I was the weird teenager who liked classical music. Beyond that I liked Stravinsky, um yeah. I started with that entry level drug “The Rite of Spring” and graduated to “The Firebird”. I still have my vinyl of “Fantasia” with Leopold Stokowski – haven’t had an actual needle in years but God knows I’m not giving up my vinyl.
I was so picky about my Firebird that I spent years finding “the perfect” recording and version of it. I finally found it – Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky. It was all to match a perfectly incandescent evening spent at the Spokane Opera House in 1980-something.
The Spokane Symphony Orchestra used to offer 7 dollar (yes you read that right) student rush tickets. One night some friends and I decided to go. 7 dollars and we were in. I remember there was champagne at intermission, and I wasn’t 21 yet, but they didn’t card. Copland’s “The Quiet City” was on the menu, and if you’re only only used to “Appalachian Spring” or “Rodeo” it’s a departure. I think there was also something vaguely related to the Isle of Mann.
What I really remember, to this day, and probably till I die, is the performance of “The Firebird Suite”. All of the usual platitudes won’t do. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything but gasp and smile like a fucking idiot.
And when it over. Damn, when it was over.
The entire audience was quiet for about a second or two, and then, complete pandemonium. People leapt to their feet, cheering and clapping. Hands raised in the air as if it were a damn revival. I remember standing in the Opera House, screaming, nearly crying, because what I’d just heard and witnessed was, simply put, what music was supposed to be. The conductor looked liked he’s been dragged to hell and back, but had the biggest grin on his face. Likewise the orchestra, who probably needed a damn tropical vacation after that performance, but alternatively looked like they were high or about to collapse.
I must have been about 20 at the time. I’m a week away from 47 now. I still remember it like it was yesterday. Years from now, it will probably be the one thing I remember when my brain refuses to work properly. I’ll still remember that performance: how it changed my my life, changed how I view and listen to music, how it made me a better a person, a few notes at a time, because that was when I learned what true joy is.