Bass Blog

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

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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…