Wednesday night we went to Avery Fisher Hall to see Itzhak Perlman. It was a wonderful concert, and though I did yawn a few times, I stayed awake the whole performance.
At my age that’s not always the case, even when I like and I’m interested in what I’m watching.
Two weeks before I attended a screening of “Burroughs: The Movie,” and despite the fact that I love William Burroughs and my friend Jenny’s ex-husband Stewart introduced and was actually IN the movie I managed to doze off several times. Burroughs is great reading but can lag a bit droning on about his childhood.
Somewhere in between then and now Danusia and I went to see a play at a black box theatre that a friend had done the set design for and I pretty much slept through most of it. And we were sitting in the first row, so the cast had a chance to see they were putting me to sleep.
But Wednesday night I sat on the edge of my seat in rapt attention for most of the two-plus hours of the Maestro’s performance.
It helped that we had seats in a box on the third tier and if I sat back I would have only seen the end of the grand piano, but I was so keen on watching every moment of the performance that I would have been on the edge of my seat had I been sitting front row center.
I’ve been at Avery Fisher Hall before; I’ve seen a few recitals and concerts there.
But Wednesday night was special, I remembered watching Perlman on the Ed Sullivan show as a kid and being impressed by his virtuosity then, and I’ve seen him on TV various times and always liked watching him.
When Danusia asked me a few weeks ago if I would be interested in seeing him I immediately said yes. She told me she was surprised I would be interested, and some of my friends were surprised I would even attend a classical music concert (those that don’t know me well, I’d guess) but I’ve loved classical music since I was a kid and my drunken father would stand in front of our record player directing the music of Beethoven, Strauss, and Stravinsky with his imaginary baton.
I like show tunes too, as well ask Rock and Roll, Blues, Soul, Punk Rock, Blues-Rock, Mexican Banda music, Norteño music, Regge, Ska, K-Pop (to an extent) Rap, World music, in short I like music.
There was a time in the ‘70s that I was obsessed with Ravel’s Bolero, I used to play it while having sex before Dudley More did it in the movies, to me it was the perfect sound track for an act that should start slow and build up to an amazing crescendo. It was fitting (and exciting) that the last piece on the program was Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major, and all the while during the piece I thought how remarkably like Gershwin it sounded. I did a little research the next day and discovered that Ravel hung out a lot with Gershwin when he toured the States in the 1920’s.
When Mr. Perlman came out I was surprised to see him wearing a brightly colored purplish tunic, something akin to what I think of as a “Cossack” shirt; but I think it speaks to Mr. Perlman’s charm and humanity. That’s what makes him great, not just his virtuosity, but also his warmth and humor.
Years ago when I worked at Pratt I was in charge of preparing the auditorium for the once-a month Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra performances. The day of the performance, always a Sunday afternoon I would open Memorial Hall, roll the grand piano out of its protective locked plywood box onto the taped marks on the stage floor, and roll the conductor’s podium to its position.
Then the orchestra members would arrive; we’d set up the seats and wait for the great man, Martin Kandilakis.
He was a dour man who’d had a stroke at some point and never smiled. He yelled at the orchestra members, at me, at the audience. I never enjoyed even one note they played.
But I enjoyed the shit out of Itzhak Perlman’s performance Wednesday night.
It wasn’t just watching his nimble fingers on the violin or the beautiful sound that came from it, it was also laughing at his jokes and the faces that he made. He made the audience laugh without saying a word.
It was the simple things, like the way he maneuvered his scooter to just the right spot on stage, swiveling his chair sideways to face the audience and putting the brake on with a flick of his thumb before tucking a white handkerchief under his chin and placing the violin in position.
Watching him play was fascinating, most of the time he did not even look at his music. Why should he? It would be like someone looking at a map to drive home from work every day.
The pianist had to look at his music, but he too was wonderful. His name is Rohan De Silva, and he’s from Sri Lanka. There was a third person on the stage, a young Asian man who turned the pages for Mr. De Silva. I wondered how he knew when to turn the pages, I have to assume he’s a musician too and is following along, knowing where they are and when to turn.
It was interesting to watch from our perch in the third tier, we were behind Mr. Perlman and I could see his bald spot from above. But when he did turn to speak the audience I could see his face in profile. It was amazing that his words were clearly audible without any amplification; I guess that’s what good acoustics are all about.
After the Ravel number, they took a bow and left the stage, but came back for another half hour, playing things Mr. Perlman chose and announced from the stage. That was the most fun part, the encores, because of Mr. Perlman’s humorous patter and interaction with Mr. De Silva.
The last time they came out he did not have his violin, and I knew it was time to put my coat on. I was a happy chappie on the long trip down from the third tier.