Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Wednesday – rehearsal and concert in Torino

I’m up and about by 7 AM. The hotel (not one the orchestra is staying in) turns out to be a pleasant surprise. The smallish breakfast buffet would elicit outrage from certain orchestra members who turn noses up at any spread containing less than three different kinds of smoked fish, but it is not bad by any reasonable standard.

The city bus to the hall is slow but gives me a chance to rub elbows (literally) with a bunch of Italians on their way to work. As I find out later, the complex containing the concert hall used to be a Fiat plant. I guess the ‘T’ in Fiat stands for Torino, not Tony as in the timeworn joke.

At a loss to find the musician’s entrance, I wander aimlessly about the huge windswept plaza fronting the building until two different CSO staffers come out and show me the way in.

There is always a moment of anticipation opening the bass trunk after an overseas trip. I decided to use the CSO Testore – the instrument I waited 5 years for repairs on – so I was a little extra concerned this time. As a student I took a bass to Europe once, an instrument unremarkable save for its beautifully carved lions-head scroll. Opening the trunk I ended up catching the head as it tumbled out, having cracked off at the nut. It brought to mind the scene from The Godfather where the guy wakes up looking at the horse head. Anyhow, this time there was no discernable damage.

The auditorium, three floors below ground level, has attractive wood finishes all round. The sound of one bass alone on the stage is clear, if somewhat brittle. After a few peaceful minutes alone I am swamped as the rest of the orchestra trickles in and find out it can become quite loud. Instruments close by – trombones for instance – can be heard with painful clarity while those across the stage are difficult to make out.

Muti leads a relaxed rehearsal, giving the orchestra a chance to find its feet without too much meddling, certainly a different atmosphere from the way things have been done at the CSO in the past.

Afterwards, a chance encounter on the street leads to a pleasant lunch with a colleague. The rest of the afternoon is spent avoiding the dreary weather – napping at the hotel, writing.

For the 9 PM concert, I try and arrive early for some practice. Again, after a few minutes alone I’m drowned out but churn through about an hour of scales and Sevcik anyway.

From my position onstage it is difficult to give an objective assessment of the concert. There were some moments of less than perfect ensemble, perhaps attributable to the difficulty hearing across the stage. The louds seemed overly loud as well – nothing new there.

Muti was well received by the Italian audience, returning for many curtain calls at the end of the first half which lead to an awkward moment when the orchestra, eager to start its break, began to exit en masse just as the Maestro emerged for yet one more bow, resulting in a confusion of sitting and standing musicians, some halfway to the doors, nobody sure what to do next.

After the concert, a lively dinner with two colleagues and one critic. Back to the hotel by 2 AM.


Adriel said...

I read somewhere that the ex-Fiat plant you played in has a rooftop track on which they used to test the cars. The place must be huge.

Unknown said...

Don't you mean: "After the concert, a lively dinner of one critic with two colleagues"?

Michael Hovnanian said...

The test track is there but I didn't go up to see it. Apprently it has steeply banked curves. A colleague asked an employee there if a car ever went off the track and she anwered, "only once."

With all the great food in Italy, anyone who chooses to dine on critic is a fool indeed.