Bass Blog

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

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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.

5 comments:

max said...

The problem with programming the Berio Sinfonia is that you need the Swingle Singers. I love Mahler 2, but we play Mahler way too much. They were giving away tickets to members of the orchestra, a sure sign that Mahler is no longer an event in our wintry midwest home city. 2009 is coming up, and in a meeting with the orchestra's artistic staff a while back, we were told that we will honor the coming year with a concert dedicated to Lincoln, who was born in 1809. We will also favor our audience with a work of Eliot Carter, who apparently will live to celebrate his 100th birthday this year. I had a question: "You know, Felix Mendelssohn was born in 1809. Are there any plans to honor the bicentennial of this rather significant composer?" There weren't. There are a number of Bruckner and Mahler symphonies that I have played significantly more often in the quarter century I have spent in this orchestra than I have played the complete works of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Schubert put together. Does anybody else find this bizarre?

david said...

That's a great image of the ship and the rivets, Michael (if I may). It brings me back to Jarvi, master mariner - what a contrast with Vladimir Jurowski - they've been conducting the LPO virtually side by side - who at his best manages both the journey and the rivets, but can fuss a bit too much.

And last night we had Sir Simon, rivet-fiddler extraordinary, whose ship - the excellent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - just doesn't distract with enough of a shiny surface for his fiddling not to get in the way. Disastrous in Schumann, I'd say.

Joshua Kosman said...

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.

Does it ever come up? The SF Symphony has not performed it once in the past 20-plus years. Every year I put in my pro forma protest at this outrageous oversight, and the artistic administrator says "Oh Michael loves the piece and we'd love to schedule it but blah blah blah" and then we retire the subject until the next year when we have the same conversation again. I don't think it'll ever happen frankly.

It's a dangerous piece, though. For a variety of fluky reasons I knew it fairly well long before I'd ever heard the Mahler 2, and it literally took me about 10 years of hearing the Mahler performed before I could listen to the scherzo without thinking, "Well this is very nice, but where's the rest of it?"

eric said...

xSO blogger: this was one of your greatest posts thus far :-) My two favorite lines:

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.

and..

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.

Pure genius!

Anyway, onto my comment...the xSO should really come up with some sort of way to do an "on-demand" version of Mahler 2. You get a quorum of an audience, and hold a preliminary voting: 'Mahler 2 or not Mahler 2'. The audience votes (clearly they'd prolly always vote "yes" to hearing it instead of the other, more interesting, pieces on the program), the house manager dims the lights, rolls the video, and orchestra gets to go home early. Why force the players to play it over and over and over?

Another question: can you please cover why certain concerts are billed "Members of the xSO" instead of the just the "xSO"? In some spam I saw from the xSO's marketing team, Sibelius 5 and the Lincoln tribute concert will be a Members Only concert.

Geo. said...

I'm sure everyone here knows about this recent blog piece about a certain wealthy businessman conducting a certain East Coast orchestra in Mahler 2, and you can see the # of comments it's engendered.

Well, we've had Berio's Sinfonia just about 2 years ago, as it turns out on the weekend when the local baseball team won some sort of US-championship type thing. However, I first heard Sinfonia in the city where our genial blog host work and which we cannot name, 8 years earlier.