Chinese Word of the Day: 剧院
Saturday, what a day: The belated celebration of my sixty-fifth birthday. We started it with a bike ride to Starbucks in Wanda Plaza where I got a bit of marking done before calling Xiao He to meet me there and take me to my 1:00pm dentist appointment. I got a temporary cap on the tooth that had the root canal last Monday. That ate up most of the afternoon but by four I was back at Wanda and three venti lattes into the day. Ruth and I rode our bikes home. I rode straight to a little restaurant close to the campus and ordered dinner while Ruth stopped off at home to pick up the dog, a bottle of red wine, and some aspirin for my tooth ache. By six thirty we were at the little East gate for the trip the Wuxi Grand Theatre.
Ruth’s birthday present to me this year was tickets to see a violin concert. The Wuxi Grand Theatre is huge and very impressive, with spectacularly tricky lighting that can change colour and dance all over the roofs. We were in a small auditorium that seats 700 seats. The main auditorium, which we didn’t get to see, seats 1680.
Since they don’t allow cameras in the auditorium, I had to settle for a picture of this usherette, one of a closely matched pair. She directed us to some nearby lockers to stow our backpacks, which are not allowed in the auditorium.
The concert was wonderful. The violinist, Kai Gleusteen, is a Canadian and his accompanist, Catherine Ordronneau, is his French wife. A beautiful couple who make beautiful music together. I listened critically and did not detect a single sour note through some very demanding performances. For the first piece I felt that the piano was played too loud, and was overpowering the violin. But then they seemed to find the balance, or maybe I was just more tuned to listen.
They played a selection of Chinese classical pieces, some of which I recognized because my friend Wang Yijing has played bits of them for me. One piece in particular is very famous here in China. I wish I knew the name. It’s by turns lyrical and sweet and technically demanding allegro all up and down the neck. All in all a virtuoso performance that had me on my feet yelling “ENCORE” as they walked off stage. And the encore was the best part. They returned to play one of my favourite show off pieces, Vittorio Monti’s Czardis. Complete with the harmonic passages. You know the piece. It’s the one that makes you feel like crying like a Gypsy or dancing like a Cossack. Beautiful. I have that piece in my violin case and keep promising myself I’ll get back to practising and maybe someday finally be able to play it. It’s way beyond my ability at the moment.
After my loud and very un-Chinese initiation of a call for an encore, the audience seemed to catch on to the idea and called the pair back for two additional pieces.
A few words about the audience: I’ve attended concerts at this university when the audience talked quite loudly during the performance. It was annoying and embarrassing, and I briefly posted a video of the behaviour to express my outrage. But then I took it down again. I’m a guest here, and it isn’t my place to criticize my hosts. But I was worried that this concert would have the same behaviour, which could have ruined it for me. Not a problem. I did turn around to tap the knee of a woman behind me and ask her to stop talking on her mobile phone. She was talking as quietly as she could, but it was still annoying. I hope her call was important. Other than that, there was only good behaviour from this audience.
After the concert I wanted to meet the artists. Actually, I had intended to bring my copy of Czardis with me to be autographed, but forgot it at home. Just as well. I asked where we could go to meet the performers, and we were directed to the 大门 (da men, the big doors) 七号 (qi hao, gate seven).
So we went out and walked completely around the building without finding any gathering of anybody. 我们在中国。By that time any cabs that had been waiting for patrons had left, but it was a beautiful evening.
We walked under Lihu Daqiao, both of us stopping to take pictures whenever anything caught our eye, then failed to flag a taxi on the main road back to the campus. Finally we ended up at a bus stop and on a bus back to the North Gate.
Since it was a cheater day, the one day of the week when we can eat anything we fancy, I had some of the best 臭豆腐 (chou4 dou4fu -stinky tofu) in China from the only lady in China I will buy it from. We stopped at a store on our way home and each had a Magnum ice cream bar. Then we harnessed the dog and rode our bikes to the campus commercial area where Ruth had a chocolate drink while I had a caramel macchiato. While the drinks were being prepared I went back to the fruit store for some durian. We sat at a table on the sidewalk enjoying our durian and drinks, watching some amazing kung fu choreography in a movie playing on the drink stand television, like being at a drive in movie.
What a great evening. What a great way to celebrate my birthday.