No doubt it had something to do with the ambiance.
Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of Milwaukee as a city. The architecture is glorious. It has a world class art museum. The county museum is exciting and well presented. Miller Park is a great venue for baseball. There are lots of fun things to do and good places to eat.
But I’m not a fan of Milwaukee. I’ve had a few bad experiences there, starting with a break-in of our car as it sat in the parking ramp next to the hotel. That was our first visit there together. It was also over 30 years ago.
You’d think I’d let that go. But no. Reports from Milwaukee generally have to do with the high crime rate. I’d just rather not be there.
But we were drawn there once again this past Sunday by an offering by the Milwaukee Symphony. They were playing the music from Disney’s “Fantasia” with the film projected in high-definition on a screen above the heads of the orchestra and the conductor.
I really enjoy classical music. And I enjoy attending symphony concerts to hear that music in person. I can remember the first symphony concert I attended as a youngster with elementary students throughout my hometown. We were schooled in the music that would be played as well as the proper behavior expected at a symphony concert.
I’ve been privileged to attend symphony concerts in many cities in the United States and in Europe. The music can take my breath away.
But once in a while, just once in a while, I’ve wanted to hear a symphony orchestra play music that is more accessible to the general public. I had heard of such ventures in Boston and Kansas City. The city where we hold season tickets, Madison, Wisconsin, has an outstanding symphony orchestra. But they don’t have a “pops” season nor do I get the feeling that the music director of that symphony would be inclined toward a series of accessible music with the exception of the annual Christmas (now known as “holiday”) concert. The seats are packed for those concerts not only because of the music but because the cast of the show is expanded exponentially from the regular orchestra members to a semi-professional chorus as well as a large church chorus. The bigger the cast, the more family members are drawn in.
As we have continued to attend the Madison Symphony concerts, we can’t help but notice the increasing average age of those attending. Perhaps a nod to the “pops” might not be a bad way to introduce the orchestra to a larger and more diverse audience.
As fans of “Fantasia,” we just couldn’t resist making the trip to Milwaukee. The concert was scheduled for Sunday afternoon which made it accessible for us. Milwaukee is just over an hour away.
We decided to make it a real outing by having brunch. We explored possibilities near the symphony venue and settled upon a restaurant in an upscale hotel within a block of the Marcus Center. We could park right there, dine, walk to the concert, and easily get in and out of the city.
When we were seated, we had a view through large windows of the orchestra hall. The restaurant was very comfortable but slightly upscale, yet we weren’t turned off by the prices on the menu. It was clearly going to be a relaxing introduction to the afternoon’s entertainment.
I don’t usually drink alcohol anymore (yes, those of you who know me may be shocked to hear that), but the idea of a Bloody Mary was irresistible. When it arrived, it was almost a meal unto itself with long picks stuffed with olives, cheese, sausage, tomatoes, lemons, limes, and celery. It tasted great. We both lingered over our drinks before we ordered our first course and then our second.
Terry decided that he wanted a glass of wine with his meal so he ordered the house pinot noir. He didn’t look at a wine list. He didn’t know the price. He just ordered.
As we relished our food, he tipped back the glass to take a sip. He was very impressed. “This is excellent!” he said. “Very smooth. So much nicer than what I buy at home.”
After a very leisurely meal, we complimented the server on the food and Terry talked of his enjoyment of the wine.
Then the bill appeared.
As mentioned, the price of the food was not out of line at all with the location and the quality. But when Terry saw the price of the wine, he laughed out loud.
To be fair, it wasn’t just the price of the wine, it was the label. I had to ask about it as he had enjoyed the bouquet, the way it passed over his lips and hit his taste buds.
The glass of wine was $9. That’s just plain cheap in an upscale restaurant these days. Our Bloody Marys came in at $5 each.
But here’s the kicker: The bill noted the label for future reference. “Castle Rock,” it proclaimed.
Then I understood why Terry laughed. When he buys a case of Castle Rock Pinot Noir for our home, he can get it for right around $7 a bottle.
An entire bottle for seven bucks. This delectable offering he drank at our brunch table was nine bucks for a single pour. It was the exact same wine that Terry keeps stocked at the house.
But, somehow, sipping it in the context of a big city restaurant overlooking the concert hall with the promise of wonderful entertainment ahead of us, the mystery of that pinot noir elevated his taste buds and expectations of what our day was all about. The milieu made the wine taste even better than it does at home.
We proceeded on from our brunch to the concert and I noted the vast array of ages in the hall, many of them children. We were provided with a wonderful concert including dancing hippos and Mickey Mouse projected above the orchestra. The audience could hardly withhold its applause between movements. There was a standing ovation and people shouted “brava!” There was even an encore prepared for our listening enjoyment.
It was a wonderful day. In fact, it was so nice that we’re going to do it again for New Year’s Eve when the orchestra will be playing the John Williams score from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” while the film is broadcast as it was on Sunday. That concert will be in the afternoon as well, but we’ll hold our dining to the evening meal and then spend the night in Milwaukee.
Even Milwaukee is wonderful when our anticipation is heightened. I’m looking forward to a return visit – and that’s a real change of heart for me.
35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:35-36