Sometimes the most interesting thing about a concert has nothing to do with the music. Witness what happened at the Kaufmann Concert Hall of New York’s 92nd Street Y on November 16th, 2013 when one strange man stole a bit of the show. A performance given in a metropolis sometimes called the “Naked City.”
The gentleman in question walked down the left aisle just before the Hagen Quartet came on stage to play an all-Beethoven program. As he entered his row close to the stage, he faced right and loudly addressed the assembled throng:
I really don’t want to be here. I guess it’s impolite to say, but I’m not interested in this.
The speaker seemed to be alone, so no one had taken him to the concert as a hostage. But, I will admit, he did look strange. The gentleman was short and bearded — nothing remarkable there. But he wore a baseball cap with a picture of Jesus facing forward and a sparkly or glitter-filled abstract pattern decorating the bill of the hat. A tan vest covered his aquamarine blue shirt. And, perhaps most interestingly, he had standard-sized headphones on the top of his head and covering his ears, all the while holding a CD player in his right hand. Would he even be listening to the live performance as it happened or to whatever recording he preferred?
Patrons seated close by were clearly concerned. One summoned an usher who must have remonstrated the fellow just as the Hagen Quartet entered the stage. Happily, the first half of the concert proceeded without incident and almost certainly without the knowledge of the performers that there might be a vocal eruption interrupting them before they were done.
One could only wonder if Patron X would return after intermission, when the big piece of the night, Beethoven’s Quartet #14 in c#, Opus 131 would be presented, one of the greatest of the great works.
Again, the unexpected happened just before the musicians returned, even if it was now slightly less surprising. The man loudly said, “Calm Down.” To others? To himself? I’d guess the latter.
And then, as before, the Hagen Quartet — two brothers and a sister all named Hagen, along with Rainer Schmidt — began a musical journey to the mountain top of artistic expression — presumably untroubled by the little guy back on earth who didn’t want to be there.
An evening, then, of the ridiculous and the sublime. A crisis averted. A man, probably not all that stable, who kept himself in just-enough check to let the show go on. Or perhaps it was the music that did the job. As William Congreve put it in 1697,
Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
Some of us go to concerts to experience the transcendent. Perhaps this man, too, was trying to transcend his own limitations. Maybe his first public statement was intended to identify his discomfort as well to remind himself that any ensuing misbehavior might be “impolite;” thus to set the stage for achieving an unaccustomed level of control and comportment in a situation that was difficult for him, something he must struggle with often. His second loud announcement could then be understood as a kind of personal guidance he’d learned to give himself in order to keep on track toward his goal of self-control. No way for me to know with certainty, or course.
As the narrator of the old New York-based, TV police drama “Naked City” used to say over the closing credits:
There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.
The performance of the Hagen Quartet, by the way, was enthralling. But what I’m wondering is, did we 900 in the audience — witnessing a man struggling to restrain himself and a quartet reaching for the sublime on stage — really observe not one but two of the hard-won, small miracles that sometimes happen in the “Naked City?”
The above image is the title card of the 1958-1963 TV drama Naked City. It is sourced from Wikipedia.org.