Part II

Rise to Power

Chapter 9

“Mr. Spencer…” The box office attendant handed Andy two tickets. “Oh, there’s a note from Ms. Gold. She would like to meet you in the lobby after the performance.”

            “Certainly.” Andy smiled. “Thank you.”

            “Orchestra section.” Nate pointed out after impertinently yanking a ticket from Andy’s hand. “I’m impressed. There’s a sign you cannot deny. She really cares for you.”

            Andy checked the ticket left in in his hand to confirm. He nodded in appreciation and then turned back to Nate. “Let’s drop this.”

            “If it were me, we’d be getting the top tier with limited view.” Nate continued to jest as the usher escorted them to their seats. “And no backstage pass for sure!”

            “Act civilized!” Andy shoved the program in his hand as they sat.

            “Swan Lake.” Nate whispered. “Even a boorish fool like me can actually enjoy this.”

            “They’re playing Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in the opening act,” Andy mumbled as he skimmed through his program. “What a pleasant surprise.” The lights in the Theatre dimmed.

            The melancholic bassoon melody that shepherded in the opening dance sounded ambiguously sweet to Andy’s ears, almost as if it was calling to abide by the rules of harmony. Andy knew the piece well enough not to expect harmonic order to follow, but the opening theme that stretched over the first two bars was so hypnotic, he was almost disappointed when the inevitable fragments of melodies and percussive bursts that followed from all sections of the orchestra mixed into a dissonant mash. He smiled at Nate’s grimacing expression. Now he could clearly see how the original audience who witnessed this piece when it debuted in Paris almost a century earlier was driven to a riot. “Brilliant,” Andy whispered when he turned his eyes back to the stage, overwhelmed by the genius of the music in context of the stage design, costumes, and the story. The following sinister outbursts from the lower strings were still staggering as if stabbing his eardrums for the first time. It did not take long before he was sucked into the eerie setting of an ancient ritual with goosebumps spreading all over his skin.

            When the stage darkened, and the music silenced, marking the end of the first part of the performance, Andy felt like he had awaken from a long eccentric dream. He looked around to find a similar reaction from many others in the audience. Even Nate appeared like he was somewhat tantalized by the piece. Surprisingly, he remained silent during the entire break. Andy too slipped into a contemplative state, trying to scrutinize the impact of the experience that left him awe-stricken. The manifestation of the composition through the ballet performance brought out the aesthetic significance of the mood that he was completely ignorant of during the few times he forced himself to play Stravinsky’s masterpiece in its entirety on his old turntable. He blamed his obdurate Baroque-leaning taste for being so diatonically centered and thought it was time to begin embracing atonal music with the same passion and reverence he had for Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

            As soon as the sinister opening note of combined winds and strings sustained itself adrift in the thick air of the darkened concert hall, Andy began to take deep and slow breaths as if he were subconsciously utilizing the yoga techniques he had recently acquired to get his ears and mind perfectly attuned to the performance. The music engulfed him with dark colors, and the dance was exactly what it was purporting to be, a pagan ritual of a virgin sacrifice, and it pulled him into its midst. There was no crowd, no orchestra, and no conductor, and the dancers were members of an ancient tribe: the wise, the sensuous, and innocent chosen ones, all dancing their parts to appease the wrath of the benevolent gods, building in intensity to the final climax of the virgin sacrifice.

            When the curtain dropped, the crowd was ecstatic. Andy tried to peel away the sticky webs of emotional delirium and transcend back to the here and now of the concert hall.

            “Are you crying?” Nate asked him.

            “I don’t know. Am I?” Andy took off his glasses to wipe away genuine tears from his eyes. Nate took a close look at him and smiled lavishly.

            “You’re taking it a bit too far, don’t you think?”

            “Too far?” Andy frowned. “Do you have any idea what we’ve just witnessed here…?”

            “Hey, were you able to pick out Sarah’s playing?” Nate asked.

            “What?” Andy realized he had forgotten all about her.

            Although it was the main course for the evening, the performance of Swan Lake felt more like dessert—sweeter, lighter, and much easier to digest, and this time Andy was determined to pay closer attention to the violin solos. Restraining himself from getting carried away by the all-too-familiar opening Swan theme was nearly impossible, but once the majestic introductory suite was over, Andy sharpened his ears and set his mind to filter out all the non-violin elements. The string section began to dominate the scene, starting with the pronounced pizzicato intro in the second suite. At first, the theme was carried by violas and celli, with the violins only joining in to assist in the background, but midway through the suite, the violins grabbed a hold of the spotlight with a soft melodic theme of their own. It was a good opportunity to identify Sarah’s part, only the violinists were still playing in groups, and Andy wasn’t quite able to tell them apart just by listening. He tried to lean forward and get a better look at the Orchestra, specifically the seat next to the conductor to see if it was Sarah occupying it, but an angry hiss from the left pulled him back to his seat.

            “Where are your manners, you savage, you beast. Be civilized!”

            Andy’s initial instinct was to fire back at Nate, but the violin solo he waited for suddenly emerged from the depth of the warm harp harmony and pulled him back to the performance. This time, he did not have to stretch too far to see that Sarah’s bow was producing the delicate notes he was hearing. Now that he had a clear visual, he smiled and closed his eyes, detaching himself from the glittering swans in the midst of the magical dark stage so he could fully concentrate on the music. He listened closely for any stylistic elements or even distinctive imperfection in Sarah’s playing, but the music was so overwhelming and flawless that it bypassed all of his analytic faculties, heading straight to the core of his emotions. The weeping violin melody cut straight to his heart. He felt like he was on the road to the realm of profound calmness he had experienced when he accidentally stumbled into his first morning meditation just by sitting in the concert hall with his eyes closed, but just before he was ready to let himself slip into the blissful depths, the road took a sharp turn. A clear vision of a string quartet playing on the old stage at the Estate Theatre in Prague unfurled before him as the music of the second half of the Swan Lake scene smoothly glided in the air around him. She was right there in front of him with her pale face and dark long hair gently bowing her precious instrument. It was the image that he both longed for and struggled so hard to get out of his head over the last two weeks.

            Like a frail spark of consciousness fighting to end a dream, a voice of reason called him to open his eyes and return to the present, but it was no match to the powerful effect of music and his craving mind, so he continued to drift in his sweet memory and remained in a meditative state until the timpani announced the end of the fourth suite with four soft hits that echoed in the hall until they were swallowed by stormy applause. But even amidst an explosive standing ovation, Andy remained in his trans-like state, trying hard to cling to the vision in his head that was quickly fading away into a blur.

            “What is with you today?” Nate shoved his shoulder against Andy’s, “First the crying, then you act like an untamed beast, and now you’re falling asleep in the middle of a brilliant performance!” Andy was too tangled in his thoughts to pay any heed to the taunting remarks. He looked at the closing curtains with mere indifference to the stage and his friend’s mockery. There was sadness in his eyes.

            When the final curtain fell, Nate stood on his feet and joined the clamorous applause. It took him a minute to notice Andy still sitting and staring at the stage with the same dazed expression. As they exited the hall, he ranted about how mesmerized he was by the great performance, but Andy remained silent, with his eyes on the floor, his arms crossed, and his hands tightly tucked under his armpits. They found a quiet corner in the lobby and stood there waiting for the crowd to disperse. After giving up on trying to spark a conversation, Nate kept staring at Andy.

            “What?” Andy finally made eye contact.

            “I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me.” Nate said. His voice sounded irritated, and yet, not without a hint of concern. “I mean, the show was sensational...”

            “Yes, it was. Yes, it was…”

            “How would you know? You weren’t even there.”

            “What do you mean I wasn’t there?” Andy nagged absentmindedly.

            “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You’re still not here.”

            Andy looked ahead and waved his hand. The vigor instantly returned to his eyes. Nate turned around and saw Sarah surrounded by a mob of fervent admirers. She waved back and signaled them to approach.

            “Looks like someone needs to be rescued.” Nate smirked and turned back, but Andy was already on his way.

            “It sure does,” Andy said as he signaled Nate to follow.

            As soon as they got near her, Sarah began to thank her circle of fans and courteously broke away from it. “Let’s go,” she whispered and dragged them over to the darkened concession stand. They pulled out some chairs and Sarah sat with her back to the outgoing traffic. “Let me know if you see anyone coming,” she whispered, “If they do, we’ll just have to make a run for it.”

            Nate glanced at the giant bouquet Sarah was holding. “Quite the fan club.” He winked.

            “Well, yeah,” her voice sunk low. “If only they were younger than sixty-five…”

            “I swear at least three of them couldn’t have been a day older than fifty-nine,” Nate interrupted her humble sarcasm with his own, “but that’s okay, sis,” he grabbed her hand and gave her a gentlemanly kiss on the back of the hand. “You deserve every bit of it. The show was fantastic. And you were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! So brilliant,” He turned to Andy “Mr. Romeo here is too star-struck to even respond.”

            It took the taunting words that came out of Nate’s mouth a few long seconds to register in Andy’s mind, and when they did, he snapped out of his dreamy daze and stomped hard on Nate’s foot. Sarah noticed the grimace on Nate’s face.

            “So,” she turned to Andy, “How did you like the performance?”

            “Ah, yeah,” Andy stuttered. “It…it was,” he shook his head slowly in lieu of finding the right words to express his exuberant admiration, “Sublime,” he yelped and the three of them fell silent. Sarah and Nate exchanged odd looks.

            “Was it a Stradivarius?” He let the first thought that occupied his mind slip from the tip of his tongue in order to break the awkward silence.

            “What, this?” Sarah lifted her violin, case and Andy nodded. “Oh no,” She smiled, “If I had one, I’d have an army of husky bodyguards around me before carrying it around with me like that, but that’s close. It’s a custom-made replica, and probably the closest to a real Stradivarius a violin can get.”

            “It sure sounds like one,” Andy said.

            “That’s a very keen observation. I mean…to pick something out like that during a concert.”

            “I always claimed Andy was the real international man of mystery,” Nate laughed, but Sarah’s expression remained somber.

            “Well, boys,” Sarah gathered the flowers and the violin case and stood up, “I really need to get going. We’re leaving early tomorrow for a whole month in Europe, and I haven’t even started packing.” The crowd in the lobby had dwindled substantially, and with Nate and Andy by her side, Sarah felt it was safe to walk across the lobby without being harassed by enthusiastic fans.

            “I’ll call you when I get back,” Sarah said to Andy, staring deep into his eyes, just before they were about to part. “We’ll pick up where we left off.” Andy nodded.

            “You’d better have a good explanation for this.” Nate broke the long silence when they got in the car.

            “What are you talking about?” Andy turned the key in the ignition without looking at him.

            “You know what I’m talking about...If there’s a point you’re trying to make, I don’t get it. First you go through this weird transformation, and then you act like a teenager. You barely said a word when it was obvious that she was all over you.”

            “It was the music,” Andy said softly. “It took me on a journey I was not prepared for.”

            “Don’t tell me it’s that dream again. I’m really tired of hearing about it…”

            “Let’s just drop it.” Andy gave Nate a momentary glance and turned his eyes back to the road. No further words were exchanged during the remainder of the short drive.

            “You okay, bud?” Nate said when he stepped out of the car. There was an unmistakable trace of concern in his voice this time, but Andy was not receptive to it. He just nodded and waved his hand with a hint of a smile from the corner of his mouth before he drove off.