Hello all! A few Thursdays ago, I attended a performance by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Midtown. Needless to say, I was writhing in ecstasy because the music performed, the skill with which it was executed, and the swanky venue were all to my liking. Donning a tight dress and loose thoughts, I eagerly listened to Violin Concerto No 2 by Philip Glass and Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. The hall—part of the Midtown Arts Center—was a typical orchestral space, with ruby velvet seats and warm lighting. I was sitting in the rear balcony, which allowed me a resplendent view of the ant-like performers twiddling away below. Sitting high up suits me greatly, firstly because the tickets are inexpensive (I paid the student rate of $12) and secondly, the people there are less pretentious. No black tuxes and strings of glistening pearls intimidated me—I was surrounded by casual music lovers and young people. The patrons in my immediate vicinity were gold. A man and his partner were in front, one of the men shaking his head wildly to the throws and bangs of Symphonie Fantastique. During intermission, the enthusiast spoke to an older woman nearby and discussed various composers with such fervor—it was great! I discovered the woman was an ASO regular and even what classical music she listened to in high school (Carl Neilson, for the record).
As for the actual performance, a vat of talent overflowed from the stage and into the audiences’ ears. It was a mix of sweet mead, tangy beer, and smooth liquor. Robert McDuffie was the lead violinist for Philip Glass’s Violin Concert No 2—his fingers shimmied down the strings with apparent ease, despite the difficulty/modernity of the piece. The Concerto was approximately 45 minutes and is broken up into 8 segments, with varying themes weaving through each other simultaneously. Glass is known for eerie repetition, and this concerto does not disappoint. The angry bass players lashed their bows against their lowermost strings with vengeance while the violinist twanged from impossible lows to eking highs. I felt pity for the cellos because their monotone beats and fingerings barely varied in the entire piece. Violin Concerto No 2 was composed specifically for Robert McDuffie in 2009 and is an accompanying piece to The Four Seasons, the all-famous Vivaldi composition in every commercial and elevator. However, each season change is indistinct and not delineated for a new movement. According to Philip Glass, “This struck me as an opportunity, then, for the listener to make his/her own interpretation.” Secretly, I wasn’t thinking about the crunching leaves of fall or the bitter winds of December—my thoughts were wandering, shapeless, and concretely imaginary. The violin solos (rather than cadenzas) are called “songs” by Glass, and I thought them harsh and abrupt. However, my favorite section was the latter part (around minute 5:50) of movement two when the strings coalesce together in a dissonant, rushing contrast.
The second piece was Symphonie Fantastique be Hector Berlioz. So much has been written about this iconic 1830 work, but here’s the basic program notes: A passionate man becomes sickened on his lust, falling in love and breaking in spirit once he takes a dose of opium. Trippily watching his own execution and then imagining a Witches’ Sabbath, the man skates through the spectrum of emotions through five exhilarating movements. I loathe listening to his Symphony on YouTube or Spotify, but inexplicably, I like listening to it live. Perhaps the jumping hair of the violinists, the stoic faces of the horn section, and swaying body of the oboist drag me into the piece more than a 30 second YouTube ad does. The Valse Ball movement, a sweet melody of 6 minutes, is my favorite because its charm and lack of drug overtones. However, the ending of the 5th movement was so thrusting and strong that hearing it live knotted my stomach and pounded my heart. The orchestra boasts an impressive 97 musicians (an estimate), and it was a treat to see a sea of tuxes and black lace fan out before me, silver and brass glittering under a cream ceiling.
In addition to the concert, the Atlanta Symphony gift shop was a brightly lit hut of antiques, music knickknacks, and kitschy (but adorable) merchandise. They sold “My First Beethoven” and “My First Tchaikovsky” albums, $12 items that sent me into fits of delight. I don’t really want children, but now I am tempted to so I can introduce my kiddies to Piano Concerto No 1, 1812 Overture, The Nutcracker, etc. I also bought a tumbler glass emblazoned with treble clef signs since I play the flute. Overall, I enjoyed the reactions of my fellow spectators the most—the man throwing up his hands with a piercing “Woo!” after Symphonie Fantastique ended, the older gentleman bolting out of his seat to clap hard, and the woman strumming her hands on the seat in time with the Valse were priceless.
Catch the last Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performance on June 9th, 11th, and 12th.