Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pre-concert adventure

Fresh off of Wednesday's storm, in which Hartford received (according to some reports) more snow in one day than it had in 120 years, there was another storm last Friday, which gives me pause even now, just to think of it.

Early morning January 7, I traveled to Long Island for the funeral of a dear friend's mother. I arrived at St. Agnes Church, Rockville Centre, in a swift two hours, evidently just missing rush hour. I was a nervous wreck because I had agreed to perform for the memorial service, on both piano and french horn. (I was particularly nervous about the horn playing, because I had not played publicly for 10 or 15 years.) Whenever I play the Bach Prelude in C, it usually goes off without a hitch, but my nerves got the better of me, and I made an early gaffe. The horn call (from Britten's Serenade) at the end went much better.

Exiting the church, the snow had started to come down - - not the stuff that sticks, but the swirly stuff. I did not stay for the burial, because I didn't want to chance cutting it close with my concert that evening back in Hartford. So I left around 12:20, confident that any traffic snags caused by the weather would not present too much of a problem.

How wrong I was.

Got off the island okay, over the Throgs Neck Bridge, and then into the state of Connecticut. Then, an hour later, a few miles short of Stamford, traffic came to a crawl, 3-5 mph. After 3 hours of this, I texted my son, Ian, to convey any information he could find. (If he'd been in the car with me, he could use his iPhone to come up with the 'green' routes via the internet, but I was to learn later that there were none; even the Merrit Parkway was closed.) Ian texted back that the problem was construction and traffic between exits 8 and 12. [Construction? On a Friday during rush hour? It proved to be bogus.] One woman who hosts a radio show in Westport came on the air announcing she would spend her entire two hour program talking about weather and traffic updates, helping people on the road, and keeping those at home safely off of it. (Not a good sign.) I called in to her show just as I saw an 18-wheeler facing the wrong way on the other side of the highway (which explained why opposite traffic had been so smooth sailing up to that point). After I hung up, I could hear my own talking, with the ten-second delay (to avoid the unwanted expletives of other guests, I suppose).

After five hours of driving, I began to get some wind (20 mph) approaching the junction from I-95 to I-91, near New Haven (normally 35 minutes from Hartford). Sigh of relief.

Whoops. Spoke too soon.

The junction was backed up for miles and miles, and then, once safely on I-91 north, the traffic continued at a crawl for miles and miles. This was the first moment when I began to realize I might miss my pre-concert talk at 7 p.m., one hour before the concert. I had already been in touch with Ken Trestman, the HSO Technical Director, for advice on routes. (He suggested Hwy 8 to 84 would be better, but I didn't agree.) Now I was asking him to make arrangements at the Bushnell Theatre to do the pre-concert talk via remote, over my cell phone (still thinking that I would, of course, make it to my concert in time). Ken was quite cavalier about my concerns, telling me "not to worry, just keep going, you'll make it here on time." I was not so sanguine.

As instructed, I called in at 7:03 to give my talk over the phone. Luckily, since I don't have blue tooth, my companion Elizabeth Vandeventer was at my side, holding the phone while I continued to -- yes -- drive in the horrible conditions. And, as luck (or not) would have it, the traffic began to break just as I began speaking, when some drivers began to show their true colors, swerving in and out of lanes with reckless abandon. Betsy was breathing so deeply and audibly that I had to momentarily break off from my talk to ask her to stop, because it was making me so nervous! (I thought she was worried about my driving -- I'm not the best driver, as my record shows -- but her reactions were to other drivers, darting in and out.)

I don't remember any of my driving during the next half hour. I tuned out all things visible, and went deep inside of myself, summoning the likes of Bela Bartok, Paul Sacher, Felix Mendelssohn, Ferdinand David, Sirena Huang, Joseph Haydn, the Prince of Esterhazy, Johann Peter Salomon, and the "Surprise" in Symphony no. 94. I was intent on speaking clearly and succinctly, and doing it in the proper time allotted to me. Once I reached the end of my talk, I thanked the audience, telling them I'd been driving for seven hours straight, and, by the looks of the traffic, would make it to the concert in time. Whew! (I would later learn that the players idling backstage would ask Ken where I was, because . . . he and Sound Man Al had been so deft handling the situation, most of the players thought I had been out on stage the whole time!)

When I arrived in Hartford around 7:45, I understood why Ken hadn't believed me. Not one snowflake had hit Hartford; it was clean as a whistle. All of the 'weather' had been in southern Connecticut. Of course, by the time the concert was over, it was coming down pretty hard. I had been in a race with the weather, and won.