For the next two weeks the CSO will be solely occupied playing ‘Welcome Yule’ concerts. WY is the kitschy, money making Christmas show put on every year. I think it has been going on for 10 or more years now.
In the past, WY concerts were offered as ‘members of’ (meaning: members of the CSO) concerts. ‘Members of’ concerts are extra work for extra pay and are strictly optional. In years past, the CSO would continue to play ‘regular concerts’ (i.e. classical symphonic music) while the WY shows were going on. CSO players could opt to have a very busy schedule right before the holiday break and earn a little extra money. Those of us not wishing to indulge in that crass form of entertainment could simply say no. The difference this year is that WY is now part of the regular schedule. Participation by CSO musicians is not optional, and of course there is no extra payment. Also, for the next two weeks there are no more regular orchestra concerts by the CSO. Classical music has left Orchestra Hall (or Symphony Center as it is now called), replaced by Xmas music.
The plus side for me is that WY uses a smaller orchestra – only four basses – so I don’t have to do it. In fact, not playing WY means I don’t have any CSO work until January 9, 2007. The CSO has traditionally not given concerts during a two weeks span from around Christmas until after the New Year.
While it may seem ridiculous for me – looking at a month paid vacation – to criticize the situation, I can’t help but feel depressed seeing the once proud CSO reduced to playing gaudy Christmas music.
Without mentioning names, some of the arrangements are truly awful. I played WY during one of the first years. Sitting next to my good friend and colleague Rob Kassinger, we were rehearsing a leaden arrangement of Frosty the Snowman that had the basses slogging along with almost every note below the ‘E’ string. I caught Rob’s eye and we both burst out laughing. It has been an ongoing joke since then – the elephantine Frosty lumbering along like some demented holiday Godzilla.
I understand that the organization needs to make money, but in my opinion WY goes too far. There is plenty of wonderful classical music appropriate for this time of year. That is what a great orchestra should be playing.