Bass Blog

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

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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.