San Jose Culture Vultures Devour the San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony came to play a free outdoor concert at noontime in downtown San Jose, and I was absolutely thrilled about it. I can’t afford even a stuck-in-the-rafters ticket to the San Francisco Symphony. Heck, I can’t even afford a decent ticket to the Symphony Silicon Valley, Ballet San Jose, or even the dopey San Jose Chamber Music Organization . And here they were, right in my town, playing a concert for free, and if I arrived early enough, I’d have a pretty good chance of getting seating up close. Furthermore, the concert included drawings for free concert tickets, and that would be pretty darn cool too.

On the way up on light rail, another lady noticed that I, like her, had a lawn seat in tow, and asked me if I was going to the free concert, too. We ended up concert buddies, which was pretty cool, because she was a seasoned culture vulture and knew all about the local performing arts organizations, including the scuttlebutt on the tragic decline and disappearance of the San Jose Symphony. She also told me this was the first time the San Francisco Symphony had played in San Jose since 1918, so it was a special event indeed.

We ended up in a few feet back from the first violin, with no-one (except Kelly) in front of us. That was awesome, because I could really see how the strings played. I couldn’t see the brass or woodwinds or percussion in the back, but I’m not sure anyone could. It was definitely a crowd of culture afficianados, which included several homeschooling families I knew.

When the park was nearly full with the likes of us, the “voice of the San Francisco Symphony,” a guy from the local classical radio station, came out to introduce the symphony and the young conductor, who recently won an award. I forget the name of the award, but it was for something like being judged as the living reincarnation of Gustav Mahler, conductor version.

He seemed a bit more cheerful than I thought of Gustav Mahler as being, but maybe if Gustav Mahler were reincarnated to 2007, where everyone thinks his compositions are the bomb, and he was conducting the San Francisco Symphony at the age of 25, maybe he’d be more cheerful, too.

It was a pretty modern selection, actually very appropriate to the venue and the musicians. The first piece was “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland, who’d conducted the San Francisco Symphony in 1966. It was mostly brass and percussion. Then the conductor introduced a piece called “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams, who the conductor said was a local composer. It was pretty simple, but really neat: more like a musical painting of a car speeding down the highway. The longest piece was a suite from “Romeo and Juliet” by Prokiev (not to be confused with “Romeo and Juliet” by Tschaikovsky.) It’s apparently a signature piece of the San Francisco Symphony, and the conductor said the last part of it would sound like people walking in 400-pound armor. It actually did sound that way, and it was really neat to see how the violinists plucked the strings on their violins to contribute to that sound.

My concert buddy said she was a Gershwin fan , but she’d never heard this concert’s final piece by Gershwin, “Cuban Overture.” Oddly enough (thanks to Kelly’s preference for classical music), I heard it just last weekend on XM Pops Boundaries (aka weird stuff) show. An ambulance drove by with siren blasting during one portion, and it mixed right in. I still thought it was a bizarre composition, until Peter put into a context a music philistine like me could understand. “It’s a mash-up,” he said. Oh, yeah, now I get it.

The symphony got an extended standing ovation from the crowd, mostly because I think we all just appreciated them being there and putting on such a great concert for free. Unfortunately, I don’t think I won any free tickets: there were at least another 1,000 people signing up in hopes of winning them, too.

Kelly complained that she wanted to go downtown, even though we were there. To her, downtown San Jose is walking in the park, going to a movie, or a museum. We still had time before I had to pick up Neil (and later, Peter picked Neil up so we could stay even longer), so I took Kelly to the Children’s Discovery Museum. Among the exhibits she particularly enjoyed, was this one in the Water Works section:

She enjoyed dumping the balls in them to watch them get sucked down in the whirlpool. Later on, she described it as “the toilet.” When she was younger, she actually ruined the plumbing in the childrens’ bathroom by flushing too-big things down the toilet. Oh, if only we’d known she just wanted to play with this, we might have gotten a Children’s Discovery Museum membership instead and saved ourselves hundreds of dollars and a massive amount of labor…

1 Comment

  1. patty

    Oooh … as a former San Jose Symphony (RIP) member (for 27 years) I wish I had been a fly on the wall when you were getting the “inside scoop”. Rats.


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