At the Winston-Salem Symphony. Tuesday, September 23. The Classic Season began impressively with three works. (1) Prokofiev, Symphony No. 5 (1944). I had not heard it before. I want to buy a recording. The first movement is slow and moving and at times loud. It brought applause. If someone were to ask me what a Scherzo is, I’d play for him or her a recording of the second movement. It is energetic, good for afternoon listening. I’d not hear it before bed. It’s exciting and fanciful and apt to result in strange dreams. Children would love it. The third movement is a waltz that dissolves and wavers back and makes a tension between a waltz and other symphonic statements. The last movement is sunny. Words such as “picnic,” “happy ramble” come to mind. The geniality grows in intensity and tempo to a raucous ending. (2) Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934). I’ve never liked the piece. I was nonetheless moved when the orchestra joined the pianist Conrad Tao after his statement of the ever popular and Romantic theme. It is beautiful, if overdone. The piece was well-suited to display the prodigious gifts of the nineteen-year-old pianist. His encore was the last movement of Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata, a virtuosic Bartok-like romp over the keyboard. (3) Arturo Marquez, Danzon No. 2 (1994). Della, bring your castanets! We will go to Cuba. There I will meet sexy Juanita with her full lips and big and beautiful breasts. I want to dance with her, to move with languid, sensual, percussive Latin rhythms becoming faster and faster and then throbbing and pulsing and more, and more, and more, and more! until we both EXPLODE and then lie together on the piazza holding hands, watching a hazy full moon glow until it blows up into bright sunrise colors at dawn. We will sleep throughout the hot and humid day. But wake us, Della, at sunset, with your castanets. I want another such night. Come quick, Della. Let’s go. There’s no time to lose!
At breakfast at a restaurant. As I’m waiting for my breakfast order, I see the old black Ford pick-up truck with the front license plate boasting, “National Rifle Association.” Two men enter the restaurant, see me and nod in greeting, and sit at the booth next to mine. They become engaged in conversation as they wait for their breakfast and I eat eggs and bacon and grits. “I tried to tell her,” one says to the other, “but she wouldn’t shut up on me.” Yep, it has been awhile, but I’ve been there, too.
With two friends. We sit on the wrap-around porch, at the meeting point between the front and side yards. We sip drinks and talk quietly. It is late at night. Among other things, we talk about religion and politics. We do so without excitement, rancor, and with some humor. The night is end-of-summer cool. The neighborhood is quiet. The thought occurs to me that soon the leaves, heavy on the trees, will turn colors and fall. Winds will blow them away and the porch will be without friends, without conversation. There will have gone some kindness, generosity, hospitality.
A battle. The counter between the living room and dining area was swarming with tiny, fast-moving black ants. I could not see where they were coming from. I feasted them with drops of Terro Ant Killer, and during the day I saw the swarms outline the perimeters of the drops. I added more and more papers with Terro during the day, and at the time for the taking out of garbage, I folded the sheets and put them into the trash. Then I wet a paper towel and mashed all the remaining ants. The next morning there were no ants there, and I scrubbed the counter well with disinfectant. It will be a while before I look upon the counter as other than a scene of mass carnage.
Coriolanus. The Bare Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (Saturday night in Raleigh) is a first-rate production. It is produced outdoors, at Halifax Mall, the scene of Moral Monday protests, current gatherings of citizens of NC to protest legislative policies deemed hurtful to the poor. The setting is politically appropriate to the message of the play, as the program describes, “William Shakespeare’s tragedy of politics and war.” The audience moves with the action of the play, viewing the scenes from twenty-eight different places on the mall, in a half-mile rough circuit. The production uses lights provided by mall pole lighting, lighting from the buildings, and occasional flash lights and portable theatre lighting. The audience become protestors at the Senate, at the market place. We are there on the battlefield during battles. We are close by actors in intimate scenes. The production uses contemporary dress and props. (I smiled that when people were asked to spread the word, the actors pulled out phones and texted the information.) The pace is crisp, the direction inventive, the acting convincing. Two actors of note: Douglas Lally (Coriolanus) and Benji Jones (Volumnia, mother of the Coriolanus). The play is worthy of production, reading, study. Hats off to Bare Theatres for its engaging and convincing production.
Reading. Poetry. As I re-read Walt Whitman’s From Noon to Starry Night, a collection of poems on miscellaneous subjects, written between 1855 and 1881 and gathered together in the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass, I reflected that there’s much to enjoy here. There are the celebration of the sun in “Thou Orb Aloft Full-Dazzling”; a poem evoking the power of music, “The Mystic Trumpeter”; a poem of self-proclamation as poet of New York, “Mannahatta”; a riddle, “A Riddle Song”; two poems whose ideas would appeal to those times, “Excelsior,” on goals and achievements and “Thick-Spangled Bunting” on patriotism. I have four favorites. “To a Locomotive in Winter” celebrates the power and wonder of achievements in industry. “O Magnet-South” is a love song to all things Southern. “By Broad Potomac’s Shore” is one of the loveliest lyrics ever written, invoking spring, Virginia, “blood-red roses blooming,” “waters . . . [of the] Potomac,” “deathless grass,” “forenoon purple of the hills” into the poem. “A Clear Midnight” names the “themes” the soul best loves: “Night, sleep, death, and the stars.”
Reading. Fiction. As I re-read or read for the first time all of the works of Steinbeck, I complete East of Eden. The novel is the story of generations of families in California, living in the area of Salinas to King City. “We have only one story,” the omniscient narrator states. “All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil.” This is the theme of the book, illustrated in the lives of the characters, which range from the character of Cathy, a chilling study in evil, to that of Lee, the Chinese cook, housekeeper, and surrogate parent, an example of wisdom and understanding. How do we balance good and evil in our lives? The novel gives us brilliant examples and ultimate challenges.
Thank you for reading. I hope your week will be good.