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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Force of Nature

Recollections in Passing Dept.: Writing Sunday’s post, which was a tribute to my late friend Ron Nicoll, reminded me of a concert my wife and infant daughter attended at Tanglewood on Sunday, August 4, 1997. This was a regular summer pilgrimage for Ron and some friends, and it was always a pleasure to join them when possible. 

On this day, the skies opened during the opening work, Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” and most of the party got drenched in the rush to cover my six-month-old child, who sat happily in her stroller under their jackets and umbrellas. During the next piece, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, the sun came out (appropriately, given the nature of the music) and I cradled Lily in my arms and walked to the shed, hoping to dry more quickly.

Rainy Tanglewood | Photo by Hilary Scott
I was not the type of parent to inflict its young upon others in inappropriate places. But Lily was quite peaceful and the strains of the just-beginning Adagietto seemed to further that peace. We stood behind the standees. All we could see of Ozawa was the shine of his white jacket. The music grew quieter and quieter.

And then some damn maiden-aunt busybody caught sight of my daughter and waved, making an “isn’t-she-cute!” face. Lily obligingly waved back. Which prompted some other crone to wave to my child. Who waved back again. At which point it seemed as if every lawn-dowager in the place had to add her own cutesy-assed wave, just as the movement reached its quietest moment.

Lily, delighted by all the attention, bellowed, “HI!!”

I’m sure even Ozawa heard it.

All the blue-jacketed greybeards in the audience turned to pelt me with glares of hate as I hurried my little malefactor away. Back at our soggy picnic blanket, Ron swore that he didn’t hear it. I think he was just being polite.

Here’s a piece I found in my files that I wrote shortly after that concert, but which never was published.


HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN DIGNITY and dryness on the Tanglewood lawn in the rain? Start with the fact that Tanglewood itself is a force of nature. The Boston Symphony’s elegant Berkshires home is a picture-book spread of old pine and young oak surrounding the graceful amphitheater in which the orchestra performs each summer, and a picnic on the lawn becomes homage to both music and nature.

Seiji Ozawa | Photo by Juan Carlos Cardenas
Nature added a vigorous accompaniment to a recent concert, providing thunder and a sprinkling of rain during “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” Samuel Barber’s setting of James Agee’s evocative portrait of a dry summer day. The fainthearted ran to their cars even before the piece finished; the hardy majority dug in, with and without umbrellas, as rain continued to fall during intermission. As the first strains of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 trumpeted across the lawn, the following techniques were observed:
Sprawl on wet blankets and affect no concern whatsoever about the rain. This is recommended for young, unmarried couples.
Sit back to back against your companion, shielding your bodies with plastic and your heads with hats. If you didn’t bring a hat, remove your eyeglasses.
Pull your chairs even closer to the table you brought. This heightens the match between the blue floral print on the chair canvas and the regal blue umbrella keeping dry the table, but not you. Sit grim-faced and will the rain to cease.
Retreat to the canopy of low pine branches sweeping out from the larger trees. You will be surprisingly dry, but outside sound is muffled and the view is obscured. If you’re feeling amorous, be assured that nobody can see you. But we all can hear you.
A couple of rows of benches at the rear of the amphitheater get a little roof coverage, and here one can study other techniques for concert endurance:
Sit with your back to the stage and read a magazine, preferably the Boston Globe’s Sunday supplement. The New Yorker is fine, but don’t laugh out loud at anything. Make sure your crossword puzzle is at least half finished by intermission.
As your date snoozes, her head in your lap, study the lissome companion of the fellow napping beside you. She will return your glance with an artless smile.
Fold your arms across your chest and scowl in obvious disapproval of such casual behavior. You’re getting seventy minutes of Mahler, your posture admonishes the others, and you’d better savor every minute.
Moved by the swell of the Adagietto, leave your seat and dance barefoot on the lawn. A small, agile child will join you.
– 6 August 1997

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