Full Disclosure: I have been known to fall asleep during classical music concerts. It doesn’t have anything to do with the pieces of music or the quality of performers. I blame my sleeping issue on the fact that the concerts are usually on lazy Sunday afternoons (prime nap time) or after long work days, or that the seats are so barely tolerable all I can do is slump down into the broken-springed seat and cradle my head in my propped up arm. (I have heard the seats at the San Francisco Opera are the worst. They put on such great performances, but why, oh why are those seats so famously lousy? But I digress…)
I have gone to some amazing concerts (so I have heard) by extraordinary performers. When I was six years old, I saw Mstislav Rostropovich perform. Now, did I know who Rostropovich was at the time? No. Did I understand why my parents had dragged my sisters and I to a crowded auditorium? No. Do I, almost 19 years later, remember the performance? Not at all. All I remember is falling into such a deep sleep on my mother’s lap that when there was a sudden and loud crash of cymbals, I kicked (with all my six year old might) the leg of the man sitting next to my mother.
Full Disclosure: I love rock concerts. I love them loud, over crowded, hot, and cramped. I love the whole experience of rock concerts. I especially love going to club venues where there is standing room only. If I had more money, I would go to every concert I could, and if I had more time, I would go see bands I know nothing about. There have been times that I have been so enraptured by the performance that I have not cared or sometimes even noticed that someone has spilled their over-priced drink on me. The energy and excitement that pervades rock concerts is intense. This is especially apparent in standing room only venues because they attract a very special breed of person, a person who chooses to endure standing for at least an hour and half before the (usually terrible) opening act and thus at least two and a half hours before the headliner takes the stage. And deal with the smelling and the touching of more strangers than is probably healthy or even appropriate. It’s fantastic! And I adore it.
On October 27th, my dad took me, my aunt and uncle, one of their friends, and a former student to a celebration of the famous composer Krzysztof Penderecki at New York City’s Symphony Space. Krzysztof Penderecki is a name I have heard my whole life. Before October 27th, that name meant two things to me: my dad’s former teacher at Yale, and the composer of my subconscious’ nightmare soundtrack. (I saw Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” when I was 13 and after that all my nightmares have been accompanied by a grating, crescendoing string section. But again, I digress…).
When we arrived at the Symphony Space, there were people waiting outside the venue, people in line purchasing the tickets, and people crowded around the bar area. There were people everywhere, and not just the normal crowd of people I have come to expect at classical concerts. I am accustomed to being the youngest person in attendance. This has been a fact since I was 5; I have always been the token “young person” in a sea of aging concert goers, and somehow, this never changes. As I age, the same audience continues to get older without a new group of classical music lovers being ushered in. However, this was not the case at this concert. There were young people. Not just young people who have obviously been forced to go because their parents or grandparents made them. No. There were genuinely interested people under the age of 25 who were sitting in the front row, with wide and eager eyes and ears, waiting for the performance to begin. And once all the seats were filled, people continued to come through the door and line up against the back doors. These people were anxious for the program to begin. Some were buried in the program. Others were nervously looking at the stage and wings. They were talking to one another, wondering what the performances were going to be like and whispering how much they have always wanted to hear the “Capriccio per Siegfried Palm” live.
This reminded me of the Arctic Monkeys concert I had gone to only two weeks before. The Arctic Monkeys and Krzysztof Penderecki have probably never been compared to one another, and why should they? One is a young British rock group and the other is one of greatest living composers. The people I saw at Arctic Monkeys most likely have never heard of Krzysztof Penderecki, and the crowd at the Penderecki concert (and I would bet some money) have in all likelihood never heard or attended an Arctic Monkeys concert. Their music is nothing alike. Their backgrounds are nothing alike. They are different in almost every way, except for the enthusiasm and devotion of their audiences. Both have cultivated an audience that will endure long ticket lines, expensive ticket prices, and standing up for hours to even experience a concert of their favorite composer or rock band.
The excitement and energy at the Symphony was something I had not experienced before at a classical music concert. The audience wanted to be there. They had their phones tucked away and silenced. They didn’t care if they had to stand the whole time. It was a pleasure just to be in the same room with Maestro Penderecki and his music.
During the intermission, Penderecki was inundated with fans (some of whom, with their lack of clothing, could even be considered groupies) who just wanted a handshake, maybe an autograph, or (God willing) a photograph with the Maestro. He was gracious and said hello to everyone who approached him, signed the program with every pen that was given, and took pictures with the people who shoved iPhones his direction. People were fawning over him much like the girls were fawning over the chance to get Alex Turner (lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys) to just look in their direction.
I think some of the thrill (for the young people at least) of being near Pendercki had to do with his recent work with Jonny Greenwood, who is the writer and guitarist for the rock band Radiohead. Because of Jonny Greenwood’s own admiration of Penderecki, a whole new audience of rock lovers have heard the name of Penderecki and have accepted him as something cool and important because Johnny said so.
Maybe what classical music needs (I feel the pitchforks coming out and voices being cleared for boos) is a little more of the rock-n-roll attitude in their audiences, the rabid and tenacious “I wouldn’t miss that concert in the world because it is going to be awesome, man!” attitude that rock concert goers have. It’s the attitude that the audience at the Symphony Space had that night.
The concert honoring Penderecki was indeed incredible. The performances were captivating and energetic. Penderecki himself said the performance of the Capriccio per Siegfried Palm for solo cello by Jay Campbell was the best he had ever heard it. People did not leave at intermission. None of the people who were standing groaned or complained about not having seats. Everyone was focused and involved in the performances.
I did not have to stand the whole time like I did at the Arctic Monkeys concert, nor did anyone spill their drink on me. There was no dancing along to bass lines or people sweating on me. In the most superficial of ways, the two concerts were nothing alike, but in the important ways, the devotion and commitment of the audience was a carbon copy. And, I promise you, I didn’t fall asleep, and no one else did either.