Friday, May 08, 2009

Benaroya Never Smelled Like This

Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony, may not be a venerable institution, but it certainly tries. The soaring ceilings and elegant decor are intended to give you the appropriate feelings of gravitas that seems to be required in order to appreciate this type of music. After all, there are traditions to be upheld and rivals to be upstaged! We cannot allow our symphony hall to be less grand, less, imposing, less impressive than, say, the Arlene Schnitzer Hall in Portland or even the Hult Center in Eugene. What would the other symphonies think of us if we allowed our standard to relax? Other conductors might refuse to visit, our players might not get out of town gigs, high-brow culture in Seattle could ultimately collapse!

All joking aside, even for all its stuffiness, I really do enjoy my time at Benaroya Hall. The stringent behavior requirements of symphony attendance actually make sense when you think about the music. How can you truly enjoy a delicate violin solo if somebody next to you is talking about their bunions or slurping on a soda? It just doesn't work. Therefore, I've really trained myself to be extra careful with my behavior while enjoying an evening in the main concert hall. That is why I found it so very unnerving when we went that same venue to hear a totally different kind of music.

A few months ago, we actually attended a rock concert there. David Byrne, one of my perennial favorites, was having a show, and M was kind enough to grab a pair of tickets. We weren't even inside the building when I started to notice the difference. People with dreadlocks and hemp skirts generally do not attend the symphony, but they were in the crowd tonight. The throng milling around the entrance also included the very young and very pierced, and it noticeably did not include the seniors one would usually find. Nothing about this crowd worried me, but the disorientation was severe. It only got worse as the show began.

Instead of the stirring strains of a Beethoven piece, we heard "Take Me to the River" and "Psycho Killer." The guy in front of us was actually wearing a mic to illegally record the concert. People began dancing in the aisles. It could have been any rock concert at any amphitheater or arena. Then came the ultimate in brain-bending moments. The smell. You know the "concert" smell? That aroma of illegal celebration? Anyway, I never actually saw anyone lighting up, but they were certainly there somewhere.

In the long run, I'm actually kind of happy when my expectations are so completely turned on their heads. Perhaps it will prevent my brain from moldering away into a series of impassable ruts. Nevertheless, if I hear Chopin the next time I'm at the Moore, doubtless I will be confused all over again.

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