Jean Yves Thibaudet: French and middle-aged, has good hair, and has skinny legs in stovepipe pants.
First Half: Schumann (52 minutes)
I was a little too sleepy and sluggish for a darkened room and reflective Schumann. Also, I find Jean Yves Thibaudet’s fingers on the keys to be very erotic, so that was hypnotizing in an unhelpful way. I didn’t realize what it was until we were on to Ravel in the second half, but with Schumann it was like Thibaudet’s hands were working as one to create something floral and seamless. Beautiful, but to my tired brain it just rolled out like wallpaper. This is one of the hazards of going to hear “classical” music and not knowing much about it. No hooks to hang things on, so you can just slide right off.
Fortunately the Sunday afternoon crowd added texture to the experience by not seeming to realize that they were supposed to be quiet, polite, and self-contained while the music was happening. No one seemed to be stifling, timing, or even muffling their hacking coughs for one thing. It sounded like a TB ward. Over that base was a layer of snoring, belching, and the clattering sounds of things falling on the floor. There was the excitement of a loud cell phone ring and a couple of verboten camera flashes. Most amazingly and constantly, the young couple in front of me full-on necked throughout the whole show. After awhile, I started to notice otherwise quiet people around me breathing huffily or shaking their heads back and forth at how disruptive everyone else was being. On top of all the actual noises and movements I could hear the psychic howls of ADD-sufferers forced to sit still and attend to one thing for the 52 minutes of the first half.
Intermission: Bathroom conviviality
One of the young Morlots (daughter of the symphony’s musical director) was in front of me in line at the bathroom, and then Leslie Chihuly (symphony president) happened to come in behind me, and they small-talked charmingly around me about school and stuff. After leaving the bathroom, young Morlot splintered left to go to the Founders Room, which is VIP and probably where the best snacks are. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I used to tuck over to the cannery messhall at the 3 pm break whistle and have a bowl of vanilla ice cream with my grandpa.
Second half: Ravel (36 minutes)
Ravel was easier to stay awake for, more modern and rhythmic. You can always play the “How is this sort of like Debussy and at the same time NOTHING like Debussy” game the whole time. It’s not spooky and ambiguous like Debussy. But it doesn’t march along predictably either. It’s like Thibaudet’s two hands are separate creatures this time, building interlocking structures. I could almost see them in my mind and THAT gave me little hooks to hang my listening experience on besides just the chorus of humans not trying very hard to be quiet.
When Thibaudet finished his second Ravel piece there was a great sigh and murmur of appreciation that surprised me. By this point I thought the audience was pretty much just dullards napping fitfully. And then people were getting to their feet in a delayed and disorderly fashion, not jumping up but straggling up for some kind of ovation, clapping their hands up in the air in front of their faces. Thibaudet seemed happy enough to be there and happy that so many people came to his concert even though he isn’t Lang Lang.
Three Encores, starting with Something Something Brahms
Thibaudet bowed to the crowd and then got laughs for bowing to the piano. He leaned over and pretended to consult with the piano. Then he sat down on the bench and said something-something “Brahms.” The crowd gave up sighs and words like “lovely” as a hundred ADD sufferers shrieked their discomfort right into my brain. The Brahms was very lovely and lulling and homely, and we were all a bit quiet afterward. The NEXT time Thibaudet popped back out onto the stage, he played a little something humorous and spritely and short , like he just wanted to send us back out into the world with a little sparkle, that’s all. The crowd was now getting more used to being called upon for a response, and jumped up more quickly this time and shouted louder. Now Thibaudet seemed like he was our uncle visiting from far away in a land before television, dazzling the children with musical tricks after dinner. He sat back down at the piano AGAIN, and said “Last one!” to laughter. The last song was something so quiet, simple and intimate–single notes, space, a sweetness of something not composed but just hummed by your mom to herself. We had to lean in to hear it and it was like the hall shrunk down to a much smaller venue and we were all among friends.
Riding the 16 bus home
Across the street from Benaroya Hall, I got back on the 16 bus with the same careful, elderly, dignified widows and widowers who rode the bus downtown with me to the show. They wore clothes that looked like they had been their Sunday best for a couple of decades at least, but every garment looked cared for. Some carried canes. Some had quite splendid hats. They sat quietly on the way uptown, with their programs still folded in their laps, looking out the window and keeping their own counsel. All along the route they got off in ones and twos and the driver kneeled the bus as deeply as he could for them.