Bass Blog

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

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Week 48 Ravinia 06

the end…of Ravinia 2008

Program A
MOZART The Abduction from the Seraglio, K. 384
Hanan Alattar, Constanze
Anna Christy, Blonchen
Topi Lehtipuu, Belmonte
Nicholas Phan, Pedrillo
Morris Robinson, Osmin
Michael York, Pasha
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
James Conlon, Conductor
Kevin Murphy, Continuo/Coach

Program B
MOZART Don Giovanni, K. 527
Ellie Dehn, Donna Anna
Soile Isokoski, Donna Elvira
Heidi Grant Murphy, Zerlina
Toby Spence, Don Ottavio
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Don Giovanni
Samuel Ramey, Leporello
James Creswell, Masetto
Morris Robinson, Commendatore
Apollo Chorus of Chicago
James Conlon, conductor
Kevin Murphy, Continuo/Coach

Monday
11-1:30 rehearsal (orchestra A)
2:30-5 rehearsal (orchestra B)

Tuesday
11-1:30 rehearsal (orchestra A)
2:30-5 rehearsal (orchestra B)

Wednesday
11-2:30 (orchestra A)
3:30-7 (orchestra B)

Thursday
7 program A

Friday
7 program B

Saturday
2 program A

Sunday
2 program B

This week the orchestra is split in two. Needless to say with my luck I ended relegated to orchestra B. Conlon, undertaking a quasi Barenboimian task, conducts both operas, showing up the instrumentalists who seem to require a day off now and then. Performances take place indoors in the small Martin Theater rather than whatever the place we normally play (outdoors) at Ravinia is called.

Usually with Mozart on the program I feel a mixture of anticipation and dread. I love classical (as opposed to romantic) music – but getting our orchestra to play it, bulked up as we are on a steady diet of Bruckner and Mahler, sometimes resembles coaxing a rhinoceros to play hopscotch. As expected, Conlon continued repeating requests for the orchestra to play more softly, to the point of instigating a minor mutiny. However, the singers seem to be singing quite loudly even in the confined space of the small indoor theater. The Commendatore actually obliterated the trombone section…not by dragging them down to the underworld as some of us had hoped but, improbably, by singing more loudly than they were playing. In the face of all that it became difficult to hear requests to play softly over and over again without getting a little miffed considering what the singers were doing at the edge of the stage.

Rehearsal time was at a premium, particularly for orchestra B, tasked with the longer of the two Operas. There wash barely enough time to play through all of the music in two rehearsals before the run-through, let alone time to make any corrections or discuss esoterica like phrasing, balance, or anything beyond the most basic strategies to keep all of the musicians in the same measure at the same time. In such an atmosphere it is generally agreed that paying attention, avoiding frivolous, non-essential questions and focusing on the most pressing issues at hand is of paramount importance. I can only guess what orchestra A was up to, but here is a little example of our rehearsal technique in orchestra B.

Conlon: I would like the downbeat of measure 102 to be short – for everyone. The entire orchestra, make the downbeat of measure 102 an eighth note. If you have a quarter note, please change it to an eighth. The downbeat of measure 102? Short please – an eighth rather than a quarter – for all instruments.

(less than a minute later, a question barked from the back of the orchestra – no raising hands or ‘excuse me Maestro’ in orchestra B!)

Musician X: Question! That note there, let’s see…. measure one-oh-two, that’s measure…one!…zero!…two! The downbeat – that’s the very first note in the measure – what do you want there? Do you want me to play a short note? I have a quarter note in my part – written in the part! – but I’m hearing eighth notes…

(and so on…)

All in all playing a Mozart Opera has been an interesting and enjoyable experience – something different at very least. Unquestionably it is glorious music and the cast is (in short) entertaining. In spite of some less than optimal conditions in the orchestra (the usual ones) I’m drawing a great deal of solace contemplating the plot of Don Giovanni, specifically the notion that excess, lurid flamboyance, insensitivity and the like, will eventually meet its day of reckoning.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Week 47 Ravinia 05

Program A
WAGNER Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
SCHREKER Prelude to a drama, Die Gezeichneten
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
James Conlon, conductor
Miriam Fried, violin

Program B
DVORÁK Carnival Overture, Op. 92
GRIEG Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
James Conlon, conductor
Orion Weiss piano

Program C
BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77
INTERMISSION
BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
James Conlon, conductor
Gil Shaham, violin

Monday
11-1:30 2:30-5 rehearsals

Tuesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (A)

Wednesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (B)

Thursday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (C)

Friday
off

Saturday
off

Sunday
off

OK, I’m way behind again…

This week ended up a bit differently than originally planned. Itzhak Perlman was supposed to play the Beethoven concerto and then conduct the next night. I’m not sure what happened to him, but I hope it’s nothing serious. One of the good results of all that was the replacement of the overplayed Beethoven 5th by the underplayed 1st.

Program A was played in reverse order, I believe at the request of Miriam Fried. I’m not sure if she wanted to hide behind the very loud cicadas (which tend to quiet down later in the evening), had somewhere else to be at 9 o’clock, or what. The resulting backwards program seemed a little strange. Whatever I think of the Breaking the Silence pieces, once I hear the composer’s life story, I’m always rooting for them. Having the Schreker Prelude followed by (of all things) Meistersinger was a bit of a Bambi Meets Godzilla mismatch that left me feeling a bit creepy afterwards.

The Thursday program was more light, breezy fare, suitable for a warm summer evening.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Week 46 Ravinia 04

A
BEETHOVEN Overture to Fidelio, Op. 72c
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (Emperor)
INTERMISSION
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (Eroica)
Sir Andrew Davis conductor Leon Fleischer piano

B
WILLIAMS The Olympic Spirit
WILLIAMS Theme from Jaws
WILLIAMS Bicycle Chase from E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial
WILLIAMS Main Theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
WILLIAMS Theme from Jurassic Park
WILLIAMS Harry's Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
WILLIAMS March from Superman
WILLIAMS Theme from Schindler's List
WILLIAMS March from Raiders of the Lost Ark
INTERMISSION
WILLIAMS Flag Parade from The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Episode I)
WILLIAMS Anakin's Theme from The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Episode I)
WILLIAMS Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Episode I)
WILLIAMS Across the Stars from Attack of the Clones (Star Wars Episode II)
WILLIAMS Battle of the Heroes from The Revenge of the Sith (Star Wars Episoe III)
WILLIAMS Princess Leia's Theme from A New Hope (Star Wars Episode IV)
WILLIAMS Imperial March (Darth Vader'sTheme) from The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars Episode V)
WILLIAMS Yoda's Theme from The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars Episode V)
WILLIAMS Parade of the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi (Star Wars Episode VI)
WILLIAMS Main Title from Star Wars
WILLIAMS Cantina Band from A New Hope (Star Wars Episode IV)
Erich Kunzel conductor The Chicago Chorale


C
HAYMAN Broadway Pops Opener
COHAN Medley
GERSHWIN 'Swonderful from Funny Face
GERSHWIN Mine from Let 'Em Eat Cake and Swanee from The Jazz Singer
WEILL Mack the Knife from The Threepenny Opera
PORTER Let's Do It from Paris
PORTER Night and Day from The Gay Divorcee
RODGERS Oh, What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma
RODGERS Honey Bun from South Pacific
RODGERS Climb Ev'ry Mountain from The Sound of Music
INTERMISSION
BERNSTEIN Selections from West Side Story
LOEWE I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean from Brigadoon
LOEWE I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady
LEIGH The Impossible Dream from Man Of La Mancha
SHERMAN Medley from Mary Poppins
HAMLISCH One from A Chorus Line
KANDER Selections from Chicago
BERLIN God Bless America from Yip, Yip, Yaphank
Erich Kunzel conductor Aaron Lazar tenor Kathleen Brett soprano Michael Lowe baritone The Lakeside Singers

Monday
off

Tuesday
2:30-5 rehearsal

Wednesday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (A)

Thursday
off

Friday
2:30-5 rehearsal
8 concert (B)

Saturday
off

Sunday
12:30-3 rehearsal
5 concert (C)

This is all one week out of date. Sorry.

Sometime the rotation gods smile, other times they are cruel, and then there are those times when they smile cruelly. Due to some reshuffling of personnel, I end up off both Pops programs listed above. However, in trade I end up with the uncomfortable chore of playing one of the Mozart Operas in two weeks (can you guess which one?). Unfortunately, that’s all I can say about that.

Last week (45) ended with a great deal of excitement. As often as possible, I ride my bicycle to Ravinia. The only problem with that, beside the odd thunderstorm, is dealing with the parking lot personnel, who I believe are instructed to behave cruelly towards the orchestra. Musicians are given a parking pass for their car but nothing to identify a bike. This summer I’ve experienced a rising level of harassment as I arrive at rehearsals, everything from the unfriendly ‘Can I help you?’ (No) to the yelled ‘No Bikes in the Park!’ This time I made the mistake of answering ‘May I help you?’ with ‘No, I’m here for the rehearsal,’which I though might prove adequate to placate the guy bearing down on me in his little golf cart as I whizzed past. (No true cyclist wants to slow down for anything, let alone a rude question.) Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him pull a quick U-turn (for a golf cart) and actually come chasing after me. He attempted a maneuver probably learned from watching one too many cop shows – pulling alongside and then trying to swerve directly in front of me. At that point I gave in and stopped, figuring two wheeled contraptions usually come out the worse after a run-in with four wheelers. The guy actually seemed disappointed when I convinced him I played in the orchestra, meaning I had to be there.

I wonder if he is the same guy who put a dent in my car. Here is a link to that post.

In an appeal to the prurient interest, I have left the orchestra initials unexpurgated! Those were the days…

Week 46, concert A (all I played that week) had the odd, jarring overture in E major fronting the rest of the concert which was in E flat. The program went on until 10:15, so there was another reason to scrap Fidelio. One of the two rehearsals for that program was entirely superfluous. Davis had us show up on Wednesday and rehearse for 45 minutes before realizing he had nothing else to say. Spending almost five hours waiting for a concert to begin is not my idea of a productive use of anybody’s time. I’m not sure if my nap on the cement floor under the stage was worse for my back or my disposition. I think the concert was OK, but I’ve already forgotten.