New York's Singular Political Safe Space Might Be Surprising

by Christie Grimm · January 27, 2017

As a young person whose job it is to watch the ever-trending, ever-changing stories of the web as they ebb and flow in their sea of silliness, the past two weeks - nay, the past year and a half, rather - has been an unavoidable, end-of-days-esque political party no one RSVPed to.

With marches and protests and noise just about everywhere you walk in the city, it's obviously an inspiring time to see so many self-possessed individuals taking to their beliefs. But still, where's one to find a break?

As 6 o'clock begins to yawn, on the dot just about, the sleepy Upper West Side's low hanging string of Broadway bustles and hums. Patrons, enthusiasts, philistines, novices trying something new. En route to their carefully timed pre-show reservations at Fiorello Cafe, Bar Boulud, Atlantic Grill. Tired from a day of work, too social to speak of the news, they politely make their way through dinner to arrive en mass at Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall, scurrying past the fountain, funneling past the entryway, up the escalators and into the hall as if passing through some social sieve of sorts, one which makes for by the most conservative of estimates, a homogenous crowd.

Last evening's Tchaikovsky Festival was business as usual for the New York Philharmonic. Older Manhattanite couples turning out in droves, barely an empty seat to be seen, 'twas a welcome respite from the outside world of Trump talk for sure.

Waiting for the concert to begin, rare was the checking of phones. Sans such youthful distraction, men respectfully dressed up in their work suits simply sat, staring ahead, blankly enjoying the day's short prelude. Women leaning, fidgetingly looking round, bent on spotting a familiar face to greet, eventually settling in to read the evening's program, noting the themes and historical significance to keep in mind throughout the performance.

The show begins, Valse fantaisie by Glinka. The violinists dance with themselves, leaning left, right, left, right, a flute piercing, pushing the melody along. And with time, heads begin to bob, a natural nodding off in no way indicative of the orchestral quality - if anything, telling of its success.

Next, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2. The women who studied up prior find themselves looking for "the sound of fate," a "motto theme" throughout the piece's four movements. The un-read sit simply, entranced by the playing of pianist Yefim Bronfman, whose hands can't help but grab for more than the piano seems to allow. Through the symphony's alternating dynamics, where loudness and silence break each others falls, instruments held in rapid conversation, one might say that in all its sophistication, in all it's elaborate composition, you've a stage of the most talented musicians in the world working very hard, playing very hard, to in a sense, show you what silence is. Those margin moments of musical breath when you catch yourself without a tune to follow. Without a thought to think.

A standing ovation, proudly passed flowers, and the buzz of the crowd lives again for the thrill of intermission. And while at most events and shows, I find myself shamelessly drawn to the over-heard's which await those who sign their life away to the bathroom line, here, it is all the worth sitting your seat, and just crossing your legs for the hour to come.

Two couples seated behind you - pointing and waving to others in the crowd. There, that lovely man who never married. There, that woman they sat next to some seasons ago only to anecdotally realize she not only went to the same synagogue as her sister in Roslyn, but is a close, close friend.

Surprising moments where 80-something year old men discuss the new iPad, a complete dissatisfaction when compared to their Mac.

A grown man sat in your row, seated with his elderly mother. Unyieldingly serious in the face, with a line of people hovering over her, hoping to pass through to the aisle, who then lights up with an apologetic smile when made to realize such by her son, sliding her legs the best she can to make room.

A writer, surely some knowledgeable critic, seated just in front to the left, holding his all too novel tiny notepad and pen, striking down reminders and thoughts.

All of them, all of these strangers perfectly dressed to a soundtrack of overlapping, unsynced orchestra nerds who've decided against a break, grabbing the extra practice time before their next set.

And the lights fall, and the conductor returns, and again, the mind is symphonically freed of itself.

Often when I go to the philharmonic, I find myself wondering, where are all the young people? And sure, it's easy for me to feign a desire for more youths to take an interest in what is in my opinion one of the best experiences our city offers. Though in reality, I of course love being the outlier. The sweet little surprise that grabs polite smiles from pleased, reminiscent passersby who could never imagine their similarly aged grandchildren sitting through such a show, let alone willingly.

But still, one must spread the love, no? So, for your own sake, before the noise of the internet or the city gets to you irreparably, parse through the calendar, find something that seems even slightly interesting, and give it a try!

Just please, for the love of God, no Instagrams.

[Photo via @needforreed, @danielysng]

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