Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 32

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Sebastian leads his friends back across town to the Central Library again, hoping to get there before Klangfarben does but there are concerns the police would know that's exactly where the escaped suspects would most likely go. What if Smighley confiscates the other Time-Device? It will be the end of classical music as we know it... In this chapter, the orchestra is getting ready for the first rehearsal of Beethoven's new symphony where we'll meet Rondo Sharrif (they call him "Horn Solo") and the orchestra's personnel manager, Marsha Funebre.

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Chapter 32 
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The up-coming tour was very exciting news. Small wonder the players in the orchestra were eagerly anticipating the chance to play for new audiences, not to mention getting out to see more of the universe. This was the first interparallelial tour in over two dozen seasons and several new players have never been away from Harmonia-IV since they arrived. In the buzz of anticipation, many musicians were showing up early, warming up, going over their parts one last time so they’ll be ready to go as soon as the maestro stepped up onto the podium.

Since Harmonia-IV was one of the more established music universes, it had some of the finest orchestras conceivable. What else did you do with the finest musicians who ever lived after they've died? True, many so-called Golden Age singers recreated their magical world in the opera houses of Melodia-V, but for orchestral playing, Harmonia-IV was home to the best.

The Intragalactic Philharmonic was admittedly not the absolute finest of these, but its players had all been leading members of the finest orchestras on Earth during their life-times. Many people were convinced they played with better spirit and more precision than the Harmonian Symphonica where many of the great soloists played, but at this level "excellence" was a given.

And this week, they were playing in Einstein Hall, the grandest concert hall in the city with the finest acoustics and the most spacious stage to play on, not to mention the largest seating capacity in town.

It was a good thing Harmonia-IV, unlike Earth but like all the other parallel universes, was not finite. Ever-expanding like the Universe itself, if more people arrived in Harmonia-IV and needed places to live in or ensembles to play or sing in or concert halls to perform in, it was an easy enough matter to build or create them.

And the audience expanded right along with them. No one worried about it dying off like they did on Earth: no one really aged here, no one ever "died" here, and new audience was always arriving.

While space-challenged buildings like the library found it easier to add levels beneath the surface than above, digging further and further down, new performing spaces could be added as the community expanded – like the new George Jetson Hall that just opened in Avant Gardens where many of the most recent arrivals were now living – requiring more enhanced electrotelesponder-transport systems.

The question that continued brewing among Parallelia's scientific community was whether this system of parallel universes, a series of pod-like habitations – some considered them space-ghettos – was like a continuous sheet of time-fabric stretching out through space or more-or-less concise units of time-space like planets but not confined to solid dimensionality, more like an expanding sphere with a flexible surface.

It amused musicians – those who were interested in science – to think while Earth had long settled the flat/round controversy, it was still a heated topic among modern Parallelians. What mattered when all you needed was music?

Arguments abounded. Flat-Timers opposed the downward expansion of the library because they feared falling off the city's underside while the Round-Timers calculated, when the sphere's gaseous core was pierced, the release of these gases would deflate the sphere like an old beach-ball. Tube-Timers, meanwhile, considered it an unending flowing of Time with no limits to either depth or width.

The Time-Gates, naturally, made travel between these universes easy enough – no cumbersome buses or expensive air-fare: everybody just lined up at the Gate and walked through, leaving the settings to the chief attendant. In this way, crates of new books from Prosion-III arrived regularly to stock Harmonia-IV's libraries and book-stores, just as traveling theatrical companies could arrive from Proscenia-VI. Home to most office-workers, Cubicula-IX was grateful for almost any touring group. In fact, travel was blocked only to the Nefaria System, parallel prisons keeping the rest of Myrios Kronos free of criminals and most politicians.

The stage at Einstein Hall was nearly set – the stage crew was hurriedly moving in the last of the chairs and music stands – and the hubbub of colorfully if inconsistently-dressed musicians spreading out from the wings back-stage to the front rows of seats, some talking, others warming up, all at the same time, filled the auditorium with sensory chaos.

Anyone sitting in the hall listening to the proceedings would be amazed this cacophony could all be harnessed by one man holding nothing more ornate than a small wooden stick to create the most amazing sounds.

The musicians were obviously more excited than usual. It may have been only the second concert of the season but it could easily be the major event of the decade for them since it wasn't that often the IGP – as the Intergalactic Phil was casually known – got to premiere a new Beethoven symphony and even take it on tour.

From inside this swirling mass of noise, amidst the scales and long-tones, you could catch a glint of a horn-theme soaring overhead or a flourish from a trumpet anticipating some inevitable conflict. A clarinet played an arpeggio that ended on a sustained high-note – was that in the third movement? – while three trombonists worked together on a passage that might be from the opening's imposing introduction. They knew their own individual parts cold and wondered, hearing their colleagues playing around them, what it would all sound like when brought together, once the conductor gave that first downbeat.

Friends greeted each other as they took instruments out of cases, catching up on what they'd been doing the past two weeks since the last concert, talking about how well that went or how upset they were they'd played a note a little out-of-tune at the overture's big climax. But such were the perils of live music-making. Individual voices – especially the concertmaster's hearty laugh – glimmered through a kaleidoscope like fragments of music, warm, friendly, ready to turn this energy into the excitement of experiencing something new, bringing what no one has heard before to life.

There was a great sense of camaraderie here, the atmosphere not as competitive as in many orchestras. Though there were those who liked to show off, it was more a friendly sparring than the dog-fights that often erupted in the top-flight Harmonian Symphonica. Somehow, they always managed to subvert such bloody in-fighting into incredible performances, transforming ego into art.

A long-breathed melody in the French horn began climbing out of the dense texture of enveloping racket, struggling step by step ever higher before falling back to start the climb again, only now a half-step higher. The tone was brilliant and clean, the intonation perfect, the soaring expansion of the phrasing so well-controlled, it sounded effortless and utterly indisputable. It was only a matter of fifteen seconds or so before everybody gradually stopped what they were doing to listen, even the stage-crew. It was as if they held their breath along with him, supporting him.

And after he reached the top-most note, blissfully sustaining it before letting it arch its way back down, less gradually, before resolving the tension in perfect balance, you could sense the orchestra breathe along with him. When the phrase came to its inevitable end, the rest of the musicians broke into cheers, applause and stamping feet, acknowledging their approval.

The horn player looked out and beamed his satisfaction, enjoying his colleague's approval. Yes, he knew he had nailed it and they knew it, too. You can play a big theme like that over and over again in your room but you will never know what it's going to sound like ultimately until you play it in the hall.

Everybody loved Rondo Sharrif. He was frequently considered "Most Valuable Player" after a tough concert not just because he played well: his personality often brought others together, diffusing the kind of tensions that came with any performance.

Rumor had it that was why the IGP got to play this premiere, because Beethoven wanted to write a horn solo like that and he considered Sharrif the finest horn player in Harmonia-IV at the time. If Beethoven had been sitting out in the hall at that moment, you could imagine him pumping his fist, thinking, "Take that, Brahms!"

With his sultry good looks and boyish charm, not to mention his penchant for wearing white shirts open down the chest, Sharrif quickly got the nickname, "Horn Solo" as if his real name wasn't musical enough.

A Palestinian from Gaza, Rondo Sharrif had been a member of the first Arab-Israeli orchestra in the Middle East, founded and conducted by Daniel Barenboim, an artist's response to the region's never-ending violence. But one afternoon, Sharrif was getting on a crowded bus in Tel Aviv, running late for a rehearsal, when he was killed by a suicide bomber.

A story like that, when you thought about it, explained a lot. Rondo was considered a peace-maker among the players and was well respected by his older colleagues for his help in mentoring the younger musicians as they came along. Few appreciated that more than his colleagues in the horn section, especially Stu Barker, the assistant principal horn player. A tall, hirsute young man originally from Boston, Stu had serious trouble speaking but could play so effortlessly, you forgave him his social challenges. Stu never played more assuredly than when he sat next to Rondo.

The noise of chatter and warming-up resumed and quickly overwhelmed the hall. Musicians wandered out on stage, spread their music on their stands, adjusted the position of their seats, said hello to their stand-partners or to their friends sitting near by and then prepared one last time to get down to business. There was a lot of nervous anticipation.

But it wasn't necessarily Beethoven's new symphony or the impending tour that had violist Roger Babbitt excited and sweating nervously. When he sat down, he knocked his music off the stand. Whatever was bothering him, beside the usual brunt of being a violist and a short person, he’d be unable to explain it to anyone who'd bother to ask.

Marsha Funebre, the personnel manager, strode to the stage's apron, clapping her hands and shouting to get the stragglers' attention – "Everybody get in place, now" – adding the three-minute warning, "the Maestro has left the dressing room!"

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To be continued

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012

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