Bass Blog

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

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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…

8 comments:

stefan said...

Ok, sounds like MTT gets along better with audiences than with orchestra members. But since your comments on the poor guy are so negative, I would like to say that I was very happy to hear the Ives piece played on Saturday. If it wasn't for MTT, we wouldn't hear much Ives, which would be a pity.

Michael Hovnanian said...

Agreed, I can’t get enough Ives either.

I recall playing the 3rd Symphony last season with another local orchestra. The concert format was similar, except the instrumentalists had to sing the hymns.

stickles said...

While I really hate to say this, but the Dvorak I heard on Thursday evening was one of the most pointless orchestral exercises of the season. However the genius of Ives more than made up for it in the second half, even if the chorus sounded congested through the microphones on Thanksgiving day.

Lillian said...

If not for the small brave group... it would have been really interesting to hear members of the larger midwestern orchestra sing! Esp. on "Goodnight Ladies".

Matt said...

I still have unnamed orchestra/MTT Ives recordings on vinyl. I’d forgotten about them. Give me good reason to get them out again. There were not many options for Ives recordings back then.

Any thoughts on the Mahler 2 performances of 2006 with MTT? (before your blog began).

I recall the performance I attended was very good. I’d be curious how it was viewed from the orchestra.

BTW – tonight may be you last best chance to see the maestro sing and dance. I probably should not joke about it as I really was impressed with the program. I went on Sunday and thought it was well done. A real touching tribute to his family and community.

Never the less, imagine any other conductor such as Mr. Baremboim , or Parvo Jarvi doing “chorus line” leg kicks. It is kind of fun to think about at least for a moment.

Matt said...

Should clarify - about the Ives recordings. Meant to say that it gives me a good reason to get them out again. I liked them. Have memories of listening to them with my friends back at school.

stickles said...

I have a question: who is the second conductor enlisted by MTT to help out on the 4th of july? and is this a common practice? Thanks.

Michael Hovnanian said...

Stephen Squires did the honors. It is very unusual to have 2 going at once like that, although the way some conductors conduct, maybe they should ask for help more often.