the Great Lawn in Central Park. There were a few more people there than at the Staten Island performance, just a few. I stopped at Fairway and Beacon Wines to pick up rations for the evening on my way up to 81st and the park. And you know those few extra people? They all got there pretty early, so we had to stake out a spot on the edge of a baseball-diamond infield since all the foreseeable grass was occupied.

It was of course hot as blazes out there, but we ate in relative peace until the rain came, right as the show was starting. No umbrellas for many of us, but all but a few concertgoers braved the relatively light raindrops, which seemed to be pitter-pattering down to the minimalist rhythm of John Adams' The Chairman Dances. Amazingly, the rain stopped right around the conclusion of the piece. But more rain was on its way, according to a woman who announced from the stage that the next line of the front would be coming through at 9:40—"We've received word from above," she said—so the organizers were opting to skip the intermission (clap, clap, clap went the crowd) but also play only the first and final movements of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (boooo).

So the orchestra launched into Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Leila Josefowicz as soloist. [Nostalgic aside: Growing up, I always had a fantasy that someday I'd get to date a hot classical violinist. The idea still intrigues me. When you grow up on classical music the way I did, you start to idolize the pretty people on those glossy CD covers.] I'm not very familiar with the work, but I really liked certain passages. It requires the soloist to draw out a lot of nicely contrasting timbres from the instrument. Even at about 20 minutes, the concerto felt like it was over too quickly, like there was more to explore.

The whole time during the concerto, there was an absurdist play going on in the audience. Here we were, halfway into the program, and still there were people standing up on their blankets, talking at normal volume into their cellphones, trying to direct the remaining members of their party to their particular spot on the lawn. I mean, what's so wrong with getting there on time or otherwise accepting your lateness and watching from the periphery? And then of course there were the people who insisted on seeking out some imagined bit of open grass somewhere dead center, ignoring the extent of the crowd and the likelihood that all those people sitting on the baseball infield had already likely tried to make it to the grass but failed.

This time around the whole clapping between movements thing didn't bother me as much, as I realized: These outdoor concerts treat the orchestra much more like a rock band, and thus, lauding the philharmonic in a similar manner doesn't seem as out of place to me anymore. This was highlighted by the little roar of approval that greeted one of the most recognizable snippets of classical music known to popular culture (dun-dun-dun-duuuuh). It was like the roar you get at a pop show when the artist launches into one of their standard favorites. Finally, for the last 15 minutes of music, it seemed, everyone who was coming aboard had come aboard, the night breeze picked up a bit, and we were all enjoying the orchestra. Off in the distance, the skyscrapers glowed silently, stray balloons floated up and across the sky, and it was lovely. Despite cries from the audience (Second movement! Freebird!), the band did skip from 1 to 4, which is a pity because I just love this one progression in the Andante movement that builds to a small yet satisfying triumphal moment.

The fireworks, as you can see in the photo above, came out of the southwest corner of the park, off near concert sponsor WimeTorner's building. They were not in black and white, but the photo looks better that way. As the mass exodus from the park began, we started feeling raindrops again and seeing lightning this time. Amy and I looked at the clock: 9:48. "Above" wasn't so far off after all. Soon, the floodgates opened and squeals went up from the retreating crowd. There were no taxis to be had within moments of the deluge, so we trudged over to the subway and sogged our way uptown along with the rest of the Woodstock-ready crowd on the local.


Oedipa Maas said...

The only movement not worth hearing of Beethoven's Fifth is the first movement. If they were going for a shortie, they should have just skipped the whole thing and played the ending to the Ninth.

Jeremy said...

That might've been a little hard as it would've required them to, you know, play from memory and sing the choral part at the same time. ;-)

Oedipa Maas said...

Who doesn't know the entire ending of the Ninth by heart?

Ok, me and most people.

Anyway, this is why you have the sheet music to his complete works with you at all times.

And the choral part is a great opportunity for audience participation. You can even pick your own language.