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A much delayed blog post is better than none! You might remember two weeks ago I flew out to Chicago for a George W. Housner Fund-supported excursion to a concert given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So let me relate that much-awaited tale.

The day began at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning, probably a full digit shorter a time than I usually would wake up. I hastily ate a breakfast and biked over to the Gold Line metro stop, where after a brief wait I set on my way to Union Station (the central hub of LA transit). I there caught the LAX Flyaway, a shuttle from Union Station to the Airport; there is no metro line running to the airport! This extra set of steps, while ultimately not being any more time-efficient than simply getting a shuttle, was both cheaper and gave me a view of LA waking up, as the sun cast its first feeble rays over the city, and more cars everywhere gently roared to life. I got to the airport in plenty of time, and despite (or perhaps as a result of?) the long line for checking luggage, I was able to get through security in record time. Smoothly enough, I was off to Chicago on this school weekend, to see this concert.

I landed at 3PM, and after some fumbling about I found myself at my hotel with a bit of time to get dinner and some work done before heading off to the concert. It was a strange sight having to walk around with multiple layers, and seeing snow on the sidewalks (I grew up in the South and so snow is still a fairly foreign sight to me), and I turned around to take a picture after the concert of the concert hall, in the gentle snow flurry that was so foreign to me

The acoustics were expectedly delightful, and whether it was my improved listening ability or whether it was truly the effect of the hall, I felt like I heard the piece as the product of individual soloists rather than as one orchestral body. In any case, the clarity and richness of the sound could not be complained about. Particularly, since I had studied the Tchaikovsky in the days leading up to the concert, I caught a lot more details in than I usually would have caught, and it has quickly become one of my favorite symphonies if not the single favorite. Having heard it once performed live by the greatest American orchestra did a lot for that opinion!
I can’t even pinpoint what the magic of the live concert was. The instruments sounded better, the dynamic range was impossibly wide, and being forced to focus on the music rather than on a set or something made the experience much richer than just a cursory listen. But there is something more about that, something about knowing that you’re sitting in the hallowed halls of childhood idols that makes the experience extra special, and one I am infinitely grateful to have taken.

The second day, I didn’t have a very early flight, and instead of going to the hotel room and working (what I objectively probably should have done) I instead took the time to visit a few things I felt should be done in any visit to Chicago. I of course visited the iconic Bean, but a more personally interesting visit was that to UChicago, the hallowed institution. A school with much more a reputation for being in the liberal arts vein than our own, I wanted to see what such a school would look like. Gothic spirals towered over a much older-looking landscape than the sunny pastures of Caltech, and while some part of the impression I gathered certainly had to do with the snow-covered landscape, it felt like a much more austere, pondering campus. Caltech has a notable lack of tall buildings, not surprising due to the earthquake danger, and I found that quite a likable experience there. It feels protective and wise, in the most abstract of senses.I landed back at LAX at 11PM on Sunday, and eventually made my way home a little bit before 1AM, with a set due Monday morning (hence the unwise decision not to have started the set while waiting for my flight!). In the end however, a few lost points from sloppiness were much worth the experience of visiting Chicago, both for the legendary orchestra and for a understanding of what cities not in California look like.