Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian plays bass in an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Number 9…



Ein Heldenleben, undoubtedly a masterpiece, nevertheless rubs me the wrong way. I know as a (working) bassist I’m supposed to like it, love it even, since it is chock full of popular audition passages, but I can’t get past the things I don’t like about the piece, its gigantism, all that bombast, to name a couple. Not my cup of tea, as they say. I wonder if any hero ever dared to play softly? Anyhow, when the option to take those concerts off presented itself, the choice seemed obvious.

As mentioned, Heldenleben contains more double bass audition passages per page than almost any other piece in the literature. The passage at (rehearsal) number nine has probably ruined more dreams of an orchestral career than any other.

Sometimes you might see a few gummy old bass players, veterans of auditions long past huddled toward the back of the bar. Over a stale pint or two they recount in hushed reverent tones disastrous failures, successes won at terrible cost. Their Ypres, Verdun, The Marne, unknown beyond their circle, sound strange in our ears; Number 9, the Battle Scene, 49, 77. “Nine measures after number 15, there I stood, alone, without a mute…”

So friends, next time you go to a performance of Ein Heldenleben, cast a sympathetic eye towards the bass section. Number 9 comes up only a few minutes into the piece – top of the second page. Then you will see the page turned, a deep breath taken, perhaps an eye rolled heavenward in memory of a colleague who didn’t make it. And as they begin to play, without doubt, you think to yourself – what a delightful passage for the horn.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Boo!

Never in my life have I received such treatment. They threw an apple at me!
Well, watermelons are out of season.

Lasspari and Otis B Driftwood
(The Marx Brothers A Night at the Opera)


Boo…Boooo!…BOOOOO!!!!

Starting softly and getting louder, the gentleman got in three boos before the rest of the audience knew the piece had finished. Definitely not one of our fans who calls out Bravoooooo, these were unquestionably expressions of displeasure. But whether directed at the Lutoslawsky 4th symphony or our rendition of it under Haitink’s baton, nobody could tell. A brief scan of the composer’s biography makes me wonder if our pro Stalin fan (yes we have one) had returned.

I don’t know if it comes as a surprise or not, but the general reaction among orchestra members to audience boos isn’t very disapproving. Perhaps this comes from a sense of smugness about our self worth and the ability for each of us singly to fall back on the belief that the composer, conductor, soloist, or somebody else, is the true object of displeasure. But there is also a sense of relief that at least somebody out there cares enough to go against the grain and express themselves. One of the more disheartening things about this profession can be to see obvious signs of displeasure among audience members during the performance (i.e. yawning, sleeping, the rolling of eyes, head buried in the program or other reading material, or the ubiquitous 20th century music scowl) only to receive the same polite applause at the conclusion. Was that a standing ovation, or were those people merely donning their coats and shrugging? (I once saw a man sleep soundly through a piece only to jump to his feet and applaud.) At least a good hearty Boo shows somebody had an honest opinion.

We’ve had few memorable ones during my time here. The Enescu Symphony (sorry, can’t remember which one) ends conclusively. So when we performed it at the University of (the state in which the city I work in is located) the gentleman who got his boo off (say that fast three times: very funny) a split second before the rest of the audience erupted deserves special commendation. He (booing seems to be a male-dominated activity) obviously sat on the edge of his seat for a long time waiting for his big chance. Probably most famously, a local member of the 4th estate loudly booed the son of a prominent dissident for a lackluster reading of the Grieg piano concerto. That demonstration involved the spontaneous conversion of the program book into confetti.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This Post Rated XXX

The other day somebody complained to me about the amount of selling on the Internet, what you might call the pornography of self-promotion – buy my gear, buy my CD, my method book, whatever. I thought it high time I dip my foot briefly into those waters.

The Chicago Bass Ensemble will be performing on Monday, December 15, 7 PM at Heaven Gallery, 1550 North Milwaukee, 2nd floor. Information about the CBE may be found here, and the Heaven Gallery, here.

I am also happy to announce, at long last, the re emergence of Discordia Music –publishers of music for the double bass. We’ve spent the last year or so reworking our editions, and five are now ready. Look for more soon.

Information about Discordia Music may be found here.

A few words about the editions:

Bach - 3 Sonatas
BWV 1027, BWV 1028, BWV 1029.
For Double Bass and Cembalo(originally for Viola da Gamba)
A005

The three Gamaba Sonatas are now combined in one volume. This edition is an arrangement for double bass, based on research of several sources, most notably the Neue Bach Ausgabe and the Peters Edition, edited by Lawrence Dreyfus. The double bass parts are at the original pitch rather than the usual one octave lower.

Brahms - Sonata in e-minor, Opus 38
For Double Bass and Piano
(originally for Violoncello)
A004

This edition, also at the original pitch, remains true to Brahms’ slurs, articulations and dynamic markings.

Rossini - Duetto
For Violoncello and Double Bass
A010

An arrangement of the Duo, with the double bass in solo tuning. Many of the composer’s simplifications of the double bass part have been eliminated.

Schubert - Sonata, D.821 “Arpeggione
For Double Bass and Piano
A01201

This edition is based on the composer’s autograph score. The double bass part is in orchestral tuning, taking advantage of the similarities in tuning between the Arpeggione and double bass. All of the original slurs, dynamics, and articulations are maintained.

Tchaikovsky - Canzonetta
from the Violin Concerto, Op. 35
For Double Bass and Piano
A008

Some violinist may laugh at this… One of my colleagues, now retired , once sheepishly admitted having played this as a student. Make for a nice little bon bon.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thar She Blows!

Sorry, but due to non bass blog activities, I’ve managed to fall way behind again…

Mahler 2 is one of those ‘special’ events on the season schedule although it comes up almost every other season, or seems like it anyway. I’m always happy to see Mahler 2 programmed though, mainly because it reminds me of one of my favorite pieces, the Berio Sinfonia, which doesn’t come up nearly often enough unfortunately.

Haitink’s laissez-faire approach certainly has its merits, especially when applied to the large forms. When signing on for a long sea voyage you want a captain whose feet are firmly planted on deck, eyes forward, piercing the fog, steering a steady course towards the distant shore, not a man who frets and throws tantrums over every last rivet, or wastes time reshuffling the deck chairs while the ship drifts idly with the current. Then again, Mahler 2 has a lot of rivets holding it together. During the performances I found myself a little nervous about how many could pop before we all ended up in Davy Jones’ Locker. Fortunately, it seemed like we got home safe and dry every night.

There were a couple of complementary factors at play necessitating I sit behind the low brass for this concert. In the final analysis, it turned out to be an enjoyable, enlightening vantage point looking over their shoulders, although, to be fair, you could say the same thing about a firing squad. Nevertheless, I was able to observe firsthand some of the delicate valve-work involved and precision playing on display. As a bass player, I can certainly appreciate how moving something a matter of inches might still qualify as a minor adjustment. As always, the results were impressive.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Not so fast!

Ok, so the fellow who tried to sell me a stereo must be working for Gramophone Magazine…

***

Glinka - Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila
Rachmaninov - Symphony No. 3
Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto No. 1
Ludovic Morlot, conductor
Simon Trpceski, piano

Ludovic Morlot kind of sounds like the name for a Harry Potter-esque villain. In truth he’s a capable stick man and couldn’t be a nicer fellow, maybe too nice. Sadly, there’s a certain nastiness quotient necessary for a conductor to achieve real greatness. But the entire program had a kind of lightweight summer season feel to it anyway.

We used to have a guy here (music director, I think – name escapes me) who frequently programmed the Glinka Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila as an encore and took it really, really, really fast – maybe even too fast, but who am I to say. He also had the habit of hiding the baton when taking the final curtain call so he could leap onto the podium and astonish the crowd by starting the encore unexpectedly. One day while on tour I had a concert off and decided to attend – well OK, I felt forced to attend, a story in itself having something to do with a purloined ticket, somebody’s ‘girlfriend’, our former manager, and me ending up in a position where I felt I had to attend the concert or risk reprobation. Nevertheless, during the applause I noticed a colleague on stage had closed the music folder, loosened his bow and stuck it under the strings (something we bass players do when it’s time to go) obviously thinking he was all done for the evening. “Uh oh!” I thought as I saw the music director fellow emerging from the wings, the baton cleverly concealed along his sleeve while my colleague had his head turned, putting the cover on his rosin or something. Leaping onto the podium the Maestro gave a quick fire downbeat that appeared to take about a third of the orchestra by surprise, especially my colleague who spent almost the entire first page (of a thee page piece) scrambling to get the music out of the folder and the bow out from under the strings. Obsessed as I am with rapid egress, I definitely felt there but by the grace of (whoever) go I.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

High Fidelity



High Fidelity audio is another thing to get nostalgic about, what with the now ubiquitous I pods and compressed audio winning the day.

When I first joined the orchestra the thing to do (or so I became convinced) was to shop for an expensive audio system. Reasonably, it seemed an essential accessory for the serious professional musician, not to mention a sizeable tax-deduction. I consented to accompanying a colleague to one of those stuffy audio places – where they take you into a soundproofed room, offer something to drink, sit you down in a comfy leather chair and proceed to push thousands of dollars worth of audio equipment.

I confess to being something of a skeptic when it comes to high-end audio gear – maybe you could call me decidedly lo-fi – probably how I’ve managed to tolerate playing the double bass all these years. Anyway, the preoccupation with minute details of the performance of various audio components always struck me as somehow antithetical to the spirit of music making, a worship of the simulacrum in place of the original. Not that I celebrate the Ipod-ization of the world either. The audiophile sitting alone in his soundproofed room, curtains drawn against the day, glass of scotch in hand, listening to a long dead conductor’s account of an even longer dead composer is as alarming as the urban hipsters on the subway who stumble over one another, each wrapped in a private world of sound, oblivious to the life passing before their glazed eyes. Each signals the act of listening to music in a group as a shared cultural experience might be in some trouble. But whatever, that merely goes to show I approached the process of buying a stereo with a bit of cynicism.

The salesman had an agenda. I don’t remember the models, but he was pushing a certain brand of amplifier, mostly by denigrating the less costly ones. During his presentation I continued protesting I couldn’t really hear the difference so I might as well go with the less expensive item.

After going back and forth a few times he invited me to make a choice. In part to rankle him, I pointed to one of the cheaper models.

“That is actually very well selling,” he said with calculated derision. “It suits the popular taste.” And then to the barely contained mirth of my colleague and me, he began digging his own grave, so to speak. “It’s like the XSO.” (Using the name of the orchestra I play for) “Oh, they may have a lot of Grammys,” he dismissively waved a hand, “but their sound is crass, unsophisticated, like this.” He pointed to the amplifier I had chosen while my colleague and I bit our tongues. “This is something a man off the street might mistake for quality, just like the XSO. But this,” indicating the more expensive model “is like the Concertgebouw, much more sophisticated. People who don’t know anything might not be able appreciate the polish, the tradition…”

I’m not sure of everything he said, but the salesman proceeded to lay it on thick, bashing the XSO, uplifting the Concertgebouw in comparing the two the amplifiers while we remained silent. My colleague later confessed to growing angry somewhere along the way, but I wanted to see how deep a hole the guy would dig, and also because I wasn’t sure I could have opened my mouth without laughing.

Perhaps mistaking our silence for tacit approval, he moved in for the kill, asking me if, knowing all that, I sill wished to throw my lot in with the crass, the unsophisticated, the man-on-the-street, with the XSO!

I think I blurted out something along the lines that none of the items on offer recreated the sound of the concert hall anyway, which only brought on a tirade. Eventually, he ended up with a finger in my face. “You,” he said “you don’t sit and listen to a live orchestra every day of your life, do you!”

I’m not even sure how we broke the news we both played for the XSO. By then I felt a little guilty having let the charade drag on so long. But my guilt proved entirely misplaced as a really astonishing thing happened. Only a brief shadow crossed his face, a wisp of cloud passed before the sun. Like the inner party member in Orwell’s 1984 handed a slip of paper in mid speech informing him we are now at war with East Asia, not Eurasia (I may have that reversed), the salesman turned on dime.

“Well,” he said, “the XSO is a wonderful ensemble, I’m sure you have many fine players there, it’s just so horribly mismanaged!”

Friday, October 31, 2008

The concert I tried to hate…but couldn’t

The Inca Trail

(Name Redacted) Symphony Orchestra
Jessica Warren-Acosta, Andean flutes
Kenneth Olsen, cello
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

It may come as a surprise to discover a number of orchestra musicians less than perfectly satisfied all of the time. For some, displeasure with the goings on at hand is an essential piece of equipment, akin to the gunslinger’s six-shooter. For them, it is best not take to the open range (or the stage, as we call it) without an ammo belt fully loaded with invective, holster flap unbuttoned, ready to fire from the hip an ill-considered complaint, a fusillade of perfunctory condemnation at the first sign of trouble.

Right off the bat, I confess to joining up with many a hastily assembled angry posse, riding down an innocent composer, conductor, program, concert venue, or what-have-you, and stringing them up from the nearest tree without a second thought.

In that spirit, I took notice of the Inca Trail program – a collection of South American music performed with a video projection – and immediately took a disliking to it. My knee-jerk objections were not to the continent of South America or its music, but more to my own dislike of playing another ‘concert’ in the dark, background music to a slideshow. My reaction to seeing one of those on the schedule is usually to tear my hair out. Unfortunately, the increasing frequency of these multimedia type shows has forced me to sport a crew cut year-round, literally to save my scalp from repeated, ravaging manual depilation.

As it turned out, the concert proved an entertaining evening, at least from my seat. Harth-Bedoya’s arrangements were mostly well done and a couple of the original modern works were captivating. Both soloists acquitted themselves admirably. Visual content in this type of programming can easily overwhelm and distract from the music. In this case, I thought the visuals were tastefully understated, as were Harth Bedoya’s (mercifully) brief comments between pieces.

The Ars Viva Mozart program proved a collection of pure gems. David Schrader is something of a local treasure, if I may say so. The delicate sound of his fortepiano made the audience (and even certain members of the orchestra) prick up their ears to listen, and it stood as a reminder of how much louder music has gotten in the last couple centuries. The concert, a strenuous affair to begin with, dragged on a bit for my taste – more than 2 ½ hours, including fully thirty minutes of speaking.

Ars Viva symphony Orchestra

Mozart Symphony No. 1 in E-flat, K. 16
Mozart Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, K. 456 (“Paradis”)
David Schrader, fortepiano
Mozart Ch’io mi scordi di te – Non temer, K. 505
Michelle Areyzaga, soprano
David Schrader, fortepiano
Mozart Symphony No. 36 in C, K. 425 (“Linz”)
Alan Heatherington, conductor

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nostalgia



It was certainly nice to see Neeme Järvi back on the podium after many years away. True to form, he brought some interesting music to town – Taneyev, Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, not a bad piece really, and much more enjoyable than playing the same three Tchaikovsky symphonies over and over again. The first rehearsals began in somewhat muddled fashion and I wondered if my fond memories of Järvi were all wrong. But at the Saturday evening concert he seemed to be having a good time, doing one of his trademark overlong grand pauses while giving a little smile to the orchestra, bowing to the audience member who clapped enthusiastically between movements. A little wavelet of nostalgia overtook me – something I felt horribly self-conscious about until it struck me that my chosen profession is based almost entirely on obsessive infatuation with an idealized, unrecoverable past.

Anyhow, Järvi was a frequent guest here when I joined the orchestra and I always looked forward to the weeks he conducted, which more often than not included something new or unfamiliar. Large of frame and somewhat stiff in his mannerisms, a sly sort of playfulness always seemed to be bubbling away just below the surface of his stolid countenance, which made his playful antics all the more enjoyable. Unafraid of trying different things in performance, he could often get the orchestra to do more with a wink or a shrug than a lot of other conductors could achieve after hours of lecturing from the podium. Rumor has it (and I’m only too happy to spread it) he became unwelcome here after siding with musicians in a labor dispute somewhere (Philadelphia?). Our loss, really.

Järvi made recordings with us for (I think) Chandos. London Decca and the mighty Deutsche Grammophone always brought in loads of equipment, but Chandos seemed to be a smaller operation. Most notable to me as a newcomer were the red lights and telephones set before the podium during recording sessions – the phone for the maestro to confer with the recording engineers offstage and the red light to indicate when the tapes(!) were rolling. DG in particular had an expensive looking phone and mounted their red light on a burnished wooden box – stuff you might expect to see in commissioner Gordon’s office as he lunged for the Bat Phone. On the other hand, Chandos used what appeared to be an ordinary 100-watt light bulb with red cellophane taped around it. In the old green room, a lone engineer huddled over a DAT recorder about the size of a toaster.

I wonder if any of those outfits are still in business? Now, there are a few things to really get nostalgic about: recording sessions, records, CDs.

The orchestra used to assemble during the daytime and perform for the microphones, often repeating passages until things were just so. The recordings were imprinted on discs, things you could actually hold in your hand, which were sold in bright, cheery shops dedicated to the sale of music.

Well, the shops were mostly bright and cheery, that is until one ventured back to the classical section.

You could almost hear the vacuum seal of the airlock, the giant sucking sound as the glass door swung closed behind you. Here in the funeral parlor, music no more than a whisper. Mahler, Montiverdi, neither louder than acolytes, distant in their underground catacombs, chanting some grievous loss. A cymbal crash, barely audible – Wagner is dead. The lonely clerk looks over the top of half-rimmed glasses, eyes following you warily from behind a back issue of Audiophile Magazine. The CD cases rattle like bones as you flip them one by one – the moribund, the dead, the forgotten dead.

Thursday, October 16, 2008



Bass Blog Back!

Well, I finally heard from all five of my readers. There may be 68,000 odd hits on this page, but to be honest, about 57,995 of those were me obsessively checking to see if the page still existed and if anyone else had viewed it. Thanks to those who inquired about my health, which is no better, but certainly no worse than usual – I simply needed a break.

The performances last week of the Bruckner 5th Symphony have a great deal to do with my decision t start blogging again at this time. Letting a Bruckner 5 pass without comment would be like sitting at the breakfast table one sunny morning and watching the Hindenburg silently drift by without at least nudging one’s companion to look up from the newspaper. Fortunately, under the baton of replacement conductor Jaap van Zweden (filling in for the permanently absent Riccardo Chailly) Bruckner’s bloated masterpiece fared better than the similarly tumid German airship.

The Dutch violinist turned conductor spent more rehearsal time than normal dealing with the strings; in a work such as the Bruckner an endeavor akin to lifting up a stone at the beach, watching the various small crabs and other multi-legged creatures scuttle off in all directions, and then trying to coax them into marching single file across the sand. In spite of the ultimate futility of the effort, it was entertaining to watch. Needless to say, the stone was replaced at the performances with increasing force each night. Still, these were some of the better accounts of the piece I can recall. Too bad the audiences were consistently and depressingly small.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Week 48 Ravinia 06

the end…of Ravinia 2008

Program A
MOZART The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384
Hanan Alattar, Constanze
Anna Christy, Blonchen
Topi Lehtipuu, Belmonte
Nicholas Phan, Pedrillo
Morris Robinson, Osmin
Michael York, Pasha
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
James Conlon, Conductor
Kevin Murphy, Continuo/Coach

Program B
MOZART Don Giovanni, K. 527
Ellie Dehn, Donna Anna
Soile Isokoski, Donna Elvira
Heidi Grant Murphy, Zerlina
Toby Spence, Don Ottavio
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Don Giovanni
Samuel Ramey, Leporello
James Creswell, Masetto
Morris Robinson, Commendatore
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
James Conlon, conductor
Kevin Murphy, Continuo/Coach

Monday
11-1:30 rehearsal (orchestra A)
2:30-5 rehearsal (orchestra B)

Tuesday
11-1:30 rehearsal (orchestra A)
2:30-5 rehearsal (orchestra B)

Wednesday
11-2:30 (orchestra A)
3:30-7 (orchestra B)

Thursday
7 program A

Friday
7 program B

Saturday
2 program A

Sunday
2 program B

This week the orchestra is split in two. Needless to say with my luck I ended relegated to orchestra B. Conlon, undertaking a quasi Barenboimian task, conducts both operas, showing up the instrumentalists who seem to require a day off now and then. Performances take place indoors in the small Martin Theater rather than whatever the place we normally play (outdoors) at Ravinia is called.

Usually with Mozart on the program I feel a mixture of anticipation and dread. I love classical (as opposed to romantic) music – but getting our orchestra to play it, bulked up as we are on a steady diet of Bruckner and Mahler, sometimes resembles coaxing a rhinoceros to play hopscotch. As expected, Conlon continued repeating requests for the orchestra to play more softly, to the point of instigating a minor mutiny. However, the singers seem to be singing quite loudly even in the confined space of the small indoor theater. The Commendatore actually obliterated the trombone section…not by dragging them down to the underworld as some of us had hoped but, improbably, by singing more loudly than they were playing. In the face of all that it became difficult to hear requests to play softly over and over again without getting a little miffed considering what the singers were doing at the edge of the stage.

Rehearsal time was at a premium, particularly for orchestra B, tasked with the longer of the two Operas. There wash barely enough time to play through all of the music in two rehearsals before the run-through, let alone time to make any corrections or discuss esoterica like phrasing, balance, or anything beyond the most basic strategies to keep all of the musicians in the same measure at the same time. In such an atmosphere it is generally agreed that paying attention, avoiding frivolous, non-essential questions and focusing on the most pressing issues at hand is of paramount importance. I can only guess what orchestra A was up to, but here is a little example of our rehearsal technique in orchestra B.

Conlon: I would like the downbeat of measure 102 to be short – for everyone. The entire orchestra, make the downbeat of measure 102 an eighth note. If you have a quarter note, please change it to an eighth. The downbeat of measure 102? Short please – an eighth rather than a quarter – for all instruments.

(less than a minute later, a question barked from the back of the orchestra – no raising hands or ‘excuse me Maestro’ in orchestra B!)

Musician X: Question! That note there, let’s see…. measure one-oh-two, that’s measure…one!…zero!…two! The downbeat – that’s the very first note in the measure – what do you want there? Do you want me to play a short note? I have a quarter note in my part – written in the part! – but I’m hearing eighth notes…

(and so on…)

All in all playing a Mozart Opera has been an interesting and enjoyable experience – something different at very least. Unquestionably it is glorious music and the cast is (in short) entertaining. In spite of some less than optimal conditions in the orchestra (the usual ones) I’m drawing a great deal of solace contemplating the plot of Don Giovanni, specifically the notion that excess, lurid flamboyance, insensitivity and the like, will eventually meet its day of reckoning.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Week 47 Ravinia 05

Program A
WAGNER Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
SCHREKER Prelude to a drama, Die Gezeichneten
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
James Conlon, conductor
Miriam Fried, violin

Program B
DVORÁK Carnival Overture, Op. 92
GRIEG Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
James Conlon, conductor
Orion Weiss piano

Program C
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
INTERMISSION
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
James Conlon, conductor
Gil Shaham, violin

Monday
11-1:30 2:30-5 rehearsals

Tuesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (A)

Wednesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (B)

Thursday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (C)

Friday
off

Saturday
off

Sunday
off

OK, I’m way behind again…

This week ended up a bit differently than originally planned. Itzhak Perlman was supposed to play the Beethoven concerto and then conduct the next night. I’m not sure what happened to him, but I hope it’s nothing serious. One of the good results of all that was the replacement of the overplayed Beethoven 5th by the underplayed 1st.

Program A was played in reverse order, I believe at the request of Miriam Fried. I’m not sure if she wanted to hide behind the very loud cicadas (which tend to quiet down later in the evening), had somewhere else to be at 9 o’clock, or what. The resulting backwards program seemed a little strange. Whatever I think of the Breaking the Silence pieces, once I hear the composer’s life story, I’m always rooting for them. Having the Schreker Prelude followed by (of all things) Meistersinger was a bit of a Bambi Meets Godzilla mismatch that left me feeling a bit creepy afterwards.

The Thursday program was more light, breezy fare, suitable for a warm summer evening.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Week 46 Ravinia 04

A
BEETHOVEN Overture to Fidelio, Op. 72c
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
Sir Andrew Davis conductor Leon Fleischer piano

B
WILLIAMS The Olympic Spirit
WILLIAMS Theme from Jaws
WILLIAMS Bicycle Chase from E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial
WILLIAMS Main Theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
WILLIAMS Theme from Jurassic Park
WILLIAMS Harry's Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
WILLIAMS March from Superman
WILLIAMS Theme from Schindler's List
WILLIAMS March from Raiders of the Lost Ark
INTERMISSION
WILLIAMS Flag Parade from The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Episode I)
WILLIAMS Anakin's Theme from The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Episode I)
WILLIAMS Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Episode I)
WILLIAMS Across the Stars from Attack of the Clones (Star Wars Episode II)
WILLIAMS Battle of the Heroes from The Revenge of the Sith (Star Wars Episoe III)
WILLIAMS Princess Leia's Theme from A New Hope (Star Wars Episode IV)
WILLIAMS Imperial March (Darth Vader'sTheme) from The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars Episode V)
WILLIAMS Yoda's Theme from The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars Episode V)
WILLIAMS Parade of the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi (Star Wars Episode VI)
WILLIAMS Main Title from Star Wars
WILLIAMS Cantina Band from A New Hope (Star Wars Episode IV)
Erich Kunzel conductor The Chicago Chorale


C
HAYMAN Broadway Pops Opener
COHAN Medley
GERSHWIN 'Swonderful from Funny Face
GERSHWIN Mine from Let 'Em Eat Cake and Swanee from The Jazz Singer
WEILL Mack the Knife from The Threepenny Opera
PORTER Let's Do It from Paris
PORTER Night and Day from The Gay Divorcee
RODGERS Oh, What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma
RODGERS Honey Bun from South Pacific
RODGERS Climb Ev'ry Mountain from The Sound of Music
INTERMISSION
BERNSTEIN Selections from West Side Story
LOEWE I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean from Brigadoon
LOEWE I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady
LEIGH The Impossible Dream from Man Of La Mancha
SHERMAN Medley from Mary Poppins
HAMLISCH One from A Chorus Line
KANDER Selections from Chicago
BERLIN God Bless America from Yip, Yip, Yaphank
Erich Kunzel conductor Aaron Lazar tenor Kathleen Brett soprano Michael Lowe baritone The Lakeside Singers

Monday
off

Tuesday
2:30-5 rehearsal

Wednesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (A)

Thursday
off

Friday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (B)

Saturday
off

Sunday
12:30-3 rehearsal
5 concert (C)

This is all one week out of date. Sorry.

Sometime the rotation gods smile, other times they are cruel, and then there are those times when they smile cruelly. Due to some reshuffling of personnel, I end up off both Pops programs listed above. However, in trade I end up with the uncomfortable chore of playing one of the Mozart Operas in two weeks (can you guess which one?). Unfortunately, that’s all I can say about that.

Last week (45) ended with a great deal of excitement. As often as possible, I ride my bicycle to Ravinia. The only problem with that, beside the odd thunderstorm, is dealing with the parking lot personnel, who I believe are instructed to behave cruelly towards the orchestra. Musicians are given a parking pass for their car but nothing to identify a bike. This summer I’ve experienced a rising level of harassment as I arrive at rehearsals, everything from the unfriendly ‘Can I help you?’ (No) to the yelled ‘No Bikes in the Park!’ This time I made the mistake of answering ‘May I help you?’ with ‘No, I’m here for the rehearsal,’which I though might prove adequate to placate the guy bearing down on me in his little golf cart as I whizzed past. (No true cyclist wants to slow down for anything, let alone a rude question.) Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him pull a quick U-turn (for a golf cart) and actually come chasing after me. He attempted a maneuver probably learned from watching one too many cop shows – pulling alongside and then trying to swerve directly in front of me. At that point I gave in and stopped, figuring two wheeled contraptions usually come out the worse after a run-in with four wheelers. The guy actually seemed disappointed when I convinced him I played in the orchestra, meaning I had to be there.

I wonder if he is the same guy who put a dent in my car. Here is a link to that post.

In an appeal to the prurient interest, I have left the orchestra initials unexpurgated! Those were the days…

Week 46, concert A (all I played that week) had the odd, jarring overture in E major fronting the rest of the concert which was in E flat. The program went on until 10:15, so there was another reason to scrap Fidelio. One of the two rehearsals for that program was entirely superfluous. Davis had us show up on Wednesday and rehearse for 45 minutes before realizing he had nothing else to say. Spending almost five hours waiting for a concert to begin is not my idea of a productive use of anybody’s time. I’m not sure if my nap on the cement floor under the stage was worse for my back or my disposition. I think the concert was OK, but I’ve already forgotten.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Week 45 Ravinia 03

A
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64
INTERMISSION
MAHLER Symphony No. 7
James Conlon conductor
Sarah Chang violin

B
MAHLER Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major, (Symphony of a Thousand)
James Conlon conductor
[Redacted] Symphony Chorus
Chicago Children’s Choir
Milwaukee Symphony Chorus

C
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15
INTERMISSION
DVORÁK Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70
James Conlon conductor
Jorge Federico Osorio piano

Monday
off

Tuesday
11-1:30 rehearsal

Wednesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (A)

Thursday
11-1:30 2:30-5 rehearsals

Friday
off

Saturday
2-4:30 rehearsal
7:30 concert (B)

Sunday
12-3 rehearsal
5 concert (C)

Last week ran the gamut. Haitink and Lang Lang – it’s hard to think of them as part of the same profession.

Haitink’s Mahler 6, excellent as it was, served more to bring to mind the sort of performances we used to give here regularly. Kudos to Andrew Patner for making the same point with more eloquence.

Apparently the Gala concert went beautifully, not to mention on time and on budget, a healthy change from the not so distant past.

The Sunday concert was a weird amalgamation of the Schreker Chamber Symphony, part of Conlon’s earnest Breaking the Silence series, and Lang Lang playing a couple of warhorses, the entire lurid spectacle projected onto huge screens. As my attention inevitably wandered, I caught sight of audience members in the center section craning their necks to look at the screens rather than focusing on the stage straight ahead.

The high point of the week had to come during rehearsals for the Schrecker, when a colleague, asking for an emphatic cutoff from Conlon, made an unfortunate word choice and instead asked the Maestro if he could ‘whack us off’. Fortunately that sort of thing doesn’t happen too often.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's in a name?

I have a much uglier word for it, Sir: Misappropriation.
-Waylon Smithers

Here’s an interesting excerpt from our contract.

Section 25.18 CSO Name.

(a)

The designation “Chicago Symphony”, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra”, “Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra”, “CSO”, or any similar designation may not be used by any Member or Members unless in connection with an event under the auspices of the Association or any subcontractor of the Association or unless to identify a recognized ensemble existing as of September 17, 1979, which has been using such designation. Any unauthorized use will be resisted by the Association.

I wonder if anyone on our players’ committee has seen this:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Week 44 Ravinia 02

A
Mahler Symphony No. 6 in A Minor
Bernard Haitink conductor

B
Gala Benefit Evening
Schreker Intermezzo
R. Strauss Morgen, Op. 27, No. 4
R. Strauss Ständchen from Sechs Lieder Op. 17
R. Strauss Zueignung, Op. 10, No. 1 Canteloube
Three selections from Chants d’Auvergne
Canteloube Bailero
Canteloube La Delaissado
Canteloube Lo Fiolaire
Puccini Two selections from La bohème
Puccini Si, mi chiamano Mimì
Puccini Donde lieta usci
Cilea “Io son l’umile ancella” from Adriana Lecouvreur
Kiri Te Kanawa soprano
James Conlon conductor

C
Schreker Chamber Symphony
Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue
Chopin Andante Spianato in G Major, Op. 22
Chopin Grand Polonaise in E-flat Major, Op. 22
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18
Lang Lang piano
James Conlon conductor

Monday
off

Tuesday
11-1:30 rehearsal

Wednesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (A)

Thursday
11-1:30 rehearsal

Friday
off

Saturday
1:30-4 rehearsal
7 concert (B)

Sunday
12:30-3
5 concert (C)

Beethoven 7 (last week) and Mahler 6 (this week) were both performed at Orchestra Hall during the 2007-2008 season - the Haitink/Mahler 6 is an exact repeat (same piece/same conductor). Come to think of it, we played Mahler 6 with Conlon at Ravinia last summer as well, so it is hard to say who is copying whom. Sometimes I wish the two organizations were a little (more) cooperative.

I do feel sorry for Haitink though. The forecast calls for 93 degrees on Wednesday. Amsterdam is expecting a high of 65.

Last year the Ravinia management exhibited a great deal of paranoid preoccupation with the 17-year cicadas. But if you take a look at their website, the background image looks suspiciously like a blue swarm of winged insects. Every time you navigate from one page to another, the swarm takes over for an instant, only to be overwritten by Ravinia content – but the bugs are still there underneath, silently waiting for another 16 years.

Fortunately, I have the Gala (Saturday) off this year. Although the program doesn’t look all that bad, galas still drive me nuts with all the speeches, curtain calls, flowers, encores and whatnot. The only thing I’ll miss will be the annual overtime bonanza.

The two hour interval between rehearsal and concert (rather than the usual three) on Sunday is certainly a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Week 43 – Ravinia 01

program A
SMITH The Star-Spangled Banner
ENESCU Romanian Rhapsody in A Major, Op. 11, No. 1
SIBELIUS Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Leonard Slatkin conductor
Joshua Bell violin

program B
RACHMANINOV Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14
RACHMANINOV Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
INTERMISSION
RACHMANINOV Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
Leonard Slatkin conductor
Denis Matsuev piano

Monday
off

Tuesday
11-1:30 2:30-5 rehearsals

Wednesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (A)

Thursday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (B)

Friday
off

Saturday
off

Sunday
off

This is where the pro forma statement about how nice it is to be back belongs.

Welz Kaufman’s welcoming remarks to the orchestra were brief enough that anyone blinking (or stifling a yawn) surely missed them. He left the official pleasantries to the chairperson of the Ravinia board who greeted us graciously. The usual offering of cake prompted the usual grumbling about the quality of the cake. Apparently in the ‘old days’ even free cake tasted better than it does today.

Once again, the white jacket failed to make it to the cleaners before the start of Ravinia. Its predecessor was discarded after two decades of similar shameful neglect. In fact, ‘white’ doesn’t really do justice to the color of that garment, which by the end of its useful life took on the color (and more alarmingly, the texture) of a slice of Wonder Bread snatched from the toaster after about 30 seconds. As always, the plan to play the entire summer in the same (allegedly) white shirt is in effect, but the ever-shrinking Ravinia season makes this hardly an accomplishment worth boasting about any more.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Week 38 (The End...of the downtown season)

as ye sow…

HINDEMITH Overture to Neues vom Tage
HINDEMITH Trauermusik
FRIEDMAN Sacred Heart: Explosion
INTERMISSION
BERLIOZ Harold in Italy
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Pinchas Zukerman, viola

All-Access Chamber Series
Eugene Izotov, oboe
John Bruce Yeh, clarinet
Albert Igolnikov, violin
Paul Phillips Jr., violin
Robert Swan, viola
John Sharp, cello
Michael Hovnanian, bass
Mozart Oboe Quartet
Prokofiev Quintet, Op. 39
Brahms Clarinet Quintet
Dvorak Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 2

Monday
off

Tuesday
10-12:30 rehearsal
1:30-3:30 Prokofiev quintet rehearsal

Wednesday
10-12:30 1:30-3:30 rehearsals

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
1:30 concert
3:30-6 Prokofiev quintet rehearsal

Saturday
2 All-Access Chamber Series concert
8 concert

Sunday
3 concert
7:30 Ars Viva Benefit

(Week 38 was last week. I’m now on vacation.)

After Sunday the orchestra is on vacation until the Ravinia summer season begins in July. Usually we have our main vacation after Ravinia, in August and September, but this year we leave for a European tour on September 1st. Also, Ravinia doesn’t seem to want our orchestra on their property before the 4th of July, even with the dreaded cicadas back in the earth for another seventeen years.

Zuckerman takes nonchalant stage presence and casual concert dress to new levels – whether those are highs or lows is a matter of taste. His performance probably suffered as much as it benefited from its flawlessness. The fact he is able to play with such power lets the orchestra get a bit lazy with our soft dynamics, but that is nothing new. Slatkin safely lead us from the first to last measure of each piece on the program without incident, or much excitement for that matter.

A spirited group performed the Prokofiev Quintet on Saturday. Last week I played the Trout Quintet, so for a few days I maintained the fantasy of playing a real musical instrument with an actual repertoire, but all of that can go back on the shelf again now for another year or so.

Along with our impending vacation, Jefferson Friedman’s Sacred Heart: Explosion generated a fair amount interest among musicians this week. Enthusiastic audience reaction to the piece confounded much of the usual grumbling about new music. Once again, the audience seemed more open minded than the musicians.

Sacred Heart: Explosion, the piece, is based on a painting of the same name by ‘outsider’ artist Henry Darger. Quite coincidentally, Darger lived a couple of miles away from where I’m sitting right now. Darger’s life and work got me thinking of the fragile, sometimes deeply personal nature of the creative process. From time to time I wonder if the atmosphere where new or merely unfamiliar works are subjected to immediate (and more than occasionally mean-spirited) condemnation is really in the best interest of our art form. Certainly, there are those who really do wish to stamp out anything not yet completely fossilized. Others often complain, “How come nobody writes anything good for us to play?” Those remind me of the anal-retentive type gardener, the fellow who meticulously clears the ground, spreads his pesticides, plucks every sprig that pokes its head above ground, saying “Aha! Weed!” and then, one day, looks around and laments “How come there’s nothing growing here?”

Monday, June 02, 2008

Week 37

Oy Vey!

DVORÁK Symphony No. 8
INTERMISSION
OLIVER Federal Street (Great God, we sing that mighty hand)
HATTON Duke Street (O God, beneath thy guiding hand)
ROOT Shining Shore
TRADITIONAL Good Night, Ladies
BISHOP Home, Sweet Home
IVES New England Holidays
[redacted] Symphony Chorus
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

Monday
2-4:30 Trout Quintet rehearsal

Tuesday
10-12:30 rehearsal
12:30-2:30 Prokofiev Quintet rehearsal
7:30 concert (Rameau/Vivaldi)

Wednesday
12-2:30 3:30-5:30 rehearsals

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
9:30-11:30 In-school concerts
1:30 concert
7:30 Trout Quintet concert

Saturday
8 concert

Sunday
7:30 Ars Viva Benefit rehearsal

This week = last week. I’m behind again.

We had one of the quirkier podium performances this week. In rehearsals the ratio of talk to useful information conveyed threatened to fall into the red zone. To make matters worse, although more entertaining, the Maestro’s score for the Ives didn’t seem to match the set of parts the players were using. Questions fired from all corners of the orchestra began to resemble a Bush administration press conference with dissembling, non-responsive, or off-putting replies. At one point a seemingly simple question about whether a certain measure would be conducted in two or in four prompted a lengthy non sequitur; when pressed on the subject, the maestro admitted he would have to get back to the questioner on that (I can’t recall if he ever did).

Rumor has it somewhere in the chain of command the fact that a chorus would be needed for these concerts was overlooked. A small brave group hastily assembled at the rear of the stage (the normal chorus seats had been sold) needed amplification to be heard over the orchestra. A sad but humorous incident occurred when, after starting and stopping several times to have the chorus microphones turned up again, one of my colleagues muttered to no one in particular “Why doesn’t he ask he orchestra to play more softly?” We can all breathe a sigh of relief such desperate, scorched earth tactics were not needed.

The Dvorak was conducted (mostly) from memory – the score lay pointedly closed on the conductor’s stand throughout in what seemed to be a sort of ‘look mommy, no hands!’ type gesture. Of course we know the all too predictable results of such ill-advised showmanship; the inevitable crash, the tears, the band-aids…

Monday, May 26, 2008

Week 36

Bicket’s charge

VIVALDI Piccolo Concerto in C Major
RAMEAU Suite from Les Boréades
INTERMISSION
VIVALDI The Four Seasons
Harry Bicket, conductor
Jennifer Gunn, piccolo
Yuan-Qing Yu, violin

Monday
off

Tuesday
10-12:30 rehearsal

Wednesday

10-12 1-3:30 rehearsal

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
8 concert

Saturday
8 concert

Sunday
3 concert (Beyond the Score)

The Vivaldi/Rameau program is repeated on Tuesday the 27th so, yes, we play the Four Seasons five times in a one-week span. It really feels more like seven since by the end of a Beyond the Score concert I feel as if I’ve run through the piece three times in a row.

Any so-called baroque music specialist taking the podium at our concert hall is working behind enemy lines. The best ones drop in, stir up as little hostility as possible while accomplishing a limited mission and try to get the heck out unscathed. To that end, Bicket did an admirable job of coaxing an old dog to do a few new tricks. He came across as a fine musician with a lot of interesting ideas about the music, particularly something prone to war-horse-ishness as the Vivaldi. It was nice to see a conductor able to communicate his thoughts in a pleasant manner, non-dogmatic manner. He even got us to go along with a few of them.

The last BTS concert featured The Planets, this time The Four Seasons. There seems to be predilection for popular pieces that already have some sort of program – I wonder if we are going to end up with Carnival of the Animals and the Grand Canyon Suite someday. I’m working on L’Éléphant just in case…

This time around there were fewer examples (78, down from 90 for The Planets) but the first half of the concert still clocked in at about 70 minutes. I find these BTS shows exhausting, playing all of those tiny, out of context snippets, waiting for cues, starting and stopping add odd places in the music. A few of the examples cut off very awkwardly right before a cadence and it is very tempting to resolve a hanging dominant chord in embarrassing fashion. This performance was notable for an odd bit of stagecraft when one of the cameramen was given a curtain call along with the actors, conductor and soloist; the first time I’ve ever seen that happen.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Week 35

Here we go again…

HAYDN Symphony No. 101 (The Clock)
INTERMISSION
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 4
Bernard Haitink, conductor

RAVEL Menuet antique
LIEBERSON Neruda Songs
INTERMISSION
MAHLER Symphony No. 1
Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano
Bernard Haitink, conductor

Monday
off

Tuesday
7:30 concert (Haydn/Shostakovich)

Wednesday
travel to New York

Thursday
12-2:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
11-1:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Saturday
travel to [the city where we live]

Sunday
off

Yes, we are in New York again, I guess because each of our conductors gets a separate tour.

With two music director surrogates, the orchestra is comparable to the child with a pair of elderly doting uncles, each offering a clandestine trip to the corner ice-cream parlor. The child of course would say nothing, aiming a conspiratorial wink at the counter-man, surprised to see him back so soon. So the following will I am sure generate some displeasure, along the lines of the child getting a kick in the shins from a little nephew when, grabbing uncle Bernie’s sleeve, he tries to explain that uncle Pierre just treated them to ice-cream cones an hour ago.

As much as I like free trips here and there, sometimes I wonder why we do it. I’m also worrying more and more about carbon footprints lately. Even with the lavish expense accounts they surely demand, it might prove cheaper and more environmentally friendly to fly a handful of New York critics to come hear us at home. The notion Carnegie Hall ticket buyers are somehow more important to impress than our local audience may or may not be true, but it’s a little condescending. Instead of taking the dog and pony show on the road, maybe we could have offered our subscribers a third week of Haitink concerts.

The New York concerts seemed to be well received, so maybe it was worthwhile after all. Carnegie’s live acoustic created a few scary ensemble moments. In spite of its stellar reputation I’ve often had trouble hearing myself onstage there. A colleague sitting directly beside our section pronounced the basses ‘inaudible’ which, perhaps out of paranoia, I couldn’t help but think was uttered with a sense of relief.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Week 34

man of steel

HAYDN Symphony No. 101 (The Clock)
INTERMISSION
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 4
Bernard Haitink, conductor

Monday
off

Tuesday
10-12:30 rehearsal

Wednesday
10-12:30 1:30-3:30 rehearsals

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
8 concert

Saturday
8 concert

Sunday
3 concert

At the Tuesday rehearsal Haitink made a few gracious remarks about the Muti appointment that were brief, understated and to the point – typical Haitink. Kudos to him as well for keeping the brain numbing aspects of the Shostakovich 4 as in check as can be hoped for. Nevertheless, we have to play the piece six times over the next two weeks, which is damaging enough.

Unlike the Mahler 1, which we played twice in less than a year, the Shostakovich 4 was last performed in January of ’06. I suppose that is long ago enough, but it still seems odd to repeat the same symphony so soon when there are more than a dozen others.

The run of concerts in ’06 included what has to be the most talked about Beyond the Score presentation to date. A pro Stalin (!) heckler who could not bear to hear the name of the “Great Architect of Communism” denigrated for another moment began shouting his objections to the proceedings before being escorted out by security. I keep wondering if that guy is going to be back this week.

Supposedly we played Haydn 101 in ’02 (with Slatkin). If so, he must have brought his own parts because ours still had marking from Solti in them. At any rate, I wish we would play Haydn symphonies more often whoever is conducting.


***

Intermission of the Friday performance included a diversion when police officers were spotted in the balcony clambering over seats, wreslting with and evertually handcuffing an unruly audience member before leading him away. For a moment I thought the Stalinist was back, but this was a different person with a different set of problems.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Unanswered Questions

The “I hate Mahler 1” post generated quite a few comments and questions.

The Neruda Songs were sung by Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano. Sorry, her name didn’t make it into the post.

Some hapless bassist probably concocted the description of the Mahler 1 solo as unplayable. Maybe the words ‘by me’ were dropped at some point. As his close relationship with Bottesini is well documented, Mahler obviously had an idea what the bass was capable of playing.

Even if Mahler 1 is a masterpiece, I can’t bring myself to enjoy it. It’s not Mahler (or Haitink’s) fault the piece is way over programmed. I’m a big fan of what Haitink does with Mahler, in particular the way he is able to keep vulgarity from creeping into passages where it has no business.

BTW, Haitink has always reminded me more of Nikita Khrushchev.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Muti, Man of the Moment

Yesterday’s news couldn’t have been better, as far as I’m concerned. But knowing how things go, the next milestone to look out for is the first time one of the detractors of our former music director refers to his tenure here as ‘the good old days’.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Week 33

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds
-the Bhagavad-Gita

RAVEL Menuet antique
LIEBERSON Neruda Songs
INTERMISSION
MAHLER Symphony No. 1

Bach Week Program

Concerto in D Minor for two violins, BWV 1043
Cantata: Non sa che sia dolore , BWV 209
Motet: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied , BWV 225
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, BWV 1048
Richard Webster, conductor

Monday
off

Tuesday
10-12:30 rehearsal
7:30 concert (Wagner, Chin, Berlioz)

Wednesday
12-2:30 3:30-6 rehearsals

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal

Friday
10-1 Bach Week rehearsal

Saturday
1-3 Bach Week rehearsal

Sunday
7:30 Bach Week concert

The lack of concerts in my schedule is no mistake. Even though it was not my turn, I volunteered to be on call this week to avoid the Mahler 1st Symphony. Over the years I’ve come to loathe the piece and so take advantage of every opportunity to get out of playing it. Unfortunately for me it is one of those things that comes up at least once a year. If I’m not mistaken, the orchestra played it at subscription concerts less than 12 months ago. What is the deal with that? I wonder if listeners get as tired of it as I do. Anyway, the frequency of programming makes for some tricky maneuvering in order to avoid it. Nevertheless, I think I’ve missed four out of the last five. This week came as something of a mixed blessing however. Since the Mahler will be played in New York in two weeks I had to attend ‘tour rehearsals’ so I am prepared step in should any colleague become unavailable. I’ve got to say, having to play four tour rehearsals for such a warhorse was ridiculous. So, in spite of my best efforts, I ended up playing through the piece three or four more times.

One interesting feature of this iteration of the Mahler is the conversion of the famous (or infamous) passage at the beginning of the third movement from one bass solo to all basses, tutti. According to Haitink, a bassist in the London Symphony (?) had some proof the passage was originally intended to be played by the group, but due to very poor results at the first performances Mahler cut his losses and figured he would be better off letting one guy go it alone. I’m curious to know if the bassist who brought this up to Haitink was a principal or section player.

The Mahler solo has always been something of an oddity in my mind anyway, a perfect time for the section player to clean off strings or apply an extra swipe of rosin. When played poorly, the solo is an obvious embarrassment. But even when played ‘well’ it often comes across as overly expressive, an odd little flourish by an attention starved prima ballerina, out of place at the outset of a solemn piece of music. It is a bit sad to think the standard of bass playing has taken more than a hundred years to match the composer’s original intention, but there it is.

Bach Week is always a pleasant gig, the perfect after dinner mint after a week of (at least rehearsing) Mahler 1.

In with the in crowd

There is an odd sort of game of tag going round. I had no idea I was ‘in’ with cutting edge types who play games on the internet, but I’ll play along.

Rules:


1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.


Rules 3 and 4 need work. I’m assuming the 5th sentence that begins on page 123, keeping that to myself and posting the next 3, like it says.

Originally, I thought I had to choose between a road atlas and a phone book until I discovered the closest book had been carelessly dropped beneath my chair.


Introduction to the Sociology of Music, by Theodor Adorno.

Such a presentation would require the only wealth denied by the plentiful activity: time to waste.

The current objections to musical life are evoked by many of its aspects. They refer to a commercialization which regards the cause it plugs with such high-pressure salesmanship as mere pretext for naked material interests and power needs of the music tycoons.


The Tonic Blogger tagged me. I tag Matt Heller, Jeff Brooks, Max Raimi, Doug Johnson, Bill Buchman.

Not all those people have blogs so I don’t know what they are supposed to do with this. I suppose they can stick a post-it note to a lamp post somewhere.

Good luck.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Week 32

Aversion to talk is something orchestra musicians have inherited from manual laborers.
-Theodor Adorno

WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
CHIN Rocaná
INTERMISSION
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique
Kent Nagano, conductor

Monday
off

Tuesday
10-12:30 rehearsal

Wednesday
10-12:30 1:30-3:30 rehearsals

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
8 concert

Saturday
8 concert

Sunday
1 Trout Quintet
7 CBE rehearsal

OK, I’m a week behind again. I think the quote from Adorno has something to do with anti intellectualism among musicians, which is apparent enough, but there is also another way to apply it.

Nothing wrings a groan from an orchestra with more predictability than when someone emerges from the wings holding a microphone. It makes little difference if it is a manager, trustee, politician, or representative of some women’s auxiliary; all microphone wielders seem to elicit a similar response. The reaction often has little to do with the quality of the remarks on offer as onstage talks fall into depressingly predictable categories depending on the speaker’s title or position. I think it has more to do with the nature of the concert experience. The lighting changes, orchestra and audience fall silent; the sense of hushed anticipation is palpable. Players still capable of excitement about or interest in what is about to happen might, along with members of the audience, feel an increase of adrenaline. And then, instead of music comes talk.

The talking conductor usually evokes the greatest dismay. Again, not necessarily because of the quality of the remarks – some conductors are engaging speakers – but because there is a feeling a sacred trust is being violated. Musicians who have listened to the maestro speak during rehearsals all week, sometimes at great length, nevertheless hold out hope for the concert, the time when talk must cease for once and for all and music-making at last win the day. It is understandable then that the appearance of the microphone is seen as a betrayal of that trust.

A study of conductor mannerisms (something orchestra musicians do more for sport than necessity) reveals many of them are aware of the transgression. Just observe where they hold the microphone when they take the stage. They hide it. Even the most mannered podium poseur, the Maestro who normally enters with baton held mincingly betwixt thumb and index finger, chest high, will hold a microphone like a shameful talisman, head down, concealed alongside a dark trouser leg, to be produced swiftly, like a magic wand with the power to deaden even the most charged concert hall atmosphere.

All this is merely to say Kent Nagano talked a lot – at rehearsals, and then, saggingly, at the concerts as well. I happen to like Nagano, I think more than many of my colleagues, so it was a bit sad to see his stock among musicians going even lower when he addressed the audience.

Nagano’s Symhonie Fantastique was highly stylized, and I can certainly see how it was not for all tastes. Nevertheless, I didn’t find anything he did outside the scope of the sort of excesses not so long ago passed off here as the product of ‘genius’.

The Unsuk Chin composition, Rocaná I found inscrutable mainly due to poorly notated parts. It didn’t seem to be such a bad piece but suffered doubly from a lack of craft as well as being the subject of Nagano’s onstage remarks.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The shortest post ever?



A while ago, in the middle of the night, I woke in a cold sweat to the realization that in more than twenty years as a professional musician I have yet to play a single work by my favorite composer, Iannis Xenakis. What the heck is up with that?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Turn it down!

Once again, the European Union law restricting the amount of musician exposure to ‘noise’ made the news. This time the front page of the Sunday New York Times featured the article, No Fortissimo? Symphony Told to Keep It Down.

You’ve got to hand it to those Europeans for getting on top of the issue. I’m not holding my breath for anything like that to ever make its way to this side of the Atlantic though.

The most curious thing about the article for me came at the end of the second paragraph where it stated the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra deemed playing more softly ‘unworkable’. It struck me that in all my years I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a conductor who tried turning down the volume of the whole orchestra. Conductors often balance this or that, telling some instruments they are too loud or others they are not loud enough, but I’m wracking my brain to remember a conductor stopping a fortissimo passage and telling everyone to play more softly. They do it all the time on the quiet end of the spectrum.

We did have a crotchety guest conductor years ago who, instead of thanking the orchestra or at least wishing us well at the end of the final rehearsal for a Bruckner Symphony, said something to the effect of “The entire thing is too loud for my taste.” Needless to say that was the last time he conducted here.

Maybe it is unworkable after all.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Week 31

why is this week different from all other weeks?

BERIO Ritirata Notturna di Madrid
SALONEN Piano Concerto
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, piano

Monday
off

Tuesday
10-12:30 1:3-4 rehearsals

Wednesday
10-12:30 rehearsal
6:30 concert

Thursday
8 concert

Friday
1:30 concert

Saturday

off

Sunday
off


All in all, an enjoyable week in the house of notes. Of course the answer to the question posed above, and no small part of the allure of the week has to be because we get Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings off.

Salonen is not a very excitable conductor. If you ask me, that’s a big asset when it comes to the Beethoven 7th, which all to easily crosses the line into bacchanalia in the wrong hands. I’m a big fan of period instrument performances anyhow. That aside, I sometimes get the feeling as a modern orchestra, bulked up on Bruckner, Strauss, and Mahler, it is all too easy to go overboard on these late classical/early romantic symphonies, like a prizefighter pummeling his hapless undersized opponent trapped on the ropes. I’m referring mostly to the string playing, BTW. When you find wood chips and sawdust on the floor after the performance, you’ve probably been playing too vigorously. Fortunately, the demeanor of the guy on the podium can sometimes have a calming influence, as was the case this week.

Salonen’s piano concerto was one of the more interesting and well-written new works we’ve played. I hope his retirement from the LA Philharmonic leads to more composing, and more guest appearances here.

The Ritirata Notturna di Madrid proved an inoffensive bit of fluff – as Salonen said, his mother’s favorite Berio piece – remarkable mainly for the outstanding percussion playing stage-left.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Week 30

deus ex machina

DEBUSSY Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 1
INTERMISSION
STRAVINSKY The Firebird
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Vadim Repin, violin


Fry - To Dream Again
Elgar - Feasting I watch
Brahms - Es tönt ein voller Harfenklang
Willan - An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts
Bach - Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden
Vaughan Williams - O Clap Your Hands
INTERMISSION
Handel - Zadok the Priest
Vaughan Williams - Serenade to Music
Verdi - Te Deum
Bruckner - Psalm 150
The [orchestra name redacted] Chorus
Duain Wolfe, conductor



Monday
7:30 Ars Viva concert (Sibelius, Hanson)

Tuesday
4:30-7 rehearsal

Wednesday
1:30-3:30 4:30-7 rehearsals

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
1:30 concert

Saturday
8 concert

Sunday
6 CBE rehearsal

Week 30 was last week (April 7-13). I’m way behind again.

As it turned out, week 30 was a bad one for my low ‘C’ extension. For those non-bassists who might stumble upon this blog, I’ve included a picture below.




The extension, or ‘machine’ extends the range of a four stringed double bass down to the ‘C’ one octave below the lowest string on the cello. An entire book could probably be written about this device and its shortcomings; the Marquis de Sade comes to mind as a candidate for such a project.

It is probably prudent to omit the name of the model I play on, although many of its particular flaws are attributable more to age than poor design or construction. Extensions by this manufacturer have, or at least used to have a number stamped on them. For example, the extension I had put on an instrument twenty years ago was number six hundred and something. The dinosaur I was playing on last week (or trying to anyway) is number sixteen and probably belongs in a museum of torture, right beside the Rack and the Iron Maiden.

The contraption was brought low (so to speak) by the opening of the Firebird, which is very soft and very low, and for the first stand of basses, pizzicato. Suffice it to say, every note had a different sort noise associated with it. The ‘E’ naturals (‘F’ flats, really), a loud metallic rattle; the ‘E’ flats, a thunk! as the string slipped into its little rubber groove; the 'D' naturals, a bbbrrrrr! as the string vibrated against the E flat pad which was stuck halfway down; and so on and so forth. When I took the string off to make some adjustments to the little nut at the top, it crumbled into three or four pieces that rolled away and I didn’t have the heart to go crawling after.

Fortunately, I had a five string bass in my locker.

In spite of all that, the Firebird with Gergiev was quite enjoyable. He certainly knows how to whip things into a frenzy. Due to his busy schedule the program was only given three rehearsals and two performances. The Saturday evening 50th anniversary celebration concert for the chorus got one more rehearsal than it needed, including a much-despised Saturday morning.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Week 29

It was the best of times…

BERLIOZ Romeo and Juliet
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Isabel Leonard, soprano
Michael Schade, tenor
Laurent Naouri, bass
Chicago Symphony Chorus

HERRMANN Psycho
HERRMANN The Trouble With Harry
HERRMANN Vertigo
HERRMANN Citizen Kane
INTERMISSION
HERRMANN Fahrenheit 451
HERRMANN Taxi Driver
HERRMANN North by Northwest
Joel McNeely, conductor
David New, narrator
Rebecca Davis, vocalist
Greg Cohen Quintet
Robert Burger, piano
Erik Charlston, percussion
Greg Cohen, bass
Marty Ehrlich, saxophone
Bill Frisell, guitar
Danny Kapilian, producer

Ars Viva
Sibelius Swan of Tuonela
SibeliusViolin Concerto (original version)
Hanson Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”)
Alan Heatherington, conductor
Yang Liu, violin

Monday
7:30 MOB concert (St Matthew Passion)

Tuesday
1:30-3:30 4:30-7 rehearsals

Wednesday
1:30-3:30 4:30-7 rehearsals

Thursday
9-12 Ars Viva rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
12-3 rehearsal
8 concert (Film Night)

Saturday
10:30-1:30 Ars Viva rehearsal
8 concert

Sunday
2-5 Ars Viva rehearsal
7:30 Ars Viva concert

This week started in the heavens and ended in the sewer. I only wish I was being metaphoric.

The week began on a high note with the second performance of the St Matthew Passion by MOB at the Harris Theater.

At the other orchestra I work for Gergiev gave an impassioned rendition of the Berlioz, right on the edge of (and sometimes over into) chaos, but capturing the spirit of the piece quite well IMO. He did not conduct with a toothpick this time, only his ‘magic’ fingers flapping and wiggling like Montgomery Burns holding his hands up to a blow dryer. I really am quite fond of Gergiev and wish we would see more of him. Although in town for two weeks he is only conducting four concerts. Next week the Saturday concert is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of our chorus. This past Friday, Berlioz made way for Film Night. Both of those evenings Gergiev is back in New York conducting opera at the Met.

Film Night should probably be renamed Still Picture Night after this week’s performance. The Bernard Herrmann scores are some good (perhaps very good) movie music, the Greg Cohen Quintet made some intriguing things happen, but the visuals didn’t seem up to snuff. Perhaps an inability to obtain rights to use clips (or even stills) from the Hitchcock and Welles films made the presentation rely heavily on drawings of movie scenes and characters or photos of the composer shaking hands with directors. Admittedly, I was busy playing some of the time, but I recall glancing at the screen during one number and seeing a photo of Herrmann and Hitchcock standing together. A few minutes later, when I looked again, the same image was still there. North by Northwest, after what appeared to be stock images of Mt Rushmore, was represented by a series of scribbled pencil drawings. To top that off, the program seemed horribly out of balance. The first half dragged on for an interminable eighty minutes and did not end until twenty past nine. (I’m sure my opera-playing comrades are laughing, but I get very antsy when something goes on for more than an hour.) We took the stage again at 9:40 to begin the second half. Obviously fearing a sizeable overtime payment (per contract, an orchestral concert is considered overtime after two hours, fifteen minutes) the backstage bean counters made an artistic decision and cut some of the Jazz quintet material so the second half clocked in at thirty-six minutes.

Sorry to say, I don’t often read reviews, so I have no idea if critics attend these film night shows or if there is any oversight whatsoever for that matter. This program had a lot of musicians wondering what the heck we were doing. I’m curious to know if any audience members have opinions about these ‘concerts’.

Ars Viva had some problems booking rehearsal space this time around. Rehearsing the Hanson “Romantic” Symphony and Sibelius Swan of Tuonela at 9 AM (!) all but insures somnolence. On Saturday, let’s just say The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie has a serious plumbing issue in the vicinity of their basement rehearsal room. As if twisting the knife, fate had us spending three hours of the first warm sunny day in months down there.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Beyond the call

A colleague all but begged me to write more about Beyond the Score. I suspect this not so much because I have anything of merit to say on the subject as his desire get in some ‘batting practice’ on my softball observations, so here goes…

It occurred to me that while the BTS presentations certainly do inform and enlighten our audience, getting the public interested in a work like The Planets is kind of like getting horses interested in oats (or whatever horses normally eat). You might entertain the herd with a lengthy and engaging description of the molecular structure of oats and why this makes them tasty and nutritious, but the horses leave the barn essentially the same way they came in; they like oats.

Why not take one of those reviled compositions by Schoenberg, Boulez, or Carter – composers this organization has ostensibly championed over the last few decades – and devote a presentation to one of them? Schoenberg’s serial techniques, probably only vaguely understood by audiences who, fearing what they do not know, must regard them as some kind of foul sorcery or witchcraft capable of transforming a warm and comfortable concert hall into a chamber of musical horrors, would make for a compelling graphic visual presentation. His paintings, numerology and triskaidekaphobia all could be woven into a fascinating subplot. Who knows, we might even convince a few people (maybe even musicians) to listen to something with a fresh set of ears.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Week 28

That’s infotainment!




RAVEL Pavane for a Dead Princess
DEBUSSY Nocturnes
INTERMISSION
HOLST The Planets
Charles Dutoit, conductor

Music of the Baroque
Bach Passion According to St. Matthew
Jane Glover, conductor
Christine Brandes SOPRANO
Catherine Wyn-Rogers MEZZO-SOPRANO
Paul Agnew TENOR
Nicholas Phan TENOR
Christòpheren Nomura BASS-BARITONE
Sanford Sylvan BASS-BARITONE

Monday
off

Tuesday

off

Wednesday
10-1 MOB rehearsal
1:30-3:30 4:30-7 rehearsals

Thursday

10-12:30 (open) rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
1:30 concert
7-10 MOB rearhsal

Saturday
1-5 MOB rehearsal
8 concert

Sunday

3:00 concert (Beyond the Score)
7:30 MOB concert

The hated Saturday rehearsal gave us Tuesday off in trade. Along with Sunday and Monday, that made three days off in a row and an extra day to forget everything we accomplished. Not that we had much of a chance. The second Wednesday rehearsal scheduled for the Holst was no more than a recording/filming session for the Beyond the Score Program, which may be made available online someday. If Saturday rehearsals are sore point with me, having to wear a suit and tie to a rehearsal and being filmed is another one.

Maybe it is faulty recollection, but those Beyond the Score things seem like they keep getting longer. This one has 90 separate musical examples. A very interesting feature of this presentation is that two different narrators pronounce Uranus two different ways within a few seconds of each other: one the funny way, the other the not so funny way.

Although it makes for some long days, the MOB performance of the St. Mathew Passion is a good opportunity for me to wipe out the memory of my other Easter season gig.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bad Friday

worst gig ever!


Names in this post have been omitted to protect the guilty. The saddest part about all this is that the sorry events related here were neither unprecedented nor entirely unexpected.

On Friday I was part of a string quintet of musicians from the orchestra selected to play at the annual Via Crucis event in the Pilsen neighborhood. Via Crucis is a procession through the city reenacting the Stations of the Cross and crucifixion ending up at a large church where the archbishop of the diocese (Francis Cardinal George) presides over a mass for about a thousand worshipers. The procession includes people portraying Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Roman soldiers and various other characters. Sorry, I’m not at all religious, so that is the best description I can whip up. I think there are two different Marys in that story…

Due to the uncertainties of timing such a large outdoor procession, we were instructed to arrive no later than 11:15 AM, with an expected start time of approximately 11:45. Unfortunately, not everyone in the group read the memo. As luck would have it, snow began to fall some time during the night, snarling traffic in the city. Although the venue was not far from my house, I barely made it to the parking lot by 11:05. As I parked my car, the violist pulled up alongside and we exchanged a wave before I went in. I thought it somewhat odd he didn’t follow me into the church, but I figured he knew what he was doing. The second violinist and cellist who had carpooled were already in place when I got there. As soon as I pulled my instrument out of the case a man hurried up to us and informed us the procession was about two minutes away. The cold snowy weather had naturally shortened the time anyone wanted to remain outdoors, even to reenact the crucifixion. I mentioned that our violist was sitting in his car in the parking lot for some reason and someone from our management ran off to see if they could coax him into the church. So far, the ‘leader’ and first violinist of our group was nowhere to be seen.

Just then the procession entered the church headed by a troop of Roman soldiers with swords and shields, bearing a shrouded body I assumed to the product of the snow-shortened crucifixion. The man who had given us their ETA started making frantic signs I took to mean ‘play something for Christ’s sake!’ So, to the mournful strains of the second violin, cello and bass parts to the slow movement of Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, the body of our fallen savior was borne to the altar. Sometime during that sorry spectacle I looked across the church to see our violist, trapped behind a phalanx of Roman centurions, gesturing in animated fashion.

Eventually, he freed himself, and as luck would have it, he had both a violin and viola with him, along with some sheet music (although no music stand – I had to give him mine and read over the cellist’s shoulder – there’s another benefit of reading the memo…) so after a short reading from the altar, when we were signaled to play again, we could produce something that sounded a little more like music.

We sight read a couple things as best we could. As soon as we were told we needed to play only one more selection, our ‘leader’ and first violinist made her entrance and we were able to end with one of the things we had actually rehearsed. But as the luck of this day was against our sorry little group, the Dvorak Notturno quickly went astray and off key (it took our leader a couple minutes to remember to glance at the key signature), to the point where the cellist had to call out rehearsal letters as they went by. By the time we finished I was longing to crawl beneath the shroud and trade places with the body they had under there. Unfortunately, the sad spectacle of our performance had either caused or accompanied its removal from the altar.

My apologies to the good citizens of the city in which I live.

Friday, March 21, 2008

week 27

So foul and fair a day I have not seen

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Russian Easter Overture
STRAVINSKY Symphony in C
INTERMISSION
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1
Charles Dutoit, conductor
Evgeny Kissin, piano

Monday
off

Tuesday
10-12:30 rehearsal

Wednesday
10-12:30 1:30-3:30 rehearsals

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
11:15 Via Crucis (Good Friday Service)
8 concert

Saturday
12-2:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Sunday
off

With a mixture of horror and revulsion I only lately realized the Saturday rehearsal long in my schedule was no typographical error as I had secretly hoped, but a plan, cunning in conception, cruel in execution, hatched by minds more apt to evil than to scheduling. In short, I despise Saturday rehearsals. 12-2:30 insures the ruination of a perfectly good afternoon and suppertime. If warfare signals the failure of diplomats, Saturday rehearsals signal the failure of schedulers.

In fact, I’m so disappointed at having to show up on a Saturday that is all I’m inclined to write about. I could mention Dutoit’s hard to follow antics or Kissin’s piano playing, but I won’t.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Week 26

blessed relief

It was not by design I ended up with the halfway point of the year off. That is week 26 out of 52 (although unlike the rest of the world, our orchestra had 53 weeks last year). The ‘downtown’ season is more like two thirds gone. I think originally the plan was to be somewhere sunny, but it didn’t work out that way.

The orchestra played Ein Heldenleben, which, as a bass player I think I am supposed to like because it appears on every double bass audition. Not to worry. As an astute reader and subscriber pointed out, the piece is programmed again next season – December of this year, I think. I wonder if Strauss wrote any other tone poems?

The week was well spent, preparing the Discordia Music tax returns. March 15, the date corporate returns are due, comes cruelly soon for someone with my dysfunctional level of organization.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Week 25

out with the new!

SHOSTAKOVICH Chamber Symphony for Strings in C Minor
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4
INTERMISSION
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish)
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Robert Levin, piano

Monday
7:30 Ars Viva concert

Tuesday
10-1:30 rehearsal

Wednesday
10-12:30 1:30-3:30

Thursday
10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

Friday
8 concert

Saturday
8 concert

Sunday
off

A principal whining about his section in front of the entire orchestra (not the bass section – we’re mostly beyond reproach), players breaking out in song, one of the more bizarre and pointless arguments over the length of a single note, equations of musicology to gynecology – all in all an entertaining week in the orchestra.

If composers of atonal music are public enemy no.1 around here, period instrument specialists have to come in a close second, so it came as no surprise when rehearsals with John Eliot Gardiner veered towards the bizarre. Sir John seemed to arrive as prepared to battle the orchestra as conduct it. As usual, the clash between a crotchety conductor and a stodgy orchestra took on all the charm of a couple of gummy old vets arguing over who has the more ill fitting dentures. If Gardiner was treated less than cordially, he dished out in equal measure to what he received.

It might be advisable to keep the early music specialists on split weeks when only half of the orchestra plays. That way those who don’t want to deal with something ideologically repulsive to them can usually opt out. The more intimate connection to the conductor with the smaller group tends to attenuate the latent hostility of the mob.

Sadly lost in the fracas was the fact Gardiner had some good ideas. At least I thought it might do the orchestra good to experience an alternative to the calcified notions of musicality currently in force. For years, the mantra around here has been that sostenuto is the only way to play expressively. Gardiner had some interesting alternatives, particularly with regards to the Schumann, which were mostly lost due to the acrimonious atmosphere of their presentation. The result was, at best, a jumble.

Robet Levin had some different takes on the Beethoven. His improvised cadenzas seemed more of a bangy parlor trick than musical performance, but they were absolutely in tune with his onstage demeanor. I all but promised to quote the joke going round the musicians’ lounge comparing the improvised cadenzas to a dog (or was it a pig?) walking on its hind legs – nobody cares about the quality of the thing, what matters is that the beast can do it at all.

Topping it all off, due to some unfortunate circumstances I found myself in the principal chair this week. Normally that is, if not something to look forward to, an opportunity to devote a little more than the normal cursory interest in what is going on. Due to things beyond my control, and largely alien to my comprehension, the experience was less than satisfactory this time around – more like repeated visits to a proctologist with hook for a hand, in fact. I can only turn to my faith in Karma at this point.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Week 24

New York Tour concerts

A
PINTSCHER Osiris
BARTÓK Piano Concerto No. 3
INTERMISSION
DEBUSSY Images
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Mitsuko Uchida, piano

B
BERIO Quatre dédicaces
BERLIOZ Les nuits d'été
INTERMISSION
STRAVINSKY Petrushka
Pierre Boulez, conductor
Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano

Film Night
BEHEIM The General
Richard Kaufman, conductor

Saturday March 1
BERIO Quatre dédicaces
DEBUSSY Images
INTERMISSION
STRAVINSKY Petrushka
Pierre Boulez, conductor

Ars Viva program
Milhaud La Creation du Monde
Martin Concerto for Seven Winds
Bizet Symphony in C
Alan Heatherington, conductor

Monday
10-1 rehearsal
8 concert A (Carnegie Hall)

Tuesday
11-1:30 rehearsal
8 concert B (Carnegie Hall)

Wednesday
travel to Chicago

Thursday
off

Friday
10-1 rehearsal
2:30-5 Ars Viva rehearsal
8 concert (film night)

Saturday
3-5:30 Ars Viva rehearsal
8 concert

Sunday
2:30-5 Ars Viva rehearsal
7:30 Ars Viva concert

Sorry, I’m one week behind in posting.

The week began with our triumphal New York tour. It seems a bit silly to call such a short trip a tour, but it’s not a run out, and probably not a residency either. If you can believe it, we get commemorative T-shirts and stickers even for a trip of this length and they refer to this trip as a tour, so tour it is.

The New York audience received Boulez quite enthusiastically before the orchestra played a note, and although suffering from a nasty cold, the Maestro managed his usual self-control on the podium. In contrast to our hometown auditorium, Carnegie’s resonant acoustic always yields up a few (not always pleasant) surprises. At the Monday rehearsal, Boulez was able to give the Bartok and Debussy a little more of the attention they needed. The orchestra seemed more or less on its toes and both performances went well.

The Film Night program had us playing the score to a silent Buster Keaton film. The music, all of which sounded vaguely familiar, was I believe culled from various light classical composers. Playing for a silent film requires a good bit of concentration – the roadmaps are tricky, and it is one of the rare occasions where watching the conductor is almost absolutely necessary; a good test of how well ones synapses are firing. My only regret is that even when we are playing Dixie or Swannee River, we tend to sound like we’re playing Meistersinger. At least we do a pretty darn good Meistersinger.

The Ars Viva program is a pretty interesting collection of material. Although widely lauded as a masterpiece, other than the beautiful slow movement, I find the Bizet Symphony a bit predictable; but not bad for a 17 year old. I don’t even want to think of what I was doing at that age, if I could recall it.