Coming from basement level, we walked up the stairs into the lobby, the lush carpeting and low lights giving us an air of deserved luxury. We strode in two pairs of heels and one of shining leather. Bedecked in glittering jewels, velvet vests and folds of lace, we belonged to another world; one of sophistication and culture, of intense artistic appreciation, and the ability to afford spending time on pure enjoyment. Sitting in stark admiration of a single man’s achievement, expressed in the combined genius of a multitude of performers, we were spellbound.
It’s a borrowed world for us. Living as poor(ish) college students swamped with work, homework and a semblance of social life, making a trip ad hoc to see a symphony seems out of character. Perhaps. But we shared a desire to see greatness, and we did.
It was I, my friend, and her brother, playing dress up in our finery and acting like we belonged. Not that we don’t. I am not so self-abasing that I think culture is reserved for the select few. Rather that it’s not our habit, and those environs not our usual ones.
Preceding the performance was a prelude, where a speaker gave a brief lecture on Mendelssohn and explained the pieces we would be hearing. The program included his “Hebrides Overture,” Concertro No. 1 and Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”). Conducted by Jaap van Zweden with Alessio Bax on piano, it was two hours of pure sensory delight. Yes, hearing a piece from a CD can be invigorating, inspiring, even illuminating, but to be able to see the vitality, the passion, the physical strain, energy, and concentration of the players and their conductor adds another element to the experience. I find myself reacting physically to the pieces, becoming involved. Even though I don’t move, I lose my place in reality for a moment. I can shake myself as though from a dream, and realize I’m still staring at the conductor’s baton as it whirls and sweeps.
What joy, what talent, what inspiration can man divine! A collaboration of years of combined labor, a symphony requires perfect harmony to display a work of a master. What words can describe it? Do you think me sentimental? Exaggerating? A good performance of good art can transcend space and time. I saw the waves crashing madly against the rocks, I saw the sweeping hills and lonely moors and the pride of the Scots. It achieved in me what it was meant to. Mendelssohn composed well.