Bass Blog

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

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Now, where was I...

[an additional apology is in order here: the first attempt to post this had the second paragraph inexplicably deleted: I guess I'm a bit rusty after all. So if the old bass blog seemed to make even less sense than usual, that is the excuse...]

No excuses, but a number of reasons kept me away from the blog. Skipping a few months has left me with a nice backlog of anecdotes to draw on during the lean weeks that are surely coming. The member of the orchestra who brought up the option of breaking my thumbs if I didn't start writing again made the decision easy.

Leave it to one of my favorites to provide material to write about. Pierre Boulez seems to have rigorously pared down the art of conducting to its barest essentials – a flick of the wrist here, a curt nod there. Pithy remarks to the orchestra often combine the didactic with the hilarious in masterful fashion. “That was, in fact, horrible...” I believe I heard him say recently – the sort of thing that gets you chuckling until you realize maybe you're supposed to be indignant. When he is in town, I'm always watching pretty closely for signs of hidden or underlying meanings, like someone from the ancient world might have watched the flight of birds, or examined sheep entrails in an attempt to fathom the divine order of the world.

The other day, unhappy about how we had executed some tempo change in the Glagolitic Mass, the Maestro showed what at first glance seemed to be uncharacteristic exasperation. “Did I really conduct so badly?” he asked, rhetorically, showing us again the simple wave of the wrist sufficient to wrench an orchestra out of Moderato and into Presto.

The rest of the rehearsal had me puzzling over that one. I wondered if having thrown a a wild pitch, a major league hurler had ever called his catcher to mound and asked, “Did I really throw the ball over there!?” pointing to the dugout. Strange how with conducting, the basic rules of cause and effect seem less than straightforward. In the minds of the public, to be sure, they are turned completely on their heads most of the time. Leave it to Boulez to challenge a bit of received knowledge in creative fashion.