Bass Blog

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

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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


C said...

Good Day Mr. Hovnanian,
I don't know if you recall meeting (or teaching) me but I attended NHSMI in 2003, I believe at the time I had very long hair. Anyway, I am now at USC in my fourth year studying with David Moore. I recently stumbled upon your bass blog after an evening of bass-on-the-internet browsing. As for your most recent post, I never actually thought it through, but at every break or whenever I am speaking with other musicians about the ensemble or conductor or piece, or what-have-you, it is always the person who has the sharpest and most biting criticism that is the center of the conversation. Furthermore, the individual who simply smiles and plays, that one with the "great" attitude, seems to almost automatically be regarded as the village idiot (it is also probably not coincidence that this person is rarely at the front of the section). In my limited years of orchestral experience, however, I have found that there is a thin line between being the one with the smart critique of the situation that is just enough to get people started talking and being the guy or girl who has a just plain bad attitude. I was wondering if you would have any thoughts on how this progressed for you as you advanced in the ranks from college to major symphony orchestra. I would first posit that it really doesn't matter once you are making the money you want and have been tenured. At this point I just want to win a job as quickly as possible in a great orchestra, something which I don't imagine I could ever complain about. So far I have been very lucky at times to play with great conductors and great orchestras to which I would change little if anything, to situations (typically gigs taken with sub-par orchestras just for the $$$) that make me question how anyone could ever consider this music. If you recall, would you say that you always felt that displeasure has always been as essential to your toolkit or that it is something that is only a luxury for those, like yourself, in the top orchestras? In closing, it was great to find you on the web and I hope things are going well in unnamed large midwestern city.


Geo. said...

FWIW, when Harth-Bedoya has guest-conducted twice the orchestra 300 miles SXSW of you, he did use the wireless mike to introduce the more "exotic" Latin-American and Spanish works, but he spoke for all of 30 seconds each time. Very judicious use of the wireless mike, to warm up the crowd.

nocynic said...

A bit of a role reversal; I liked this concert a lot less than Mr. Hovnanian. I thought only two of the pieces were particularly good in any way, and the images on the screen, in my view, were downright offensive. My nephew is married to a Peruvian woman, who asked me about tickets to this show more than a month before the concert. Mind you this is someone who never before in her life, as far as I know, expressed the slightest interest in our little midwestern orchestra. So we get a lot of people in the hall who ordinarily aren't there--and we put the orchestra in the dark and have this promising new audience watch a Machu Picchu travelogue! If we don't believe that the orchestra can possibly sustain their interest, what do we hope to accomplish by reaching out to them? Why not try playing them great music and seeing if they like it? I would like to see a little more belief in our product.

Daniel said...

El Condor Pasa is certainly a cliché and the atmospheric travelogue that accompanied it didn't help. What I learned from playing it is that it was not originally written by Paul Simon.

Some of the other music was quite challenging. The sound of a symphony orchestra playing latin and jazz rhythms may always be the sound of a negotiated settlement. Then again, we might get better at it.

And the new video technologies in the concert are in their infancy. Somebody has to try them out to see what the potential may be. I'm glad I'm not the one the posse might be after.