There are few things more excruciating than arriving at the symphony two minutes late. The stern ticket master does not care that you couldn’t find your earring, that you got stopped by every red light in the city, or that parking was a disaster. He will not seat you until an appropriate break in the set; after all, your tardiness is not his fault.
This is the situation I was hoping to avoid as Mike and I prepared to spend the evening at the Seattle symphony enjoying the work of Mike’s favorite composer, George Gershwin. I bought the tickets as Mike’s birthday present, and the seats were on the orchestra floor. THE ORCHESTRA FLOOR. If you have met me even briefly, you know that this money did not leave my hands without serious cost-benefit analysis. The point is, we were not going to be even one second late.
The concert was set to begin at 8PM and we left our house at 7:45PM. Ouch. We hit a traffic jam and Mike pulled a u-turn that sliced five years off my life, which started the negative visions in my head including: getting in an accident, overpaying for parking, not only being late but being barred from the event, and missing the majesty of THE OCHESTRA FLOOR.
This voice continued until I realized we were on one of the best car rides of our lives. We were careening through the city like a police car chasing a wanted man – whipping around corners at highway speeds, blatantly ignoring red lights, warning pedestrians with our screaming horn – it was fantastic! I’m not married to Mike; I’m married to James Bond!
Of course, I would not admit that he had driven brilliantly until we were actually in our seats on THE ORCHESTRA FLOOR. The negative visions in my head insisted that all would fail at the last moment as we would surely hit a pregnant woman crossing the street with three puppies on a leash.
We did not.
Instead, we sailed through the doors of Benaroya Hall at 7:59PM as the tiny tinkle of warning notes rang out over the speakers, telling us to get in our seats. We had made it.
Part of Mike’s birthday gift was his not knowing that we had seats on THE ORCHESTRA FLOOR until the moment we sat down in them. Then he gushed sufficiently about the fabulousness of not sitting in the third tier with 3X magnitude binoculars like we usually do. This was much better, he enthused.
As the first piece began, my heart rate went from 210 BPM to a reasonable 168. And then 142. And then 127. I calmed all the way down until it occurred to me that I might find Gershwin boring. It was the symphony after all, it’s not like I was at a Rolling Stones concert. But how could any “favorite” activity of Mike’s be boring? He’s the most upbeat, fast-paced person I know. Surely this wasn’t an exercise in elevator music?
And then the conductor grabbed a mic. If you’ve ever been to the symphony, you know this is unusual. He spun around and greeted the audience in a thick New York accent, and then he did an unbelievable thing while standing in front of a serious orchestra.
He started telling jokes.
Laugh-out-loud, slap-your-knee humor. Of course, no laughs were loud and no knees were slapped for the first two minutes because we were all waiting for our seat-neighbor to laugh first. We weren’t going to be the ones to break protocol.
But then everyone was laughing. The mood lifted, and people relaxed. When I say people, I mean me. I became even more delighted when I realized who the conductor was – Marvin Hamlisch! He has won Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, all of it. (Ladies, you will know him from his cameo in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” He plays “You’re So Vain” on the piano at the charity event while the two main characters belt it out.) I am such a sucker for celebrity that Mike looked over at me like, “oh NOW you’re going to enjoy Gershwin, since Marvin is involved. Typical!”
What’s incredible is that isn’t what happened at all. Marvin’s musical genius far outweighed his comic genius and the performance was outstanding. As he led the orchestra in “Rhapsody in Blue,” lights were displayed on the side of the stage to make it look like the band was performing in the middle of downtown New York. More lights hit the ceiling like stars and suddenly it felt like we were all transported to an outdoor jazz club in Brooklyn. The effect was spectacular.
The wine during intermission, however, was less than spectacular. But no bother; the people-watching was stimulating enough. One would think that a symphony in a major metropolis necessitates wearing something more sophisticated than, say, Crocs. I found out that this is not true for some people. Mike and I subtly gawked (is that possible?) at the array of Hawaiian shirts, khaki shorts, and the occasional printed t-shirt.
And women were no exception, though for the opposite reason. It seems this event is overstated among some females in the form of ball gowns, floor-length glitter dresses, and ornate up-do’s.
But I digress.
The second half of the performance was dazzling in sound and talent. Mike truly enjoyed himself, which was the entire point of the evening. When it concluded we clapped until our hands hurt, and then ran across the street to The Triple Door for quieter jazz and a drink to match.
It’s such a surprise when an evening that begins like the opening scene of a Jackie Chan movie evolves into something beautiful.