The Art of Patience

Today’s topic is the art of patience.  I have been to Disney Hall, in downtown Los Angeles, a dozen times over the past eight years for concerts by the L.A. Philharmonic.  Last weekend, I had an experience that gave me a new understanding of those eight years, those twelve concerts.  Allow me to explain.

If you haven’t been to a concert at Disney Hall, I hope that some day you will, for it is difficult to convey in words just how beautiful the interior of the hall is.  The seats, featuring a loopy, colorful, floral design, are arranged around the stage in a series of layered tiers, so that every seat offers both superb viewing and excellent acoustics.  I have sat in various sections throughout the hall, never unhappy with my seat.  Last Saturday, however, I sat in a section that was new to me, and it was an experience that has changed the way I think about Disney Hall, perhaps even about music.  As the saying goes: location, location, location.

From the center of Terrace East (Row C, Seat 49) one has a plunging, bird’s-eye view of the entire orchestra.  This meant that during the performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, I could literally watch the music arise, wave-like, from various areas of the stage.  Mahler’s Fifth seethes with deep feeling and turmoil; there were crashes and roiling movement and surging pockets of drama.  Fabulously, all this upwelling energy below was mirrored above by the dramatically undulating ceiling of the hall, which is made of tawny Oregon cedar that is curved and shaped in such a way as to resemble the billowing furls of a sail.

In the midst of this wildness, this storm of musical power, I sat.  Yet I felt more of a participant than a witness.  In other halls, occupying an orchestra or balcony seat, on the more horizontal or angular plane, I have felt at times slightly removed, distanced from what is happening on stage.  Perched in my aerie, I was completely involved.

The Mahler churned on; we were grateful for the pauses.  The audience breathed audibly and moved their bodies between the movements, and the musicians also breathed and moved, and there was the sense that we were all on this musical ship together, all of us in need of momentary rest before launching into the next wave of musical ideas.

And such ideas!  The orchestra performed the symphony, seventy-five minutes of pure emotion, with magnificent tautness and shine.  (Daniel Harding was the guest conductor.)  Mahler’s score demands a huge orchestra, and I took especial pleasure in watching from above the various percussionists wield their many and fascinating instruments (bass drums, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, slapstick, triangle, and tam-tam).  It was interesting to watch them sit patiently through long unfolding sections of music until the music flowed toward them, and so they rose, and offered a punctual crash, a pattern of hard, snapping sounds, a skittering of low drumbeats, a tinkle of bells.

It was during the famous fourth Adagietto movement, with its lyrical, pulsing heartbeat provided by the harp which was placed plum center of the orchestra, that I saw in my mind’s eye, as if in a rapid montage, all the previous concerts I had attended in this magnificent hall.  I saw how they were the ground for this moment, and that the moment was so thrilling not only because of where I was sitting and not only because of the music itself, but because I had been there, in that hall, before.  We are who we are because of where we’ve been.  And I felt grateful that I already had a history in this hall which is less than a decade old, and that, with continued fortune, this history, this story, will continue to evolve.

I have heard that nothing worth accomplishing was ever done in haste.  Certainly this is true in art.  Even if the execution may be rapid, there are the years and years of practice, of learning, of failing and of persevering, the years of commitment and trust in the process that provide the hopeful soil for something, someday, to grow.  I first heard Mahler’s music when I saw the film “Death in Venice,” which tells a story of unfulfilled gay desire, isolation, and loss.  To myself, and to many gay men who have seen “Death in Venice,” it was as if Mahler’s haunting Adagietto, deployed so effectively in the film, were the very soundtrack of gay sorrow.  I was nineteen when I saw the movie for a college literature class, a teenager terrified by my homosexuality, and in this first exposure to Mahler I heard, and felt, both the yearning desire for love and beauty and the melancholy certainty I would never achieve that imagined happiness.  The music seemed so beautiful, so sad, so lonely.

But with patience, with time, things do grow, things do get better, new perspectives do arise.  Seen from the right angle, all that has gone before may be revealed in a new, clarifying light.