Before the show.
Live music events are always interesting to me because the main point of the event is to listen to the music, but witnessing music being made in person always makes it so much more. I love going to orchestral events and watching the musicians get lost in the music as they play their instruments, and the way you get lost with them through the highs and lows of the songs.
That being said, the "orchestral events" that I've attended have always been very local—high school music class performances, friends' piano recitals, the odd small orchestra playing on a stage in a park that I just happened upon on a walk—and they stress the community aspect of the performances. I'm assuming it's going to be quite different going to the National Arts Centre to watch someone play music live in a venue where I can't just get out of my seat and walk closer to the front to see better, where there won't be teenagers on the sides taking photos of their friends on stage, or kids at the back buying hot chocolate with the change from their parents' pockets.
I'm also wondering about whether or not there will be extra things, such as different kinds of lighting to accompany the music, or if it's just going to be Alice Sara Ott walking up on stage, sitting down at her piano, and then getting up and bowing when she's done. Will there be audience participation? How formal will the atmosphere feel at this piano event in a theatre? I've been to a few concerts, which are live music events as well, but I'm aware that the atmosphere is completely different seeing as how the audience at concerts are encouraged to jump around, participate in the music (by singing and dancing along), and occasionally even direct interaction with the artist on stage. How will it be like to watch a piano recital for an hour or two with people I don't know, in a place as formal as the NAC?
I also imagine where I'm sitting will affect the experience I'm going to have. I don't quite remember where my seat is because I bought my ticket so long ago (I hope I'm pleasantly surprised at how close I end up being!) but being close to the stage would probably be a much better experience. Being able to see Alice's facial expressions and emotion while she plays the music would, in my opinion, add more depth to the experience, instead of seeing her from a distance. Then again, maybe sitting farther away would really allow me to focus solely on the beauty of the music and the way it reverberates around the venue.
As you can tell, I mostly have a lot of questions about how this event will occur, but I'm looking forward to it!
After the show.
When I walked into the Southam Hall at the NAC to watch Alice Sara Ott play Grieg, I saw the orchestra practicing on stage and my first immediate thought was, "Oh, that makes sense—she plays with an orchestra, not by herself." It probably didn't occur to me earlier because, as I've just realized, I haven't actually seen an orchestra and a piano play together. If I have, the piano wasn't the highlight of the music, and so I never paid it much attention and can't recall it now.
Comparing the reality of my experience to the expectations and questions I had, I would say the reality hit right in the middle of the local orchestral events I've been to in the past and what I was assuming would occur at Southam Hall. The orchestra tuned the same way they do at all the local orchestral events I've attended, but as they tuned to the same note, the house lights dimmed in what I found was a subtly theatrical way, like when the lights dim for the movie at cinemas. The lights, though dimmed, were still bright enough to read my program, and that was also in between my past experiences of the lights at local events remaining on, and my assumption that the lights would darken completely to emphasize the stage in the same way they would for a theatrical event. There was (thankfully) no chattering among the audience like there would be at local events, but I felt more at-ease than I thought I would in the formal setting of the NAC—my seat neighbour had Grieg's sheet music in a book and he was following along while the orchestra played, and there were many, many people that came in late after the short number the orchestra did at the beginning.
I was also very confused, and I could tell that there were some things that the regular orchestra-goers in the audience knew that I did not. There was no clapping when there were pauses and the orchestra was done, and I now realize that was because the number was finished but there was still more to the entire piece, and we only clap after the entire piece is over. I couldn't tell when the pieces were actually over, however, so I just waited until everyone else clapped. Before intermission, the audience gave a standing ovation, and I didn't understand why when there was still another piece after the intermission. I thought perhaps I'd somehow nodded off for fifty minutes and missed the entire show. After intermission, I processed that the event is titled "Alice Sara Ott Plays Grieg" and the second piece was not by Grieg, so.. Oh, she's only playing the one piece.
That was my personal experience as a first-time NAC orchestra attendee, but the event itself was enjoyable! Alice Sara Ott was wearing a yellow flowing dress, standing out from the all-black attire of the NAC orchestra and emphasizing that she is the main character of the show.
In my pre-show writing, I was discussing how my seat would change my experience and that being closer would probably be a better experience, but sitting farther back didn't detract from my experience at all. In fact, from where I was sitting, I was able to watch all the violinists' bows move in near-unison as they played, and the way the orchestra swayed with their music as a unit, like they were one big living organism.
Furthermore, even though I wasn't able to see their facial expressions, I could still see the emotion in the musicians' bodies because they moved with their whole bodies as they played. The conductor was almost dancing in the way he went back and forth with his arms, and a woman at the front—I think she was First Violin—felt the music so much, she was almost standing up from her seat as she played. Alice Sara Ott herself played so emotionally, and seemed to feel the music so deeply, it looked like she was just a vessel, and the piano was pushing all this music out through her. During the powerful parts of the song, she would hit the keys with heavy hands, and when they were over, she would flop back in her chair as if she was relieved the heavy part was over and the piano was done pushing such strong music through her. During the soft parts, she would tap the keys with a featherlight touch, like anything more would upset the piano. It was moving to watch her play so emotionally, and I couldn't even see her face.
I opened my pre-show entry by talking about how watching orchestral events in person adds so much more to the music because you can see the musicians get lost in what they're creating, but after watching this performance, I'm realizing that what I enjoy isn't just watching the musicians individually get absorbed in what they're playing, but the way they come together to form a community on stage. It's the relationships between all the people in the orchestra and how the countless hours of practicing together shows not just in their performance but in their interactions. It's how they all come together for the same love of playing their instrument(s) to serve the larger, greater purpose of performing music that moves them.
Hello! My name is Reine Tejares, and this is my blog for THE 2100: The Theatrical Event at the University of Ottawa.