On Thursday, March 16, 2017, LPO conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto took the stage at The Orpheum Theater and told the audience, “This is a very interesting and very challenging piece to play and listen to, but I invite you to listen with all of your heart.”
He was referring to Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.” He continued by explaining that, “There are very few concertos that start with 1, 2, 3, 4 repeated notes, but this score has the repeated notes and the word ‘indifferent’ written under the notes.”
In other words, the cellist, in this case soloist Jesús Castro-Babli, is supposed to feel nothing, evoke nothing, be indifferent.
As the audience nestled down further in their seats and readjusted the crossing of their legs, the piece began. Ears listened intently, and at the end of the piece, most jumped to their feet applauding excitedly. That is when I heard a voice yell out, “Yeah!” from the right side of the balcony. It was a young man with long hair, red pants, and a giant smile.
Another shout came from the back. This one from a female who looked to be in her thirties wearing a fur vest, skinny jeans, and knee-high boots. As I looked around, I noticed that dotted among the white hair, glasses-wearing crowd were art patrons that looked to be in their thirties or younger. I decided to investigate.
During intermission, I cornered patrons that broke any of the stereotypes often associated with classical music: white, wealthy, old, stuffy, and elitist. As I approached a young woman with a pixie haircut and a jean jacket half covering a forearm tattoo she quickly confessed, “I do not want to be interviewed.”
We agreed she would be renamed Liana for this piece, and we had a conversation rather than an interview; luckily, she let me tape it.
When I probed further about her presence at the LPO, she said, “I’m here because of him” [pointing to her date].
Liana confessed to not really even liking classical music. “I’m not resistant to classical music,” she said. “I just don’t really listen to it. Although, this makes my tenth or eleventh LPO concert,” she said with an ironic laugh. “And I thought that second piece [Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra”] was creepy, and I really liked that,” she said before explaining her love for horror films.
When I turned to her date, Travis, he had quite the opposite to say when it came to connecting with classical music.
“It [classical music] has been in my life for awhile…The scale, ambition, expression, and control, and the idea of creating as vivid as a universe as possible and expressing it with the most precision possible really draws me to the music.”
Here was a thirty-three year old, self-employed, guitar playing male breaking many of the patron-molds often associated with classical music. As he continued to express his love of the genre, he also referenced Lutoslawski’s piece, saying, “It felt like the cellist, and maybe this is reading into the intro that Carlos gave, but you could tell that he [the cellist as a character] was a Bureaucrat. An individual person that required non-individuality, and there were all these sections that were trying to interrupt or suppress his individuality in ways that were really unpredictable.”
Most importantly, he said, “I was unexpectedly really moved by it.”
Then we got down to logistics. As stated before, money is often associated with classical music, so what were the limits of how much a young classical music lover would pay?
“It all depends on the piece and how much money I have in the bank,” Travis said with a laugh. “It would definitely be over $100 dollars, and I realize that my seats may not even be very good. It’s about seeing orchestras in certain venues, and in certain venues, every seat is good.”
Luckily for him, he did not have to pay anywhere close to $100 dollars for the seats he was very happy with during the LPO’s performance at the Orpheum. In fact, with seats starting around $20, the LPO’s cost is on par with a night out at a jazz club and way below the ticket price on rock concerts that come through the city.
At this point, the intermission bells chimed, but I had one more patron I wanted to sweetly corner. She was one of the youngest patrons (with the stipulation of not being accompanied by a parent) I saw. More interestingly, I heard her laughing during both Isaac Albeniz’s piece “Iberia” and Lutoslawski’s piece. She also was resistant to being interviewed, and asked if she could have a pseudonym. “Cassandra Lux,” she said. “I want that to be my name. It’s my alter ego.”
We went with it.
Cassandra, a twenty-six year old, multi-jobbed female immediately said, “I don’t like classical music. You can quote me on that. I have a hard time finding things to grasp onto, and I’m not sophisticated enough to understand the subtext and the human emotion behind it. The way I read human emotion and subtext is more simple. It’s often about the lyrics.”
Yet, she found something throughout the classical pieces that moved her to laugh. “I have questions more so than observations,” she explained. “The back row guys weren’t doing much, but they were awesome. When people in the orchestra aren’t doing much, do they get bored? Are they thinking about groceries or actually focusing on what’s going on?” she asked with a smile. There, possibly, was the root of the comedy for her. When she couldn’t understand the music, she watched the players. She wondered about their lives, their thoughts, and even had musings that, I found out, made her laugh.
And what brought her to the LPO? “Date night,” she said.
Whether young patrons were at the LPO on Thursday night for the love of the music or the love of each other, all of them were challenging themselves to hear sounds and compositions that are outside their norm. With Carlos Miguel providing context for difficult pieces, ticket prices being equatable to other night life in the city, and the seats in the Orpheum providing beautiful views and sounds no matter where you are placed, it is a concert-going event for young and old. In fact, I even saw a very elderly man texting in the dark during Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5” in the second half. So maybe engaging with classical music has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with heart.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing Albeniz’s “Iberia,” Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra,” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64” on Friday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, Covington.