Fabio Can Play Cello

May 5, 2007

Lest any of my occasional readers become upset, let me first say that the Macon Symphony gave another stellar performance this evening. Beautiful wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed the concerts this season as have the occasional selection of daughters, boyfriends and son that have attended with us.

That said, I am remotely suspicious that there was a not so hidden agenda in the selection of this evening’s guest artist. The featured piece was Dvorak’s Concerto in B Minor for Cello. I like Dvorak . . . for all of the wrong reasons. I’ve always thought that the New World Symphony would have made a great soundtrack for a pirate movie. Picture the sea washing over the deck of the ship and Errol Flynn at the helm with a glint in his eye and the wind in his long hair.

Zuell BaileyI guess Errol Flynn was on my mind when the cellist walked on stage. His name is Zuell Bailey and if you’re too young for Captain Blood, remember Johnny Depp as the pirate in Chocolat, but with darker hair. Here’s a photo that I lifted from the MSO website. Add a little beard and moustache and make the hair longer for the current image. Imagine D’Artagnan with a bow instead of a sword.

To make things even better, the first movement of the Concerto would have made a great swashbuckler theme. As Bailey began to play (and he can really play), the image changed a little. It dawned on me that I was watching Fabio; but instead of posing with the beautiful woman for the front of a gothic romance novel, Fabio had a cello.

I think that the women in the audience were very impressed. Our commentator from Kentucky (see Now I know where she came from) was sadly missing, but her unadulterated take on Fabio was easy to imagine. A master of understatement, Beautiful Wife commented simply, “I enjoyed the piece . . . and he was nice to look at.” I resisted the quip about sex and violins, but promised to take her again to ladies night at the Symphony next year.


Now I know where she came from . . .

November 19, 2006

I’ve written about this one before (Don’t think she’s from around here). Now I know where she came from.

I took son Wil to the Macon Symphony last night. It was another wonderful performance, starting with a Ludwig van overture that was vaguely familiar to my unenlightened ears and ending with Bobby McDuffie playing an amazing Tchaikovsky violin concerto. More about this later . . .

I heard the familiar voice shortly after we were seated. It turns out that she’s actually not a season ticket holder, but she is related to one. I’m not sure, but I think she’s a frequent visitor to Macon. I’m also not sure what her vocation is, but she is obviously an expert on a broad range of topics, from symphony conductors to fermented yak’s milk.

That’s right . . . fermented yak’s milk. She started the evening’s discourse with a commentary on Berea, a small city in Eastern Kentucky (her hometown?). Apparently not much happens there, but that was not a limiting factor to the story. Her description of the town began with the recounting of an encounter in a grocery store with a visitor to Berea from Nepal. Mind you, our narrator was not particularly surprised that a visitor from Nepal could be encountered in a grocery store in Berea, KY. She was astounded when the visitor told her that he found Eastern Kentucky “a little boring.” How could Kentucky be boring in comparison to Nepal? After all, Berea is near Cincinatti!

“It’s a dry county, though,” she continued. “Maybe that was the problem.”

Her companion replied that she did not remember that Nepal was known for it’s affinity for alcohol or for it’s famous alcoholic beverages.

“No, they’re big drinkers,” replied the voice from Kentucky. “You know, they all drink that yak’s milk.”

I was fascinated, but the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Adrian Gnam on the stage and the Macon Symphony began the evening’s performance. I am continually impressed with this fine group of musicians. I’m certainly not a classical music “aficionado.” I don’t know much, but I love the music. Last night’s performance was no disappointment. The short Beethoven piece and the Mozart symphony of the first half were wonderful, but the second half was amazing.

I went to high school briefly with Bobby McDuffie. He wouldn’t know me from Adam and I really don’t remember him very well, either. But, as my buddy Bubba would say, “That boy can flat play a fiddle.”

More precisely, an 18th century violin that’s probably worth more than the house we live in. He stood as he played . . . I think he had to to keep his balance. I wondered how much of what he was playing was actually written by Tchaikovsky and how much was interpretation or improvisation. The range of sound that McDuffie produced from the violin was amazing in itself, but more astounding was the coherence of it all. The four movements ranged from lyrical melodies to very complicated, difficult “duels” between the soloist and the orchestra.

Son Wil’s response was, “Way cool!”

Our visitor from Kentucky was also impressed, but not so much with the music. We didn’t hear much from her at intermission, but her commentary after the concert was certainly enlightening. She’s obviously got a thing against conductors, or at least our conductor. At the first show of the season, she had remarked that Adrian Gnam, the MSO conductor, was not “dynamic.” (Unfortunately, she missed the second concert of the season, when Gnam dressed as Superman as the MSO performed the John Williams overture.) Tonight, she was nonplussed with Gnam’s humor as he stepped briefly back on stage with a smile for a third round of applause before intermission. “He’s a control freak . . .” was the muttered comment from behind me.

After the concert, though, her attitude seemed to have improved a little. “You know,” she remarked to her companion, “that violinist seemed to have brought out a lot in your conductor. He really looked alive when the violinist was playing.” As we departed the Grand, she discoursed at length about the soloist, who she did not know by name, but who had been involved in “a bunch of workshops and things” of which she had intimate knowledge.

I’ve actually been to Berea, KY a couple of times and it didn’t seem like such a bad community to me, even despite the proximity to Cincinnatti. I haven’t heard the Berea, KY symphony or seen their conductor. I’m reluctant to blame the community for the negativity of their representative in the row behind me.

I’m sure she had an excuse . . . maybe it was just the fermented yak’s milk talking.

Don’t think she’s from around here . . .

September 17, 2006

Macon is a cultural town. It’s just a different kind of culture. Even with all of the oddball politics, occasional malaise, and general backwardness of a small city, the one claim Macon has always been able to make is a sincere devotion to the arts. Macon, GA supports the arts. We have two very active and vibrant theatre companies, a great choice of venues for shows, 6 Broadway touring companies at the Grand Opera House, the Concert Association, the Opera Guild, Mercer’s Townsend School of Music, Wesleyan College, and the Macon Symphony. It’s the Symphony that’s the subject of today’s post.

Macon supports the arts. We think it’s great! My wife’s birthday present this year was two season tickets to the Symphony. With five kids and two grandparents in the house, it’s tough to get a date. I thought that this was a great way to guarantee at least six nights out during the year. Last night was the first concert. So far, so good.

We arrived on time and after listening to a great jazz combo in front of the Grand Opera House for a couple of minutes, proceeded inside to get away from the gnats. (We’re having a wonderful gnat season in Middle Georgia, but that’s another story). We found our seats in the front row of the balcony. I knew that we had chosen good seats when the arts critic from the Macon Telegraph and his date sat beside us. We had a great view of the stage and of a tremendous Steinway grand piano.

We’ve been to occasional Macon Symphony performances over the years and our expectations were high. We weren’t disappointed. But the lady who sat behind us was.

It was kind of like a gnat. I don’t know if you’d call it a drone or a whine. It was loud enough to be irritating, but I was so wrapped up in the preparation for the performance that I didn’t really connect it with words. I think I just catalogued it as a foreign accent; not from the UK or Australia, but just not from around here.

I’m no classical highbrow, but from my Middle Georgia perspective, the performance was wonderful. Berlioz’ Hungarian March with lots of percussion, and a Russian pianist, Oleg Marshev, who gave a remarkable performance of a Shostakovich piano concerto. Marshev’s encore was a short piece that required four hands to play . . . and he did it all by himself.

At intermission, the whine behind me became louder. Indeed it became so audible that I was able to identify it clearly as words, emanating from a somewhat rotund woman who, also clearly, was not from around here. It had become a little stuffy in the balcony and she was uncomfortable. The rows were too close together for her liking. “I’m sure,” she stated, “that the rows down there (below us in the Orchestra level) are at least a centimeter further apart.” I contemplated this and accepted it, supposing that (like the Princess and the pea) a centimeter more of legroom could really make a difference to a person of refined taste.

“When I was last in London,” she continued, ” we went to this theatre that had to have been over 400 years old. We ended up in the fourth balcony or somewhere, way up above the stage.” I’m picturing the Globe Theatre.

“It was built before people grew much,” she continued. “You know, no one was ever over even five feet then. So we all sat with our legs over the seats in front of us.” By this time, I’d turned around to steal a glance at her, so now I’m picturing rows of slightly rotund women with dyed red hair and their legs and heels over the seats in front of them.

“And it was so dusty up there that my nose started running. I know I was disturbing the people around me, but I couldn’t help it.” My wife later observed that had she sneezed, she might have produced a historical artifact from Shakespearean times.

Her problems with playhouses didn’t stop there. When she went on to recount (in great detail) the plot of a foreign film that she had seen the previous week, I thought the topic had changed. The film had been about three travelers in Patagonia, all headed on a bus to the same town. But I digress. And so had our whiner, because the subject of her discourse was really the seats at the Douglass Theatre.

The Douglass is another historic Macon theatre. During the days of segregation, the Douglass was the venue for many famous black artists. From vaudeville acts to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and later Little Richard and Otis Redding; the Douglass was the host to some real Macon history. It’s been completely restored and is now used for special showings of movies, conferences, and smaller acts that come through town.

“You know the Douglass theatre,” our whiner continued with a conspiratorial tone to her companion. “You know the seats there. Well, after that movie, my daughter Sarah came down with the strangest rash on the backs of her legs. She was wearing shorts and contracted ‘contact dermatitis.'” She actually said “contact dermatitis.” I had to wonder what kind of strange prejudice could link “contact dermatitis” to viewing a movie at a historical African American theatre.

I was on the verge of losing it completely and the newspaper critic’s date was smiling in nervous embarassment for the woman when the second half of the concert (mercifully) began. The symphony began with a Weber overture I had never heard of followed by Schubert’s Symphony #8, the “Unfinished” Symphony.

Adrian Gnam is the MSO conductor. His name is spelled similarly to the word “gnat,” but to my knowledge he has no connection or causal relationship with this year’s productive insect season. Before beginning the Schubert piece, Gnam had explained that it was indeed unfinished, consisting of only two movements. The symphony would play them both.

The performance was (again) wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that the audience applauded after the first movement. Turning with a smile and natural charm, Gnam quipped, “It’s not that unfinished.” Everyone laughed, including the orchestra, and Gnam proceeded to conduct the second movement.

The concert ended. As we stood to leave, most of the audience around us was smiling in reflection of the enjoyable experience we’d all had. She really didn’t spoil it, and I just had to laugh when the annoying voice commented, “you know he’s really not much of a conductor. He didn’t move around too much. I just don’t think he’s very dynamic.”

I was glad that she wasn’t from “around here” and I was. We left, hoping that our musical tastes never become that refined and wondering if the slightly rotund woman had season tickets.