Monday, March 2, 2015

Warming with Wolfie

Listen to the meteorologists and you miss too much.

Braving the ice and cold despite online warnings to stay in, I got exactly one block from home on my walk before taking  a tumble on an ice-glazed brick sidewalk, landing on my hip and knee. Thankfully, there were no churchgoers nearby to overhear the string of expletives that came out of my mouth.

Refusing to be beaten by frozen water, I continued on, avoiding brick walkways as much as possible and covering nearly five miles as freezing rain continued to fall. While the terrain was dangerous, the city was silvery and nearly empty so I had it to myself for the most part.

Back at my house I discovered that my umbrella was completely iced over, hard and solid enough that I couldn't fold it up. Can't say that's ever happened before.

Upstairs, warm and making tea for a guest, Africa trumped Austria as I spent a couple of hours with a musician who's about to present the Richmond premiere of a documentary about the time he spent playing in Kenya.

We got so caught up in conversation about music and travel that by the time I looked up, I realized I'd missed the Mozart lecture.

The 2015 Mozart Festival was today in Carytown and I'd hoped to start with a Mozart primer courtesy of VCU Music's Daniel Myssyk, but we'd chatted right through that. But with more Mozart to come, I bade him farewell, layered up and headed to Babe's of Carytown, a place I'd never been.

Arriving 15 minutes before the program "Requiem and Symphonies" was due to start, I found the place crowded with other music lovers. Sitting at the bar in the front room was a guy in a white wig and red waistcoat that read "Mozart" on the back, letter jacket-style.

Inching forward into the back room where an orchestra was set up, I spotted a cello player also in a white curly wig. Periodically, I'd hear, "Musician coming through!" behind me and it would be a guy leading with his trombone or a woman with her instrument case in front of her trying to part the sea of humanity and reach the orchestra area.

Since I'd never been in Babe's before, I'd had no clue that they had that big back room, which was already mostly full. Passing by the bar behind rows of folding chairs, one guy told me he'd arrived an hour ago to score the stool on which he sat.

I finally made my way to the end of the bar directly in front of the violin section. I might not have been seated, but I had a damn fine view considering my arrival time.

Ellen of Classical Revolution, the non-profit devoted to bringing classical music to bars all over Richmond, began by announcing that this orchestra had never played together before. "This is how many rehearsals we've had," she said, holding up her hand and shaping a zero.

But because they're classical musicians, they were excited to be sight-reading Mozart for our listening pleasure. She mentioned that given the weather (humid, rainy), there would necessarily be a lot of tuning throughout the performance.

She also mentioned that the Richmond Symphony, sponsors of this show, were starting a new series of $15 one-hour symphony performances at Hardywood next season. It sounds exactly like the former Kicked Back Classics series that the symphony did for years at places like Tredegar.

Everything old is new again, at least to the young.

I was a huge fan of that series, in part because of the succinct playing time but also because they served free pizza at the end of each show. I vote to bring back that part of the series, too.

The same Daniel Myssyk whose lecture I'd missed came out to conduct the first piece, telling us that Mozart had composed it in four days while traveling from Salzburg to Vienna. He'd stopped in Linz for a break and, according to Myssyk, "Said to himself, what do I do here and wrote a quick symphony."

Next they did a movement from Symphony #41, known as the Jupiter symphony, but Myssyk said, "That's a 19th century name and Mozart wouldn't recognize it." Then we should never utter it again if you ask me.

This was working out better than I'd hope for. Myssyk was spilling all kinds of fun facts to make up for my missing his talk. If only the idiots in the back would stop blathering so I could hear his every word.

We got a real treat when the bassoon player arrived with her impressive instrument and took a chair right next to the conductor for the "Bassoon Concerto," a rare opportunity to hear so much solo bassoon, not to mention that I had a terrific vantage point for watching her play.

After each selection, the audience clapped mightily and the dapper man behind me yelled, "Bravo! Bravo! Yo, yo, yo!" You know, just like Mozart's 18th century audiences would have done.

Richmond Symphony assistant conductor Erin Freeman came out and with no introduction started up the next piece, which also included a chorus singing on the platform behind the orchestra.

Barely into it, she stopped them and turned to us, saying, "So, that," which resulted in the entire audience cracking up. "I always wanted to do that. That was Mozart's last eight bars or as one of the musicians said earlier, that's where he stopped composing and started decomposing."

Long hair humor. And speaking of long hairs, there was a young flute player in a knit cap, his long blond hair sticking out from under it and with a bushy, hipster-approved beard who gave me hope for the future of symphonic music.

Marketing tip: hire him and make him the new face of the symphony.

"Although I do hope you enjoy everything today, this is the most important piece," Erin said introducing "Requiem," the reason die-hard fans were there. When the chorus sang the final "amen," the room rose in an ovation, cheering.

But we couldn't end on something so somber, so next she introduced "the most perfect piece Mozart ever wrote, "Ave Verum Corpus," because it best embodied his spirit." It was truly beautiful.

Almost exactly an hour after the music had begun, it ended, breaking the spell of a roomful of people gathered together because they were willing to go out on a day when weathermen told us to stay in simply to hear Mozart played live.

As I began the slow procession past the bar to get out of the room, a handsome guy next to me made a comment about the people in the back who'd chatted throughout the performance. "I know it's a bar, but why come here and talk the whole time?"

Since this is one of my favorite soapboxes, we commiserated about the cretins as we made our way to the front. He looked like he wanted to punch them while all I wanted to do was escape them.

Where we also found common ground was in how lucky we'd been to have these musicians play for us on this miserable afternoon.

I made one final stop at Joe's Inn, meeting fellow music-lovers and comparing our upcoming road trip shows: Hooray for the Riffraff, Babymetal and T Swift, as assorted a range of acts as three people could come up with and still want to associate.

Where we could all agree was on chocolate mousse pie after dinner while "Papa, Don't Preach" played to a packed restaurant, all the more enjoyable for what came before it.

Bravo, yo, yo, yo.

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