Things to recommend about last night's Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert

  • Arabella Steinbacher. A whiz violinist and beautiful, to boot, with a Stradivarius violin that is over 300 years old. Four hundred years old. And the second-best name I know, after that of Arianna Leibovitz, a baby that we met years ago in Philadelphia. (Arianna, if you're reading this, I'd love to know what - with your name - you've become since you've grown up. Maybe a violinist?)
  • Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47. With Arabella Steinbacher as soloist.
  • But not Bruckner.
  • Particularly not the fourth movement of Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major. How many times can you listen to the French horns sound, then trumpets blare, then trombones chime in, then all the stringed instruments do the rest of the heavy lifting? Each time the trumpets started up I thought, all right, we're in the home stretch. Then all the instruments started noodling around again, and it was another stretch of cello and violin interrupted, finally, by the trumpets blaring. Well, and you know the rest. I grabbed my husband by the sleeve of his sweater and whispered, "When will it end?"
  • The program notes. At the end of the notes, Philip Huscher is identified as the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I think that he has a future as a stand up comic, or at least an essayist for the Sunday NY Times magazine. Describing Bruckner, he writes: "A tall, awkward man with a severely cropped Prussian haircut and a wardrobe of seriously misshapen suits, his very appearance seemed to invite doubt and scorn, if not ridicule. (Beethoven, once arrested as a vagrant, had already proved that fashion plans no role in musical greatness.)" But my favorite sentence is this one: "It is useless (though accurate) to note that the first movement. . .is twice as long as any opening symphonic movement in Mozart or Haydn. . ." Feel free to borrow that one in conversation. For fun, finish the phrase your own way: "It is useless, but accurate, to. . . ."
  • Trying to amuse the ushers. They've heard every bad joke about climbing eight or nine flights of stairs to get to the top-most gallery, including any statements involving the terms "oxygen" or "more stairs." But I did think that my husband should have gotten at least a grin for asking the usher if he should call "on belay" when the tiny old lady in front of us started picking her way down the 90-degree incline of stairs to her seat.
  • Hearing a symphony. Sitting still and taking in the music. Taking the train into the city, knitting all the way there and all the way back, while my husband did a crossword puzzle and I eavesdropped on all the conversations going on around me.