Friday, 9 February 2018

Bowing out

It was a first and final sort of evening.

I hadn't seen the National Arts Centre since before the completion of the extensive renovations in honour of the Canadian sesquicentennial, so I was eager to see it, especially after months of hiking around the outside of the building, entering the back down a temporary wooden staircase, and making our way back through the corridors and stairs - to say nothing of long trudges to the sole ladies' washroom on the main floor to join line-ups comprised of three different audiences from the Studio, the Theatre, and Southam Hall during intermission.

Well, they were trying to improve on a Brutalist building from the mid-1960s, so the new and improved NAC looks like a 1960's airport lounge. Even the washrooms - very efficient, although a challenge to find the towel dispensers - are like airport washrooms, long double rows.

We were determined to see this concert, because it was Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, followed by Appalachian Spring, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony: in short, a dream concert, and likely my final NAC show.

We were in the second row of the amphitheatre, due to not renewing our subscriptions, after years of being in the orchestra section near the front. The biggest difference was being able to see beyond the first row of the actual orchestra.

As the Fanfare started up with the crashing drums and cymbals knocking us back in our seats, I noticed, with a thrill of joy, how many women were in the orchestra. Out of three trumpets, two were women; three out of four French horns were female musicians. I remembered a girl in my junior high band playing baritone horn, and getting featured in a local paper because this was so unusual.

The percussionists were all male, of course; that never seems to change. I saw the man in charge of the gong backing into it to mute it, before reaching behind to strike it again.

Then, Appalachian Spring, with the single mellow clarinet. So beautiful.
I focused my binoculars on individual musicians and, toward the end, found the face of a lovely young woman listening, her cheek against the frets of her viola.

It took me a moment or so to realize who she was.

At the interval, I checked my programme. It was the Russian Prodigy, on an internship to the NACO. She must be beginning her Third Year of her degree.

This left me struggling with ungracious feelings throughout Beethoven's paean to the human spirit.

Oh gawd. Do mothers ever forget or forgive those who have been less than kind to their offspring?

I forced myself back to the music.

The second movement of the Ninth has always reminded me of a bustling Victoria (as in 19th century, not the city) household in the morning, with a bossy paterfamilias. Actively avoiding looking at the RP, I trained my binoculars on the kettle drummer, who is required to provide odd accents and rumbling. I could see his lips move as he counted and counted, poised to spring.

During the third movement - which, ever since I was a little girl, I've envisioned as a forest stream in the moonlight - I watched the grimly grey chorus waiting in stillness on their risers and the woodwind section, willing myself not to look below where the Russian Prodigy plucked and bowed, front and centre. As my imprisonment in Hades glided to an end, the past seventeen years kept cycling back to haunt me.
During the final movement, the chorus blossomed from shadowy sullenness into individuals, coming alive behind the youthful, smiling, and flashily-dressed soloists. I noticed two women in tuxedos amongst the tenors, saw passion and concentration.

When the bows came, the audience whooped extra loud for the chorus. I don't think it was just because of numerous friends and family attending.

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