I’ve never been one to follow any one or anything but yesterday when I attended the New York Philharmonic’s rehearsal at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, I did just that.
I forced myself to rise early for the 9:45 AM rehearsal so that I could get a good seat as it is general admission. When I entered the building I noticed a short line had already formed so I went over and asked if this was for the rehearsal. A group of three older men and one young man behind them were talking loudly, New York style among themselves. “Yes, this is the line. But there’s another line on the other side as well. And you have to walk up from here. There’s an escalator over there.” The loudest one in a baseball cap pointed out to me. I knew instantly that this was where I should stand.
The loud one immediately identified me as a greenhorn. “We’re regulars. I’ve been coming to these since its inception.” They continued to chat as the line grew behind me. Avery Fisher, with its large glass windows revealed a gray and dismal day outside. Inside the conversation was lively. The three men learned that the young man standing behind them was a violin student, studying with a revered master. They spoke of every musician in the orchestra and moved on to the new music director, Alan Gilbert who would be conducting for our performance of Mahler’s 3rd.
The New York Philharmonic’s season had opened the night before and that morning there had been an open and free rehearsal. The eager crowd had gathered as early as 5AM to obtain tickets. “I remember when we used to have to wait outside in the freezing cold to get tickets. Now we can wait inside.” They all nodded in agreement. “Did you see Alan Gilbert introduce his mother last night? She’s still a violinist in the orchestra. He looks just like her. Not such a big crowd today. Only a few of the regulars.” The loudest one observed.
I fingered the envelope inside my pocket, remembering that I had a spare ticket. No one had wanted to join me. I had invited at least seven different friends. I was very surprised to discover how unpopular classical music is, especially when performed early in the morning. I noticed an Asian man asking the guard about getting tickets. I piped up, “Excuse me but I have a spare ticket. You can have it.” I pulled it from my pocket and the guard glared at me. “You are not allowed to sell tickets.” He bellowed loudly at me. Every one in the line looked at me. I wanted to shrink or melt like the wicked witch does in the Wizard of Oz. I withdrew the ticket. The man behind me said, “You don’t look like a scalper.” I gave up the idea of selling my ticket and was sorry that I hadn’t just given the man the ticket but the guard had upset my equilibrium.
Finally the gate opened. I made up my mind to follow the loudest one. Not so easy as pandemonium ensued. Each ticket had to be scanned so that slowed the process of the anxious crowd behind me. I saw the loud man in the cap bolt up the steps and I followed closely behind. The other men veered off to the left. I thought they were going to the men’s room. When we got to the next landing we were outside the auditorium in yet another line. I was right behind the loud man. “Oh my god.” He said. “I’m at the wrong door.” My heart sank. “I didn’t realize it. The next door is the best door. but don’t worry. We’re so close to the front of the line that we can easily cross over once they let us in.” I surveyed the layout and agreed. We stood there nervously waiting until the doors opened and then we were like a herd of hungry animals as we rushed forward. All the while I kept my eyes on the loud man. I saw him scoot down to the front; I followed as closely as I could.
He chose the aisle seat on the right side. I had to think fast as the crowd was swarming around me. I slid into the front row and sat in the center seat. I realized immediately that I couldn’t change my seat even if I had wanted to as the auditorium filled up around me. It wasn’t the optimum seat for viewing as I couldn’t see the wind instruments easily but it was perfect for listening and I was right behind Alan Gilbert. I accepted my fate and looked around. I thought that the men who were talking together before the concert were friends. It was apparent that they are just regulars and didn’t come together. They chose the upper right box. I looked up at them. They smiled down at me. The young violinist sat up there too. Maybe that’s the best location, I’m still not sure.
My excitment grew as the musicians came out, one by one and took their places. I was immediately struck by their informality and reminded that this is a rehearsal, not an evening performance. I almost felt like a voyeur. As someone who designs clothing, I couldn’t help but study their choice of wardrobe as well. Jeans were definitely in the majority for both sexes. Very few of the women chose skirts or dresses. Only one young woman wore bright colors, every one else wore subdued hues. The footwear of choice was sneakers and I only saw one pair of flipflops, my preference.
A cacophony of warm up sounds filled the air as the musicians took their seats. A large man wearing suspenders came out and stood in front of the orchestra. The conductor stood beside him. The man in the suspenders raised his arms as if he was going to conduct. His role seemed to be that of silencer. The musicians looked his way and silence followed. Alan Gilbert mounted the podium. The large man disappeared.
Seated right behind the conductor, I had the advantage of hearing what he was saying. He didn’t have a microphone. He thanked the orchestra for last night’s performance. They beamed gratitude. And the Music began.
I was lost in it, drowned in it, swallowed up by it, consumed by it and thrilled by it. Oh the power of music to transcend all. I sat there enthralled for nearly three hours. As the finale soared and the drums pounded and the bows of the strings raced back and forth my eyes filled with tears. I had left this world for a few hours and been privileged to witness ecstasy.