Happening to be at the same post-concert restaurant as symphony performers

Getting out of the parking garage immediately after the symphony ends is usually a bit of an ordeal, so my symphony group tends to linger downtown for some coffee or dessert, allowing time for the post-symphony traffic jams to clear out. The other night, we went to the Union restaurant just a block from Benaroya Hall. (Verdict: Not a good dessert restaurant.)

After we placed our orders, violinists Elisa Barston (my current "favorite symphony performer") and Mikhail Shmidt came in and were seated at the table next to us. I tried not to stare, but even though I've sat quite close to Elisa Barston before, this time I was even closer. (There were two other people at their table, but I couldn't tell who they were because they were facing away from me.)

As another coincidence, it was during the concert we had just attended that Mikhail Shmidt dropped his bow. I didn't see it occur; my guess is that it fell off his lap during a pizzicato section. It was during a relatively loud part of the piece so you had to be pretty close to the stage to hear it fall. I heard the clatter, looked over, and saw the violinist calmly bend over and pick it up. He and his standmate played the next few bars with smiles on their faces, clearly amused by the minor snafu, something to make the performance of an orchestral warhorse a bit more memorable. (I have to admit, I was amused too.)

One thing I noticed was that whereas my group was out for dessert and coffee, the symphony performers were having dinner. Makes sense. During a performance, you don't want to be overcome by indigestion, a food coma, or an urgent call of nature. (Or receive a phone call for that matter.)

As we got up to leave, a member of our group struck her head on a low-hanging lamp. In the brief hubbub, Elisa Barston reassured us, "That's okay, I hit my head on that lamp all the time." Which means either that she comes to Union often, or (more likely) she just said that to make us feel less embarrassed.

This was the third time we found ourselves at the same post-concert restaurant as a symphony performer.

0. I saw Joshua Roman heading into Wild Ginger.
1. Gerard Schwarz was having drinks in the lounge at Union.
2. Maria Larionoff, Gerard Schwarz, the evening's guest soloist, and a number of other people sat at a large round table near ours at The Capital Grill.
3. Elisa Barston, Mikhail Shmidt, and two others having dinner at Union.

I guess if I see Susan Gulkis Assadi at a post-symphony restaurant, I'll have completed the entire set of string section principals. (I'm ignoring principal bass, because, well, everybody does...)

I counted Joshua Roman as a zero in the list above, since we saw him go in, but we were heading to Purple, so it didn't count as a "same restaurant" encounter.

Bonus chatter 1: I happened to have attended the open rehearsal for this same concert earlier in the week, so I got to hear the second piece on the program performed two-and-a-half times: The first time was by the orchestra without soloist. Then with the soloist. The -and-a-half was all the fragments the conductor rehearsed repeatedly. This was an interesting way to be exposed to the piece for the first time: Hearing the orchestral part first biased my reaction to the piece. Instead of hearing it as a violin concerto, I perceived it more as an orchestral work with solo violin accompaniment. Other interesting things from the rehearsal:

  • String section leaders have much better access to the conductor than other sections. During the rehearsal, the concertmaster and principal second had brief chats with the conductor without even leaving their seats. By comparison, the piccolo player had to hang around near the podium to catch the conductor's attention as he returned from a break.
  • It's an interesting contrast seeing the soloist turn up for the rehearsal in jeans, pink shirt, ponytail, and glasses. Whereas for the performance, she's in a blue dress and wearing contacts. (But she still had the ponytail.)
  • The rehearsal ends promptly at 12:30. Right in the middle of a phrase, boom, everything stops. Union rules.

Bonus chatter 2: I was tempted to title this entry When out on the stage there arose such a clatter, but the dropped bow was such a small part of the article, and the clatter was relatively insigificant, so it would have been a bit of a misrepresentation.

Comments (13)
  1. Gabe says:

    My nextdoor neighbor is in the symphony and I ran into her while she was bringing home take-out. Does that count?

    Incidentally, this same neighbor was in the same class as Josh Roman in music school.

  2. JohnFx says:

    Thanks Raymond.

    I finally understand exactly what my wife is feeling/thinking when I tell her work stories about programming. =)

  3. Samuel Jack says:

    If I’m chuffed when Raymond Chen stops by my blog (http://tinyurl.com/nynt5y), and Raymond is thrilled when he sits by some famous musician, who does the famous musician write home about? Obama? And who does Obama dream of meeting?

  4. configurator says:

    @Samuel: Obviously, Obama dreams of meeting you.

    @JohnFx: You talk to your wife about programming?!? How did you manage to stay married?

  5. Brian Gartner says:

    I’ve had a subscription to the symphony off and on for the past decade (off for five years or so when I wasn’t living in Seattle) and although I’d recognize many of the players, I couldn’t name any of them on sight.  Well done, sir.

    That’s interesting, actually, because of course I’d recognize the Assads, or Paul Galbraith, or Ravi Shankar, and then we drop off the cliff into symphonic/progressive metal musicians.

    A real question, though:  did anyone else attend the symphony last weekend?  While it was billed as Stravinsky’s Firebird and Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain, I found that the contemporary piece ("Concentric Paths", Thomas Ades) between them was amazing.  The audience didn’t seem to care much for it, but if anyone else here was there I’d be interested to hear about it.

  6. Gabe says:

    I talk to my wife about programming all the time. Whenever she has trouble falling asleep, she asks me to tell her how something works.

  7. Siegfried says:


    My wife once asked me to teach her programming in the evening. I did it for a week and every night she fell asleep in 5 minutes…!

  8. Brian Tkatch says:

    "I was tempted to title this entry When out on the stage there arose such a clatter, but the dropped bow was such a small part of the article, and the clatter was relatively insigificant, so it would have been a bit of a misrepresentation."

    Good thing you wrote the title after the message, because it is a summary (for later perusal) not an eye catcher.

    Raymond, nice blog. Especially all the self-linking. Good stuff.

  9. Bmathew says:

    Hey Raymond, great post.

    @Brian: I was at the sunday concert, the Ade’s piece was technically brilliant but not my cup of tea

  10. Wound says:

    The question is, does Elisa Barston’s blog say "After the symphony we went to the Union as usual, and we happened to find ourselves sat next to Raymond Chen, the world famous computer programmer"?

    It ought because you win a Google fight 75,500 to 747, and a Bing fight 15.3 million to 671.

  11. Lach says:

    You should say hello, and tell them that you really enjoyed the concert. If you’re polite, I’m sure they’d be happy to chat. I’m always happy for people to come up to me after a gig…  but often they don’t want to in case they think they’re being a pain.

  12. JohnFx says:

    @SamualJack: Obama dreams of meeting himself of course. Have you seen the ego on that guy?

    "We are the ones we have been waiting for."

  13. jtm says:

    "The rehearsal ends promptly at 12:30. Right in the middle of a phrase, boom, everything stops. Union rules."

    I’m a supernumerary[1] for the Indianapolis Opera, and it can be a bit disorienting when, as the drama reaches its peak, the music goes from full orchestra to rehearsal piano.

    On a similar note, it’s not unusual for principal cast members to sing quietly during early rehearsals to save their voices. It’s odd to watch an opera singer, trained to fill a concert hall with her voice, all but whisper a great aria.

    [1] Latin for "extra." No, really.

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