From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

To the Far East on Friday, Edinburgh to be precise, to the Festival to hear the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the Usher Hall.  In the first half of their concert they played American music – Bernstein and Copland.  One felt the music was in the orchestra’s blood. They were magnificent.

The Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront derives from music Leonard Bernstein composed for Elia Kazan’s 1954 depiction of corruption and exploitation on the wharfs of New Jersey.  The cast was stellar – Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Eva Marie Saint.  The film was nominated for twelve academy awards, and won eight.  Bernstein’s symphonic suite remains as powerful as the film, perhaps even more so.

Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait followed, a thirteen minute depiction of the character and words of the sixteenth President, for narrator and orchestra.  The narrator on Friday was Charles Dance.  He had Lincoln’s tall, slim, Presidential bearing.  His mid-west accent was, at least to my ears, faultless.  The timing and balance between speaker and musicians was perfect. Charles Dance avoided histrionics and allowed the language to speak for itself.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. 

When was the last time you heard a president, or any politician for that matter, speak like this?

It struck me that On the Waterfront and Lincoln Portrait share a common theme, of the battle of an individual against a remorselessly corrupt and malevolent system.  Actually, both works are about slavery.  Given the recent events in Charlottesville Virginia, it could hardly have escaped the notice of the capacity audience in the Usher Hall that the topic could not be more relevant to the current “State of the Union”.  This might account for the electric atmosphere in the hall.  In the second half, Brahms’ First Symphony was played with equal passion and commitment.  What an orchestra.

At concerts, it’s usually rewarding to engage your neighbour in conversation.  A glamorous German lady sat on my left.  She took a picture of the orchestra on her mobile, and sent it off somewhere.  At least it was before the music started.  I said, “Are you emailing a friend?”

“My boyfriend.  He will wish to know I am not flirting.”

“Is he very jealous?”

“Yes.  He is French.  He is very much in love with me.”

“And is this sentiment reciprocated?”

She rapidly rotated a wrist, an equivocal Gallic gesture she might have learned from the jealous monsieur.  “Too early to say.”

She sounded just like Marlene Dietrich.  She even looked like her.

Phaw-lling… in loaf again, nevah vaunted too…

Vot am I taw doo…

Kant ‘elp eet.

She was deeply impressed by the Cincinnati Symphony.  “One criticism.  The women.  Ugh!  They are not elegant.”  I had noticed that the gentlemen were in white tie and tails, and that many of the ladies wore black trousers and plain black tops – almost jeans and T-shirts.  It wasn’t the last time I saw ladies in black this weekend.  The Black Ferns beat the Red Roses in the rugby world cup final in Belfast.  I’m a New Zealand citizen, therefore may allow myself a brief period of rejoicing.  I didn’t see the match, but I did see a bit of the Haka which was pretty intimidating.

Then Floyd Mayweather beat Conor McGregor in the boxing ring on the Strip in Las Vegas.  I don’t follow the fight game but I was intrigued to hear that, according to the BBC, the contest earned Mr Mayweather an eye-watering £200,000,000.  Let’s see now.  The fight was stopped in the tenth round.  Does a professional boxing round last three minutes?  That’s two hundred million quid for less than half an hour’s work.  Four hundred million pounds is surely a generous hourly rate.  It equates to £111,111 and eleven pence a second.

It was pouring when I came out of the Usher Hall on Friday night.  I passed a beggar on the pavement on my way back to the car.  He was drookit.  I gave him a pound and said, “This is not a night for being out, mate.”  He agreed.  Not that I helped much.  Mr Mayweather earns a pound in nine millionth’s of a second.  Nice work if you can get it.



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