blogger night at sf symphony

Last Wednesday, July 18th, I had the fortune to attend Blogger Night at the San Francisco Symphony. Despite having not been to the symphony for many years, this was the third time this year I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing it.
I went in April and to see the a performance in Stern Grove in July.

James Gaffigan, the Associate Conductor, has led the past two performances I've seen, which were a joy. Stern Grove was great for a day to sit and the sun and enjoy time with friends. Attending last week, it was nice to go to a concert with the throngs of bloggers, eager to share information about this cultural event with the world through their own personal lens. I'm not anywhere near an expert on classical/symphonic music, I know that I enjoy it, I know that it's something that sometimes overwhelms me so much, and it's not something I can listen to at work. (Yeah, I've got different musical stylings for different types of work during the day, but generally symphonic music is too distracting for my headspace, which leaves me with punk, twee, indie, folk, and whatnot to get through the day.)
It's always hard for me when I listen to any orchestra, as it reminds me greatly of my grandmother, an accomplished musician and teacher, who played harp with the Orlando Symphony Orchestra. In fact, until I told my brother he could take the entire thing two years ago, I owned half of one of her harps. (My cousin owns the other one of my grandmother's pair.) So, when I sat down last Wednesday, and the symphony began Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, it made me sad, not necessarily because of what the music was saying, but because of what it reminded me of and how much I miss my grandmother.

The symphony followed Romeo and Juliet with Strauss' Don Juan, which Barce felt moved from light to dark. I'm not certain that I agree or disagree, as I was caught up in my own thoughts about my grandmother and the musical adventures of my childhood.

After these first two pieces, we had a brief few moments during intermission to ask a few minutes. Thinking about how I had met most of the bloggers in the room (ahem, social networking), I was curious to know about the social networks that musicians have. I have to assume that the number of, say, first chair violinists, is relatively small. This was confirmed by a member of the orchestra. Several other questions were asked – such as whether or not orchestra members blogged, or interacted with others online. There seemed to be an opportunity for us to bring together some of our expertise, so immediately proposed to our fearless leader, Kevin Smokler, that we conduct a few Nerdcurious salons for them. (I promise we won't let them set up a MySpace account…unless it's to help the Symphony sell a few tickets.)

Lights flickering on and off let us know it was time to return for the finale and piece many of us had been waiting to hear, the elusive Piano Concerto No. 3 by Rachmaninoff, immortalized in the movie Shine. Understanding that there's a huge technical mastery necessary for the piece, I was also surprised by the physical demands, watching Gabriela Martinez sweat her way through it. I will say, her playing styling, engaged and physical, was well matched to James Garrigan's stylings. The two of them are so enraptured with the music they make, it's as if they are trying to make it a part of their physical being. It definitely drew me into the music, but it was almost one of those situations where I couldn't even open my eyes, I was so overwhelmed with the emotion pouring out. Some of the other coverage has critiqued her performance, but I almost feel that it is irrelevant to those us who enjoyed it so greatly.

The post-performance included a q&a session, which I highly recommend attending if you're at the symphony. It was great to hear a young composer (aged 14 I believe) talk about his upcoming performances and to get feedback on how to develop his pitch, as well as hear how long it took Gabriela to begin learning the Rach 3 (she began in April).

Of course, the best part of any such experience is sharing it with friends. A few of us marched off to Sauce for a dessert and treats to discuss art, music, and life.

This isn't the last symphony visit of the year for me, so I hope for as much joy when I return in September to see Mahler.

UPDATE 10/16/2007

I did not get to see Mahler, but I'm sure I'll see the symphony again before the year is out.

However, my Mom did send some corrections, so I'm including those about my grandmother and her participation.

[Your grandmother] was one of the founding members of the Florida Symphony Orchestra which was begun in the 50's. I believe she was the first harpist before it was a regular position. The orchestra was active for about 40 years but then started having problems with the musician's union. Eventually the Orchestra was dissolved because they couldn't meet the expenses. I will look for the book published on its 25th anniversary which I have somewhere here. I believe it was the precursor for the current Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.

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