A Night of Rushing Ladies

It was the end of November, and my daughter and I were hoping to go to the Boston Symphony for a rare appearance by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. It all depended on my getting to the box office in time to get tickets, which I had vowed to purchase if I could finish a certain project in time to leave my office by 5:00 p.m.

When I finished the project, it was a little after five, so I hurried to the Boston subway.

The Park Street station was mobbed with people, and I could see it would take forever to muscle my way through them to get to the "E" train to Symphony. Past the jostling heads, I even glimpsed an "E" train, about to depart.

Drat! There were so many people I'd miss it for sure. I darted through the crowd, feeling doubtful. But miraculously, when I arrived, the train still had its doors open.

I rushed aboard, not believing my luck, just as the doors closed.

At Symphony, I leapt off the train, sprang from the station, bolted up the stairs to the lit-up entrance of Symphony Hall, and burst into the box office.

I rushed to the ticket window, nearly bowling over a young woman.

"Mom," said my daughter, "it's me!"

The ticket lady beamed. "I have two very good tickets," she said, "and they are practically the last seats!"

After a supper at the organic supermarket nearby, we went to the concert. Before going upstairs, we paused to stroll through the orchestra level, where we admired the gleaming stage, gilded ornaments and classical statues that make up Symphony Hall. We slipped into our balcony seats just as the concert was about to begin. Soon, we would see Yo-Yo Ma!

The evening turned out to have a Russian twist. The first piece, by contemporary composer John Harbison, saluted the former BSO conductor Serge Koussevitzky, Russian-born. Another piece, by the Latvian composer Esenvalds, celebrated morning lakes.

Then, it actually happened. A platform and stool for the esteemed cellist were placed onstage. Yo-Yo Ma came on to perform Prokofiev's "Symphony-Concerto" for cello and orchestra, and the event of the evening began.

The audience was in high anticipation. About two dozen young fans, possibly music students, were standing in the balconies, leaning forward to take photos.

Yo-Yo dove into the spirited piece. His bow pounced faster than a leopard. He plucked strings rapidly. Andris Nelsons, the BSO's new music director, seemed to hop and jump as he conducted. Ma had worked the orchestra into a frenzy of music! It was thrilling.

Then, things started happening. First, Nelsons, while he was stilled conducting, leaned down towards Yo-Yo's music stand and turned a page of Ma's music.

Then, dramatically, a violist rushed forward from the string section. She sat beside the cellist on the floor, in her long orchestra gown, and turned Ma's music. First one page -- then another.

How odd! What had happened? Was there no page turner? It seemed incredible.

Then, another woman rushed up to the first, brandishing what looked like a pen. There seemed to be some discussion, then she ran back.

We didn't know what it was about, but it certainly was exciting.

Yo-Yo played through it all, lifting off his seat in the allegro parts, bow arm sweeping across his cello like a great bird in flight.

Finally, the symphony ended. After loud clapping, Ma went off stage, but the thunderous applause called him back. That's when he hugged the rushing violist.

When the lights came up for intermission, the audience was abuzz.

The people sitting next to my daughter thought that Nelsons and the violist had been the pre-arranged, designated page turners. "The conductor turned the first few pages, and the violist turned the rest," the man shrugged.

The man behind me disagreed. "There was a breeze, and Ma's page got blown backwards. After the violist rushed up to help, it happened again, so the second lady rushed forward with a pen to hold the pages in place."

What had caused the mysterious air current?

The man next to me had slept through the whole thing.

After the second half of the program, Rachmaninoff's "Bells," my daughter and I hastened to the subway. It was late, and a work night.

"Run, Mom," said my daughter, clattering down the subway steps, "there's our train! Last time we had to wait twenty minutes, remember?"

We flew forward, in what seemed to be the evening's motif. The train doors closed just as we rushed inside.

It seemed a fitting finale.