Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

No such thing

Ravinia management committed something of a major blunder this week in scheduling a meeting with CSO musicians, Welz Kauffman and James Conlon between two 3-hour rehearsals (spent mostly with Zemlinsky) on what turned out to be a brutal humid, ninety-degree day. It was hard to tell which was more sour, the orchestra’s mood or the free lunches left wilting on the side tables.

Perhaps sensing this, neither Kauffman nor Conlon seemed in any hurry to get the meeting underway. Finally Conlon made a few perfunctory remarks before yielding to Kauffman who had nothing at all to say and so opened the floor to questions. Immediately one of my colleague bass players (!) launched into a lengthy and eloquent statement leading to the pointed question of why the CSO chorus is not used at Ravinia whenever choral works are performed. A petition had been circulated in the orchestra several weeks earlier and signed (I believe) by every single musician – thanks to the tireless efforts of our colleague – asking that the decision not to use our CSO chorus be reversed. Kauffman had already responded to the musicians in writing, citing (surprise) budgetary considerations as the reason a less expensive chorus is engaged. Put on the defensive at the meeting he did little more than restate his points. Following came a few more pointed questions about the diminishing role of the CSO and classical music at Ravinia along with a passionate but largely unintelligible rambling statement from one particular musician, a staple at these kinds of events.

Conlon became the next target of musician ire with several players griping about programming, particularly the Zemlinsky piece we had just spent the last 3 hours literally sweating over. Conlon acquitted himself quite well in my opinion with his statement (in short) that he believed in the music he programmed (his Breaking the Silence series) and was willing to take responsibility for it.

These sorts of musician complaints usually ring pretty hollow in my ears anyway. Players had just finished chastising Kauffman for emphasizing ‘popular’ over classical music when they turned to Conlon and accused him of chasing away our audience with ‘unpopular’ repertoire. To me, everything the CSO plays is unpopular in the grand scheme of things anyway. Unless it rains or something, The Steve Miller Band will probably play to more people in two nights than we would all summer, whatever we played. I’m not sure we want to compete with that. I’ll take something with integrity any day.


Gabrielle said...

i was troubled when someone told me that they've been phasing the CSO out of Ravinia. i don't understand it. there might not be as big an audience for the CSO as for some of the big pop stars, but anytime i've gone, there have been plenty of people and fans (i've actually seen a licence plate "CSO FAN 1"). the train is always packed. as far as the rep they play, i think it makes sense to have a mix of standard rep and more exotic rep, rather than one or the other. ravinia is too nice a tradition to be phased out. it's so easy, inexpensive and lovely to get out of the city to enjoy a concert and picnic at ravinia, i can't stress it enough. i miss it! it's way better than the hollywood bowl.

i also have to admit that i've been to a few major choral works at ravinia, but i didn't notice it wasn't the CSO chorus. has this always been the policy?

Michael Hovnanian said...

Thanks. The non-use of the CSO chorus seems to have started at about the same time as Mr Kauffman. For some of the more major works - Mahler 8 next summer - we are fortunate that they will be joining us.

Unknown said...

I recently started reading your blog, and have very much enjoyed it. I'm an amateur violinist who has played in a university orchestra for many years, and it's fun to read your account of life among the pros.

I just wanted to say that though I live 130 miles from Ravinia, I am a Zemlinsky fan, and drove there just to hear both of the Zemlinsky concerts (towing 3 friends from my orchestra with me to the first), and thought they were sensational. I wouldn't drive so far to hear standard rep, so I'm certainly glad for Conlon's repertory choices.

Keep up the good work!


Michael Hovnanian said...

Thanks. 130 miles, that's a real fan!

I'm sure Al Gore would thank you for carpooling to at least one of those concerts. I believe there is one more Zemlinsky piece in a few weeks.

JMW said...

After a lifetime of playing the same Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms symphonies, it's startling to find a musician complaining about Zemlinsky. It's myopic in the extreme. One would think they would find it refreshing to play something different, and be even more grateful to play something great by a genius such as Zemlinsky. Amazing. I'd drive 100 miles to hear Der Kreidekreis, but I wouldn't drive 10 to hear Beethoven 9. Orchestral musicians are rarely happy campers...