A respected European pianist with numerous first place international awards came to our fair city last weekend and played a selection of pieces from Beethoven, Chopin, Scriabin, and Ravel to an enthusiastic audience.
In a school gym.
We drove through side streets and arrived at the back gate of the private school. Other people from international compounds around the city arrived unobtrusively. Once inside the gates, men in dress slacks and women in tasteful casual evening wear mingled over cups of coffee and tea and then made their way to their seats.
The chairs were a bit uncomfortable, designed as they were for school children. The stage was expertly lit and miked, but it was impossible to conceal the basketball hoops folded up against the ceiling.
The pianist took the stage in the requisite tuxedo with tails. He played a superb concert, elevating us and the humble venue to something very special and rarified. The Ravel was particularly interesting. He played three pieces inspired by Aloysius Bertrand poems, which were read before he played each selection. It was truly beautiful and felt very high-minded. But the fact is, all of us--men, women and children--sat together. We listened to music. Secular music. In the dark.
It is my understanding that this is frowned upon here. That is why the concert organizers don't advertise the location of the concerts, and why my husband's employer only rarely sponsors such things. All sorts of cultural events happen in this country, as one could only expect with the tens of thousands of western expats living and working here. But out of respect for the conservative culture, they're all kept quiet. Venues divulged on a need-to-know basis.
A German friend and I talked about the fact that in the west (and in the past) we have been to raves and word-of-mouth warehouse parties. But this was the first underground piano recital we'd ever attended. It was a bit thrilling. I've never been so excited to hear Beethoven.