Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Visit to Culture

While some would say that culture does not exist north of New York, compared to the back woods of New Hampshire, Boston offers plenty. And as our host pointed out, New York is certainly the theater capital, but Boston is a music city, with the New Engand Conservatory and Berklee School of Music, the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony and the Boston Philharmonic as the large and visible landmarks.

We arrived early for Saturday's concert so we could hear Benjamin Zander's lecture beforehand. Our host, Ken, had assured us that Zander is an enthusiastic and informative speaker. "Passionate" was the term he and Genevieve used.

Zander's style was certainly upbeat and energetic. Later, while he conducted, we got to see the passion and intensity. It was easy to see how he keeps himself in shape.

The featured performer was violinist Caitlin Tully, 18. She won the Aspen Music Festival's Nakamichi Violin Concerto Competition in 2001 at age 13 -- the youngest performer to win the competition. She performed Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Zander at that time. He told us that he would never have believed such a young player could have the depth to master such a piece, but that he had to rearrange his thinking after working with Tully.

Now, he said, Tully was five years older and had not been sitting on her hands. She would perform the Shostakovich concerto for us that evening.

After an appetizer by Mussorgsky, the Introduction to his opera Khovanchtchina, We settled in and fastened our seatbelts for the featured concerto.

I wish I could report the piece note by note, but I don't have that ability. You simply had to be there. A tall young woman came out to stand in the soloist's spot beside the conductor, in front of the first violins, and delivered a performance with the speed and energy of youth and the precision of experience. She obviously brought considerable natural gifts to her first lessons when she took up the violin at age four. And she's built on them.

See and hear her play if you get the chance.

We applauded for half an hour or so before the intermission.

The orchestra got a chance to show its own paces in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor. When that was over we clapped again for a long time. Laurie said it smelled like someone had lit a cigarette towards the end of the ovation.

"I think it's people's hands," I said.

We'd come to the city for some night life,so we strolled up the street to Betty's Wok and Noodle Diner for a late supper. The cuisine is Asian Latino. The bar serves sake-based versions of a numberof traditional cocktails. The wait staff danced to an eclectic mix of music loosely centered around the early 1970s. It was amusing rather than horrifying, because they obviously did not take it at all seriously. The service was slightly sketchy, but their sense of fun was contagious. Fortunately my immunity to fun has been quite strong since I overdosed on it in college. I observe and appreciate what I might once have been inclined to pursue.

As ready as I was to accept a late night, we were in Boston, after all. Betty's stopped serving at 11 p.m., so we walked back to the car and drove back to Belmont for some late night dessert and cognac. Ken broke out the bottle of VSOP Courvoisier, a spirit that had been absent from my budget for probably a decade. I snuffled reverently at a snifter of it. We also shared slices of a selection of dessert pastries.

Not a bad foray. It met a number of my top criteria for a visit to a city: I didn't have to drive, it was centered around an interesting activity but we also had time for less structured exploration and we had a native guide. I would do it again in a minute.

It was funny to hear the city dwellers talk about how nice it is to get to the country. No argument there. But I didn't move to the country just to get away from the city and its denizens forever and completely. I'm into cultural exchange. You city folk host me and I'll host you. I didn't move here to be a complete exile. I just knew what I wanted to be closer to.

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