Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Coronation of George

I answered my cell phone in a hushed whisper. It was Rick, talking about George's retirement party, a usual topic these days. "What's that screaming in the background?" he asked. The musicians are warming up, I replied. I'm at the symphony.

I have tickets for a plethora of events this year at Davies Hall, the magnificent home of the San Francisco Symphony. Today was Mozart's Coronation Mass. It's Mozart's 250th birthday this year, you see. Except that he only lived to see year number 35. Amazing that his work has been revered for so long.

Mozart composed this Coronation Mass for Easter Sunday in 1779. Since it's widely known he tended to compose on schedule (meaning, he waited until the last minute before he would finish), it's likely he finished the work only days before it was scheduled to be performed in the Salzburg Cathedral.

According to the program notes (Playbill, March 2006), "most of Mozart's Masses are of the Missa brevis (Short Mass) variety." As he described to a friend in a letter in 1776, "A Mass with all its parts -- the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Epistle sonata, the Offertory or motet, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei -- must not last longer than three-quarters of an hour; this applies even to the most solemn Mass said by the Archibishop himself."

Applause for guest conductor Martin Haselbock, and we get under way. As Haselbock throws his arms out in boomerang effect, the musicians start. And Perfection begins.

But even in such heavenly company the mind drifts. In true Joycean style, uncontrollable and without punctuation, thoughts hurtled about at the speed of light, faster than sound.

George's retirement party. God, he's asked millions. Everyone he's ever met, clearly anyone he ever worked with in 35 years. Our little restaurant room isn't large enough. The Coliseum wouldn't be large enough. I wonder if I can get out of town before anyone notices...

Kyrie eleison.
Gloria in excelsis Deo. Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

The 217-member choir shouts its praise to God in voluptuous harmony. I wonder why there are so many women in the choir. Couldn't they get any men?

George is driving us to drink. I won't drink at all during the party. I'll drink afterwards. I'll share a drink with Rick, or two or three. I sure hope our presentation is funny.

Credo! Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

The four guest soloists step up and begin. Three of them may just as well sit down and stare at the audience. The soprano voice of Cristine Brandes rises above the rest, hovers, and takes us on its angelic journey. She's incredible. I wonder if she speaks everyday Italian?

Maybe if we just have a cocktail party. But we have all that food. They have to sit down to eat the food. There aren't enough chairs. How are we going to squeeze...

Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in neccessitatibus nostris! Sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper.
Benedictus! Benedictus!

Some of those choir members are paid. Most are volunteers. I wonder which ones?

Agnus Dei! Qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis.

O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

I have witnessed, in my short life, some true perfect moments. This was one. I listened to Haydn just a moment ago, and he rarely took chances, risks, except in retirement. But Mozart lived for the risks, reached for the golden ring, each and every time. Everything he did was for the first time. And over 200 years later, we're still here, listening.

A full 45 minutes later, I applauded this exquisite performance by the San Francisco Symphony and its Choir. Five minutes later, I was walking towards BART, stepping deftly to avoid the three-foot tall women in my way, leaning on their canes and their bent-over men, as they move away from Davies Hall. The average age at these matinees is one click over The Golden Girls. They, like me, like to experience their music in the light of day.

A few moments in my life that have been Perfect. The Coronation Mass. A no-hitter. That chicken piccata at Francesco's. That retirement party for George.

Well, the last remains to be seen. In two short weeks. If we survive.

O Lamb of God....have mercy upon us....

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