Bass Blog

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

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Week 32

Aversion to talk is something orchestra musicians have inherited from manual laborers.
-Theodor Adorno

WAGNER Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
CHIN Rocaná
BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique
Kent Nagano, conductor


10-12:30 rehearsal

10-12:30 1:30-3:30 rehearsals

10-12:30 rehearsal
8 concert

8 concert

8 concert

1 Trout Quintet
7 CBE rehearsal

OK, I’m a week behind again. I think the quote from Adorno has something to do with anti intellectualism among musicians, which is apparent enough, but there is also another way to apply it.

Nothing wrings a groan from an orchestra with more predictability than when someone emerges from the wings holding a microphone. It makes little difference if it is a manager, trustee, politician, or representative of some women’s auxiliary; all microphone wielders seem to elicit a similar response. The reaction often has little to do with the quality of the remarks on offer as onstage talks fall into depressingly predictable categories depending on the speaker’s title or position. I think it has more to do with the nature of the concert experience. The lighting changes, orchestra and audience fall silent; the sense of hushed anticipation is palpable. Players still capable of excitement about or interest in what is about to happen might, along with members of the audience, feel an increase of adrenaline. And then, instead of music comes talk.

The talking conductor usually evokes the greatest dismay. Again, not necessarily because of the quality of the remarks – some conductors are engaging speakers – but because there is a feeling a sacred trust is being violated. Musicians who have listened to the maestro speak during rehearsals all week, sometimes at great length, nevertheless hold out hope for the concert, the time when talk must cease for once and for all and music-making at last win the day. It is understandable then that the appearance of the microphone is seen as a betrayal of that trust.

A study of conductor mannerisms (something orchestra musicians do more for sport than necessity) reveals many of them are aware of the transgression. Just observe where they hold the microphone when they take the stage. They hide it. Even the most mannered podium poseur, the Maestro who normally enters with baton held mincingly betwixt thumb and index finger, chest high, will hold a microphone like a shameful talisman, head down, concealed alongside a dark trouser leg, to be produced swiftly, like a magic wand with the power to deaden even the most charged concert hall atmosphere.

All this is merely to say Kent Nagano talked a lot – at rehearsals, and then, saggingly, at the concerts as well. I happen to like Nagano, I think more than many of my colleagues, so it was a bit sad to see his stock among musicians going even lower when he addressed the audience.

Nagano’s Symhonie Fantastique was highly stylized, and I can certainly see how it was not for all tastes. Nevertheless, I didn’t find anything he did outside the scope of the sort of excesses not so long ago passed off here as the product of ‘genius’.

The Unsuk Chin composition, Rocaná I found inscrutable mainly due to poorly notated parts. It didn’t seem to be such a bad piece but suffered doubly from a lack of craft as well as being the subject of Nagano’s onstage remarks.

1 comment:

Adriel said...

Leinsdorf never needed a mike. I remember a concert he led in Cleveland that began with Webern's Concerto for 9 Instruments. After it ended, a flood of "latecomers" entered, thinking the coast was clear for the Mozart concerto that followed. Leinsdorf decided to break the third wall, as it were, by announcing that because so many people had missed the first piece, they'd do it again. And they did.