Looking around me last night, as the lights dropped to velvety black, with one bright white pillar illuminating pianist Timo Andres, I wasn’t in Cincinnati. I wasn’t at Music Hall. I was in every major, worldly theater. I was in Europe. I was in New York City. In that moment, as the audience dropped to hushed, taut attention, I saw the proof of just how far ahead we are.
I got tickets to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Friday night performance of “Proof: American Perspective” at the last minute from a friend. We showed up just before curtain, were ushered through the Will Call area, given a button to wear, and then hurried past the theater’s main entrances. This engagement was, apparently, going to be entirely backstage. We went through doors they normally tackle you for trying to open, and then down ramps and through corridors. The Phantom of the Opera was probably watching from between pipes of whistling steam.
The orchestra was positioned on one side of a large square performance space with seating on the other three sides. We found a seat on a bleacher bench for a vocal performance of “Sacred Harp Singing.” Another complete unfamiliarity: singers standing in a square, “hollow box,” facing one another. Luckily, they handed out pamphlets, because I was enthralled and confused.
After the brief choral performance, a few stagehands literally wheeled a concert grand piano from somewhere in the depths of the wings out onto the performance pad. They billed this performance as casual and intimate, and I can’t think of anything more fitting. Timo Andres, the piano soloist and co-curator, then performed. Feeling the reviewers’ angst of not having my notebook to jot down the titles of the pieces, I made a mental note to explain it in musical terms for this review: “was really good.” I’m not a composition expert.
The night’s conductor Andre de Ridder, who looked alarmingly like Guy Pearce, worked some challenging pieces out of the orchestra. I don’t know their names, but the first chair violin was performing miracle work, string-based acrobatics. Cellist Inbal Segev’s later solo followed similar suit — the night was awash in mastery.
Performing in the middle of the show while Ridder (or was it Guy Pearce? Be honest with me.) conducted was Dance Heginbotham. A New York-based contemporary dance studio, they rounded out the “American Perspective” part of the show’s title. Mixing in what looked like 1920s flapper dancing with modern interpretive and a lot of running around, they elevated the show from great to world-class. This could have been in any major artistic hub.
In recent memory, seeing this show meant planning a weekend trip and spending a big chunk of change. Today you can park at Washington Park and pick up tickets for 35 bucks. The arts came to us.
It was a one night show, but keep your chin up! The next installment of CSO Proof is January 29 at Music Hall. You’ve got to go buy tickets. I’ll see you there.
John David Back is a Cincinnati native who lives and works in OTR. He’s an avid reader and a mediocre writer who loves the experience of art and beauty. Tell him what he should experience and send fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.