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Hector Berlioz
B. 12.11.1803 La Côte-St-André, France / D. 3.8.1869 Paris
Crohn’s Disease

On March 4, Tuesday night, I went to see Colin Davis (Sir) conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in an all-Berlioz program at Avery Fisher Hall. Packed house, many single women: at least up in the rafters, many women like me, taking ourselves to a concert. Another cold night, with drafts in the rafters: good thing we had sweaters. Then about five minutes into the first piece,
Harold in Italy (1834)
Bung! Broken string on the soloist’s viola, and the orchestra stops. Speech in the audience, a dark gray roar like the ocean at night that rises, falls, rises again, while the soloist re-strings.
(For anyone who'd come hoping to hear Harold in Italy just one more time before going home to commit suicide, this had got to be changing some plans, I imagined.)
The test-plucking and tuning completed, comes suspense. How to resume—where to re-enter? A relief to hear dark green moans from the cellos: the first bars again. . .but will the string hold?
And why did it break in the first place?
Immediately the orchestra is climbing mountains and declaiming from mountaintops.
Is it the soloist? Could he be a notorious drunk? Is he drunk now?
The orchestra is joining monasteries and serenading damsels in the next breath.
Gets up on center stage at Lincoln Center ready to play the best viola solo part ever of Harold in Italy but no! He’s going to hit bottom instead.
The orchestra takes Northern Europe by the throat and shakes it like a rag doll or a dog’s chew toy.
(The string holds. . .but can the soloist’s confidence?)
The orchestra ferocious, incandescent.
Harold, tremulous.
Harold, mortal.
The orchestra keeps coming like war news and Harold, he can’t get out of his pajamas. The orchestra piles up on his doorstep, clamorous columns of Manilla and Baghdad and brass in stacks.
Stacked, like firewood.
Harold groans.
Fun fun fun fun fun! The orchestra's cavorting. The same air the air breathes it breathes, but with shinier lungs.
Harold on the sofa, Mr. Kleenex drinking juice. Harold only watches re-runs; watching Mr. Rogers, sticky Harold weeps.
The orchestra divides every ripe apple on earth into four perfect quarters
Harold reaches for the phone
The little person going “Blah-blah me-me-me” front and center, it’s a device, a purely formal genuflection to the sentiments of every self that paid to fill a seat. A back-pat:
”Sure, personality matters! Very much!”

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