Front Row

I wouldn’t choose to sit on the front row, in an audience situation, and would definitely refuse to do so if the entertainment was a pantomime! The very thought of the possibility of being picked to participate in some way fills me with terror. I’m perfectly capable of embarrassing myself without help from a professional!

However, unexpected bargain front row tickets to see a particularly fantastic orchestra playing a programme including Rhapsody in Blue – what’s not to love? I suppose the sound won’t be so balanced, sitting so near, but the energy from the orchestra will be palpable, and we’ll have an excellent close-up of the pianist’s fingers!

I especially like it if there’s time for a smackerel first, before watching a concert or show, or at the very least a beer in the venue’s bar. It makes the whole event even more of a treat. On the Rhapsody in Blue occasion the kitchen has run out of lots of its menu, and some of its smackerels prove tastier than others, but the atmosphere is cheery, and the beer and company excellent. My dream treat is, to quote Hannibal Lecter, dinner and a show. Well, my de luxe dream treat is dinner, a show and not going home straight afterwards. A sleepover somewhere with a beautifully made bed and a lovely bathroom. Years ago, when my chap and I were quite new, we went to see a prom at the Royal Albert Hall, and he surprised me with dinner first in the Royal Albert’s fancy restaurant. A table with a view, champagne, chandeliers, amazing food, with matching wine, and then to top it all, our concert seats were in a box, the non-cardboard kind, and we had to go through a velvet curtain to reach them! It was all quite thrilling and, even though there were a handful of other people sharing the box, I couldn’t help but feel a teensy bit Julia Robertsy. It turned out that the concert had two intervals, largely due to it including the world premiere of a piece, can’t remember the name, which had the telling sub-title, ‘Extended version’. The un-extended version would have been dreary enough, but the prom version seemed to go on and on and on in a relentless effort to win us over. It failed spectacularly. We did enjoy the two intervals though, and the concert redeemed itself with Beethoven – which also went on and on, but as it was Beethoven, we forgave him.  

I wouldn’t mind an extended version of Rhapsody in Blue; it is marvellous. If you think orchestral music isn’t your thing, and haven’t yet heard this piece, it is definitely for you. A glorious wailing clarinet kicks it all off and then there’s joyous jazzy stuff with lots of great tunes and amazing solo piano. On this occasion the soloist is completely wonderful, and we do indeed have a close-up view of his fast fingers, and of his maroon socks and navy slippers. I mean, maybe they aren’t actual slippers… but they are certainly felty-looking slip-ons that can’t be worn in the rain. From my front row seat I am about a head taller than the stage itself, giving my eye-line a very specific view. I can see speckles of dust lying on top of the varnished stage, and above that, feet and crotches. At least, that is the most comfortable head position – looking up into the faces of the performers for any length of time is likely to bring on a crick in the neck, as well as to risk awkward accidental eye contact. 


I count six pairs of very shiny shoes, men’s patent leather affairs. I expect there are more, but the violin section is predominantly my view, with a bit of cello and front desk of the violas. One of the second violins sits with her heels together and toes pointed out, like Mary Poppins, only her shoes are high-heeled slingbacks, not at all Mary P. My favourite feet of the evening though belong to the lead viola. He tends to play with his ankles crossed, and when caught up in the exuberance of the music both feet actually leave the ground, still crossed. He is physically uplifted! (Mary Poppins again.)  When seated further away, in the middle somewhere or with more of an overall orchestral view, I am not usually so footwear observant, but my front row seat offers a different experience. I am still involved in the music, but…the red soles of a pair of skyscraper black stilettos catch my eye. The heels are too tall for the wearer to sit flat-footed for the whole concert, her knees would be uncomfortably high, and bump her violin bow, but one spike heel anchored into the stage and tipping backwards is just the job. As the red sole waves about, unashamedly drawing attention to itself, I wonder if it is a Christian Louboutin, costing hundreds of pounds – a shoetastic treat for a shoe-loving violinist. Technically of course she is flouting the ‘all black’ concert outfit rule, but perhaps the powers that be are not seated on the front row, and she’ll get away with it.  

Later, when turning my biro words into the computer kind and checking with google for the correct spelling of ‘stilettos’ (stilettos/stilettoes – the second seems most appropriate as it contains toes), a helpful list pops up suggesting possible questions that I might need answering, relating to stilettos. Easy to become side tracked…but ‘How do you walk in stilettos?’ An excellent question. I click on it. I am rubbish at walking in tall shoes. I am seduced by their beauty and loveliness – but wearing them generally requires another person to do the walking, whilst I hold on to their arm trying to look as if I am not incapable of walking unaided. I watch the short video, with a lady walking expertly in high stilettos, hoping for a life-changing top tip, but it is not to be. Put your heel down first and practise, is my interpretation. As yet I have done neither and am therefore not destined to find my ‘signature walk’, and will continue to be parked in a corner or leant up against a wall when my human prop goes to the bar or the loo.    

The concert finishes with Ravel’s Boléro, made familiar to many by Torvill and Dean dressed in purple, winning gold for their figure skating at the 1984 Winter Olympics. The music begins very quietly with just the drum rhythm and as more and more instruments join in it becomes louder and louder. The composer’s direction, printed on the music, is to be playing as loud as ever possible by the end. In this performance, as the music increases in volume, the physical movement of the players increases in size and energy. The sound gets louder and louder, the musicians get more and more animated, grinning at their colleagues, almost laughing aloud, the string players practically sawing their instruments in half! I feel as though I am being pulled into the noise and movement along with the orchestra, and at any moment the front row and I will be swept up with the musicians and whizzed about above the stage like Dorothy’s house in the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. And then – duff! The tornado releases the orchestra, and the front row, and we are all dropped unceremoniously to the ground. I half expect the instrumentalists to fall from their chairs onto the stage. Fantastic. 

I expect that this is quite a spectacle from further back in the auditorium – and from the upper levels, looking down at the orchestra, it probably resembles a turbulent sea. It may be all feet and crotches down here, but I suspect they don’t feel the feeling like us on the front row.  

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