AT THE ORCHESTRA
The silver limousine leaving the airport cut through the vast crammed brown-and-orange neighborhoods of the southern side of the city like a sharp knife. Along the broad avenue on both sides moved desperate broken homeless people in grimy dull orange-and-brown rags layered for the chilled air. The sky shimmered cold blue. Behind the shuffling or crying people stood block after block after block of dilapidated falling-down buildings, in contrast to which the sleek clean limo was a craft from another planet.
Tychon had missed the protest, happily. It’d been handled satisfactorily, from what he’d heard and seen on TV. It’s why one employed underlings.
He’d flown in early on his private jet from his business trip solely to see a concert. To represent himself at a cultural happening. The city’s renowned orchestra, which he generously supported, was to perform this evening Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto. Less well-known than the First, but in many ways more powerful, which meant for Tychon more moving. Yes, he could be moved, not by superficial causes, nor for sentimental reasons.
Funerals for instance did nothing to him since death was an unavoidable part of life. Funerals were social occasions good for networking. He’d been unmoved by death itself. Only the largest gestures could touch Arthur Tychon. He remained puzzled that anything could. Perhaps great art transported him to a higher plane, a kind of Valhalla above ordinary human beings, a level where he felt he lived anyway. Great art mimicked his own greatness.
Tychon looked toward the front, at the rearview mirror so the driver could see his eyes. His driver noticed and picked up his rate of speed. For Tychon there was nothing worse than to be late for an anticipated concert. The limo sped ahead amid a ruined world.
If Tychon could ever be made uncomfortable, it’d be from similarities between decayed portions of the city, glimpses of helpless vulnerability, and undisclosed corners of his memory. From shows of weakness, which strength pitied yet also fed upon, so that weakness became affirmation of strength. If he could ever be made uncomfortable.
He would meet his date at the concert hall: Alexandra, an attractive Polish-descent blonde age 35 who made herself available for Arthur Tychon’s occasional nights out, as well as for other things. As the limousine efficiently pulled up outside the monstrously ugly modern hall, Tychon observed her waiting reliably for him inside the glass doors, wearing a long burgundy coat which matched her healthy coloring. He appreciated Alexandra’s punctuality.
Their box seats, he noticed as they sat in them, were too far back from the stage. Not the best seats in the house. Alexandra liked to be seen with him, preferably by as much of the audience as possible, as he enjoyed being seen with her. Concert going was also a social occasion.
The Concerto opened the program, which meant they could leave early. Recreation for Tychon was brief, aside from watching the football games, which could be excused because he owned the team.
Lights dimmed. The pianist strode onto the stage to respectful applause. He walked like a gladiator. The virtuoso was fifty years old but looked younger. He gave a short bow, more a nod than a bow, and took his seat.
The pianist struck thunderous chords, jumping out of his seat as he pounded the keyboard. Tychon enjoyed this immensely. He wanted to see only strong men at the piano, only beautiful women on the violin. The great Russian concertos required a strong man with powerful hands to do them justice. He noticed the man’s hands—as large and sinewy as the Laser’s. The pianist displayed astounding dexterity with those hands, flawless coordination. Strength combined with accuracy. As fine an athlete in his way as the Laser.
Tychon sat back and enjoyed the performance. He noted the audience demographic: 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s in age. He was one of the younger persons here. Unbelievable! Symphonic music was a dying art. In fifteen years the hall would be all but empty.
He absorbed himself in the masterful construction of the piece. Classical music at its best was perfect logic. The war between logic and passion; the mind keeping at bay the chaos of the world and the dark forces below. Not even keeping away those dark forces, those awful passions, but using them, directing them, feeding on them, so that passion and logic and darkness became one and the same.
The excellent pianist paused from his labors to allow sounds of the full orchestra to enter the space. Tychon noticed how the conductor, controlling every individual musician, every particular sound, mixed them into one piece. In the concert hall the world became comprehensible. In the same way, Tychon believed he could hold the various parts of the greater world inside his head. The individual actors in his life. He studied them, saw through them, saw each individual’s strength and weakness, knew them as thoroughly as the symphony conductor knew the members of the orchestra. Tychon believed he could control the people in his world the same way the conductor controlled his people—controlled them and created this world of sound which the audience experienced. Those occasions, or those persons, Tychon couldn’t control he’d dismissed from his head.
What did it take to create a great pianist? Much watering of the plant from an early age. Assertive parents. tutors, lessons, schools, a conservatory, with much enforced listening. No doubt some ability. The ability had to be bullied, coaxed, guided, molded, lectured, shown. It’d be an obsessive investment.
Arthur Tychon had created his own prodigy, not exactly at music. It remained to be seen if the talents of the person would ever be fully realized.
As he listened, basking in the warm colors of the polished brass and burnished violins, Tychon visualized the orchestra dressed in the football team’s colors, green blazers and blue trousers with orange stripes. There was no prestige in owning a rock band. Corporate logos were slapped on the biggest of them. They’d already been bought. But an entire symphony!—that would be an achievement. It would further meld high culture with the games, to create an inspired experience. A religious experience in its way, tribute to the gods of today. He envisioned this very orchestra playing while his football athletes took the field. The greatest music. Wagner. “Carmina Burana.” “Zarathustra.” The famous Liszt fanfare. Beethoven’s Ninth!
He’d have to buy a full team choir also, he decided. He’d move the musicians out of this ill-conceived hall—it resembled a gymnasium—donations gone to waste; modernism without grandeur, which missed the point. Only if he, Arthur Tychon, was in charge would anything in this, his adopted city, be done right.
Those who designed the concert hall wanted it to be democratic. Which meant, mediocre. By his lights democracy equaled mediocrity. Amazing, the backward thinking of those who should know the realities of society or otherwise not be hired.
This hall wasn’t about democracy! It was an expression of will, a cavern of talent, a showcase of authority. The Orchestra was a celebration of hierarchy, from the conductor down, of the eternal nature of human society—a society which in its struggles, complexities, conflicts, its designations of lows and highs was greater than any imagined symphony. Yes, millions suffered, but to be at the top was glorious.
Democracy was America’s secular religion. Powerful individuals, whatever their political persuasion, Right or Left, properly treated “democracy” the same way he supposed religious people handled their faith—something to pay lip service to but whose commandments you broke at every opportunity.
Within the dark hall the pianist resumed playing. A thrilling flow of piano keys. Alexandra swayed in her seat as if at a rock concert. At least she enjoyed herself. Be grateful for small favors.
Did the magnificent playing register on anyone else? The rest of the audience was here for Culture. They sat in their seats like stuffed prop dummies.
Tychon saw only the glowing black-and-white keys, across which the hands moved with impossible dexterity.
The pianist sweat heavily as he played, enjoying himself, caught up in the majestic sound for which he was the fulcrum, the device through which to bring genius to the audience. Tychon moved to the edge of his seat. Here it came: unmistakable signs that the climax neared, was about to be reached. Sound built inexorably like an approaching wave. Power expanded through the hall—the power of art. The crescendo. Tremendous! The pianist’s hands raised and paused with a final flourish as the last notes reverberated. An exclamation point. Order restored. Might made right. Musical victory.
Tychon stood and yelled in appreciation.