September 2011

Boy Meets Symphony

September 28, 2011 09:25

The other weekend I took my son to the symphony for the first time. But wait—cast aside the notion that this will turn into a sweet little story of a boy’s shining eyes, slipping his hand into mine and whispering “aw, that was swell, Mom. I’ll never be the same again.” I don’t have that kind of kid. He’s twelve and likes The Simpsons, Family Guy, weapons and electronics and anything war-related. My one consolation: he loves the music of Hans Zimmer, who, as well as composing for films, apparently does music for video games (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, anyone?). Close enough to classical for me.

We had tickets, husband, son and I, in the Center Terrace section of Davies Symphony Hall. $15 a seat, half-price this season in honor of San Francisco Symphony’s centennial year. No better bargain exists, and you are right up there on the stage, directly behind and above the musicians. We arrived early and snagged front row seats. Yo-Yo Ma was performing; the section filled up fast (seating is on a first-come, first-served basis). 

I overheard someone behind us comment that the youth symphony members had just finished their rehearsal, which explained the large number of teenaged kids, the fact that several of them carried instruments and were dressed casually. The girl sitting next to my son was wearing a tee shirt and shorts. What the heck. They were behaving appropriately and were clearly enthusiastic. They called back and forth to one another, pointed out and studied the arriving musicians. Across the way, I watched a trio of guys, draped over the railing that separated the stage from the seating, wistfully taking in everything onstage as the musicians warmed up. 

The concert opened with a well-played Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture,” but it soon became clear what held the kids’ biggest interest: Yo-Yo Ma performing Hindemith’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. A thrum of voices rose during the pause between the pieces, a happy anticipation. The teens in our row, Asian-American girls, were growing more visibly excited. Their whispers and giggles grew louder.  

The lights dimmed. Anticipation reached a fever pitch. For one long moment, no one breathed, no one spoke. The audience, the entire concert hall—perhaps the whole world, the whole cosmos—was in a state of suspended animation. Then Yo-Yo stepped out. 

The girls in our row screamed. They literally sprang from their seats, clearing a good inch off the cushion, practically fibrillating with excitement. Yo-Yo bowed to the audience, shook hands with the concertmaster, waited for the applause to die down before sitting, but the applause and screams from Center Terrace simply wouldn’t abate. It was hilarious. Heart-warming. Honestly, it made tears sting the back of my eyes. I realized I hadn’t even checked my son’s reaction to seeing his first world-class celebrity up close, because I was so engrossed in the girls’ reaction. Their screams had that agonized, frenzied quality one equates with old footage of The Beatles’ female fans. The girls hooked their fingers together, making “I love you” hearts, raising them high above their head. When Yo-Yo turned around and acknowledged them finally, the screams crescendoed, the applause and cheers going on and on. 

Needless to say, Yo-Yo Ma and the Hindemith were a big hit. 

After intermission it was Brahms Symphony no. 1. While the night’s programming was well-paired, there was a certain letdown to the second half, certainly for my son, whose main interest had been in seeing Yo-Yo Ma. After ten minutes he was ready to go home. He began fanning himself with a playbill in an exaggerated fashion. He slumped against my husband in abject fatigue, shifted to resting his head against the railing, muttering under his breath, “When is this going to end?” He groaned aloud later, much later, when the musicians launched into a coda of sorts in the final movement, instead of finishing. This, in Center Terrace, which means the audience sees him as clearly as they see the musicians.

A real Kodak moment, I’m sure. I commanded myself to enjoy the music, regardless, and comforted myself with the knowledge that no one would see me or my son again after tonight. (My own subscription seat is tucked far away into an upper corner.) 

So. My son didn’t fall in love with the whole experience. What he got to witness, however, was kids who had. Teenagers who didn’t have to be cajoled into sitting through the night’s performance. Quite the opposite. Really, the kind of burning desire you can’t really foster in a kid. It’s got to be there, a fire deep in their core. It’s got to consume them. And boy, did it ever.

A rewarding night of music, in so many ways.



© 2011 Terez Rose 


PS: I'd love to hear others' opinions on listening to Brahms Symphony no. 1. I am a huge fan of the Brahms Violin Concerto, the Double Concerto, his two piano concertos. Am I the only one who finds his symphonies to be, in comparison, just sorta, kinda… pleasant?


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