Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nebraskan Nonagenarians

I've been here in the frozen tundra of Central Nebraska (subzero temps the past two nights) to celebrate my grandfather's 90th birthday. Seward is a sleepier city in wintertime, with few pedestrians (understandable considering the temperatures), the college students here busy with classes and across town. Not much has changed--the Hinky Dinky grocery store is now the much more blandly-named Sun Mart, the courthouse still presides over the central square, the bandshell rests under snow.

The day before yesterday, Uncle John said he had an extra ticket to some concert or other in Lincoln and asked if I'd be interested in going. He said it was a Russian ensemble. It turned out to be none other than the Royal Philharmonic, on tour, with the illustrious Pinchas Zuckerman conducting. Surprisingly, he played both roles of conductor and soloist for the Max Bruch Violin Concerto No. 2, not often played, and certainly not often performed conducted by the soloist. A really great performance, the only quibble I had was that the last movement of the Tchaikovsky 4th symphony was overplayed. I'll admit that, even though I knew what was coming I about lost my water when the big first chord hit. The evening was great, having spent time at dinner beforehand with the concert organist Charles Orr and his lovely wife Connie, as well as with the Owner of a local bank Steve Wake and his wife, who is one of those special people that is actually able to teach middle school kids. I've had to do that only once, and not for a long time, and I was completely exhausted. Give me college students and I'll be OK, but middle school kids act like those pictorial examples of what happens to water molecules when water comes to a boil. The Wakes and the Orrs were great conversation--we chatted about the quality of new music (as well as the quantity) composed for pipe organ (evidently both are quite good), arts education in public schools, and what tortures I might be able to put my Freshmen through upon my return to campus this week.

I'm about out of time, as we are heading for the big 90-year shindig in just a bit. More later. I've been taking notes...

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