[this is my entry for national novel writing month. it will probably be broken into several pieces. rants will resume in december.]
It was a concert that changed the fate of a world: opening night 2005 at Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis. Of course, I had no idea about that as I parked Sergei the pickup on Grandell Square and walked up to the hall, puffing a cigarette on an unseasonably crisp September evening. It promised to be an exciting concert, since it was David Robertson's debut in his official duties as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, but I was skeptical because the program was one of obscure classics and modern pieces. Hans Vonk didn't challenge us with the modern; he was a fine classicist who maintained the Symphony's reputation and presided over financial crises.
This new, young guy, barely older than myself, was a maverick by comparison. His debut program was a manifesto. I thought, I can at least support them with a subscription, but I don't have to like the music. Robertson was a favorite of the musicians; he had led them before. He came with a fine international reputation as a Musician to Watch. All the swells in St. Louis were knocking themselves over to welcome him, and I must admit, I was a little excited to see where he'd take our orchestra. His opening night program impressed me for its stark departure from the programming of his predecessor, but I just couldn't tolerate the 12-tone crap that had been the standard fare of modern symphonic music. I showed up for the pre-concert lecture expecting to hear justifications and apologies for the state of modern music.
Robertson was an engaging speaker, and nothing like you'd expect from a dedicated musician. He spoke Brokaw American. One was accustomed to deciphering accents at these talks, and struggling to understand sentences littered with obtuse musical jargon. This wasn't the case with our new conductor. He defined the musical jargon he used, he illustrated the pieces he spoke about in plain language with a humorous flair, he hummed. He played a boom box. I thought that the ghosts of Powell Hall must be looking down their noses; that the swells in the loge must be feeling disenfranchised. It was nice. I was still skeptical about the music.