Sunday, May 20, 2007

What a Difference a Vowel Makes

We live, readers, in a universe held together by unpredictable coincidences. You may be happily hurtling sideways through life and come in contact with something new and then -- the very next day -- come in contact with the same thing in an entirely different context. Ten, twenty, thirty or more years of semi-blissful ignorance of anything interrupted by two occurrences so close together that you begin to doubt the existence of chance.

Nonetheless, Lang Lang is not a panda.

B&c returned home from his sojourn in Ethiopia yesterday. Naturally, this meant that we had tickets to see something last night. B&c is all about the work by dead white guys culture, and we have a number of subscriptions. He generally purchases the tickets during the late spring and summer for a season that runs through the following spring. He usually doesn't learn about his consulting trips, however, until a couple of months before. Thus, he often has to reschedule his tickets. So when he has three weeks in Ethiopia and four or five weeks in Jordan separated by two weeks at home, much gets compressed into those two weeks. In addition to last night's symphony tickets, I will be subjected to get to see two operas in the next two weeks. I think there may be another event or two as well, but I can only contemplate so much time in a theater seat before I get overwhelmed and have to go to my safe place (this involves me curling up in the fetal position on the bed and singing Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz").

Anyway, I was in Costco last weekend. I had hoped to pick up the DVD of Pan's Labyrinth," but I couldn't find it, so I got The Painted Veil instead. I started watching it late Thursday night, and during the credits I saw "Piano Solo by Lang Lang," and I thought, "Wait a minute, isn't 'Lang-Lang' hyphenated? And isn't she dead? And how would you teach a panda to play the piano anyway?" But then the movie started, and I stopped worrying about it. After all, the piano playing was pretty good, and, given some of the movie's themes, resurrecting a Nixon-in-China era panda and teaching her to play the piano seemed somehow appropriate.

So fast forward to last night when we're taking our seats at the Kennedy Center. I hadn't bothered to ask what we were going to hear, so I was surprised to see that after the intermission, Lang Lang herself (still not hyphenated) would be the soloist for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. I was curious as to what else Lang-Lang had been doing since the people at the National Zoo stopped spending three-quarters of their annual budget trying (and failing) to make her produce viable offspring, so I turned to the "Meet the Artists" section and looked at the bios and said to b&c, "Huh. Lang Lang is a man."

B&c knows better than to ask, so he just rolled his eyes. The concert was starting anyway. It was a very nice performance of the Enescu Romanian Rhapsody No. 2 followed by Jennifer Higdon's City Scape. B&c almost fell asleep during the Higdon. He says it was because of the jet lag, but I'm pretty sure it had more to do with the fact that Jennifer Higdon is neither dead nor (unlike Lang Lang) a man. She is, as it happens, so alive that she took a bow after the performance.

After yet another whirlwind intermission (B&c contributes some small amount of money to the Kennedy Center, and this entitles him to a very small cup of coffee and a cookie or two during the intermission of every event we see there. As a rule, we have time to walk from our seats to the members' lounge, grab a [very small] cup of coffee, and head toward the cookie table before they start ringing the chimes and dimming the lights to herd people back towards their seats. This contrasts rather starkly with, say, the Metropolitan Opera, where after the first act of Turandot, you have time to walk upstairs, venture out on the balcony, thoroughly analyze both of the Chagall murals, come back inside, and have several drinks before even thinking about heading back to your seat. Really, every time I'm there, I feel like the director has decided that he doesn't like the ending and is having it rewritten during the intermissions. Someday I'm going to be there watching La Boheme, which will end with Mimi's miraculous recovery. After which, she will dump Rodolfo to concentrate on her real estate career.), we returned to our seats, and, soon enough, Lang Lang (who is not a panda) appeared. It is not unreasonable to expect a concert pianist to at least be dressed like a panda, but Lang Lang (who is not a bear of any sort) had eschewed the usual white tie and white shirt for a collarless silk shirt in one of those colors (taupe? bone? ivory? ecru?) that I can't keep straight and that mean not quite white.

In general, I am all about the Asian guys. After all, I thought that Edward Norton was moderately sexy in The Painted Veil, but I reserved my real lust for Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and whoever was playing the Chinese doctor (imdb is not being very helpful here). But Lang Lang (yes, I am aware, that a panda is not really a bear, but neither is Lang Lang) was really not all that hot. It might have been his youth (he's twenty-four), but while I do have a general preference for men who are somewhat more mature, I'm usually perfectly happy to lust over men in their twenties.

Lang Lang obviously sensed my lack of attraction: during one of the stretches where he wasn't playing, he reached up and unfastened his top button in an obvious attempt to show a little skin (Does he really think I'm that easy? Oh shut up.), and then when he resumed playing, his visage and gestures were positively coquettish. I thought that not making eye contact with me was a nice touch, but it wasn't enough. Next time, he should try wearing some pants that do something with his ass. I suppose he could try not wearing pants altogether, but, well, he's Asian, and, well, you know.

On the other hand, at the beginning of the second movement of the concerto, there was some interplay where the principal flute*, cello, and oboe players each had brief solos, and those guys were all looking pretty hot, so if Lang Lang wants to bring them along, I'll let him join the party. Alternately, he could bring the bass section, though I suspect that after the nine of us got finished with him Lang Lang (who is so not a bear) might have to cancel a few concert dates to recuperate.

(*Just in case anyone who knows the NSO is reading this, it's really the assistant principal flutist that I lust after. The principal flutist is an older Japanese woman and she's very cute but really not my type.)

One of the things I like about going to see the NSO is that we have tickets in the first row of the first tier. That's relatively high up, but I can still see the expressions on the players' faces, and, most importantly, I always have a good view of the bass section. When I really appreciate being in the front row, though, is when the concert ends and I can applaud and see the musicians without standing up. I can't remember the last time when I went to see the NSO and there wasn't a standing ovation. I'll give Lang Lang full credit for doing a terrific job on the concerto, and it is certainly pleasant to watch a musician who so thoroughly loves playing his instrument. But, really, much of the credit has to go to Tchaikovsky. In any case, what's the deal with the routine handing out of the standing O? In my book, you rise to your feet when you are so moved by the performance that you have no other choice. The standing O is more valuable if it happens only rarely.

It is certainly possible of course, that the typical Kennedy Center patron who, after all, has probably not had sex since the Eisenhower administration is swept away on a tied of emotion after every performance, but I have my doubts. Especially given that a goodly number of those people who stand to applaud are headed for the exits after the soloist takes his second set of bows. Of course, last night, those suckers missed the encore, which I have to say was pretty kick ass.


Will said...

I have a theory that the standing O has become standard because with prices being as they are, people want to convince themselves that what they've just seen is really worth it. So they stand and then can say "Wow, the performance I paid so much for got a standing so I must have gotten my money's worth." Just saying.

I'm glad the first flute enjoys playing her instrument. Froim what you write, i know you enjoy playing on yours :-)

As to the Metropolitan Opera, I go there (and the New York City Opera) a lot, scheduling trips to and from NYC on weekends. Were our schedules at Lincoln Center ever to coincide, i would love to grab dinner or a drink with you guys if it's anything you'd be interested in.

D-Man said...

Not to be confused with the 60's group, the Sha Lang Langs.

And how rude of him not to wear the ass-emphasizing pants! I imagine the reason he didn't wear a tux was that he grew tired of the panda jokes... black and white, see, oh never mind...