Bass Blog

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

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Friday, January 23, 2009

The passage of our most dread Sovereign

A good week to think about new and better leadership.

Riccardo Muti taking the podium the week after Dudamel gave audience and orchestra a good chance to compare and see if ours is greater than theirs, so to speak. They were both quite good, actually.

Muti stayed on focus through all the hoopla surrounding his brief 3-concert run here. As a result, the Verdi Requiem hasn’t sounded better, at least not in this zip code. In the wrong hands the piece all to easily turns into a lurid sort of Opera buffa for the dearly departed. Perhaps disappointing a few, Muti took some of the John Philip Sousa out of the Requiem and restored a much-needed degree of sobriety. He had our long-suffering chorus in fine form as well.

As before, the Maestro proved capable of making his mark in a gracious and even entertaining manner. In rehearsal, anecdotes, jokes, and various other remarks can easily bore or infuriate an orchestra when handled ineptly. In this case they mostly served to focus attention on the task at hand rather than distract. Throughout the week Muti seemed aware that in addition to putting together an excellent performance of the Verdi, it might be in his interest to develop a good working relationship with the orchestra. As obvious as that sounds, not all Maestros tend to proceed in such a way.

All in all, a good start for a new era.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Last week Gustavo Dudamel made his 2nd, 3rd or 4th appearance here. I’m a bit foggy on the number because before last week I’ve managed to be off every time he came to town.

Some conductors are better in theory than in practice but Dudamel mostly delivered the goods and managed to live up to the hype preceding his arrival. Sold-out houses, in spite of some horrible weather, were also very encouraging to see.

Dudamel accomplished the unlikely feat of attracting the rapt attention of both audience and orchestra alike, with only a few of the usual exceptions among the latter. There was some debate as to whether his long drawn-out pose at the end of the Barber Adagio might have been over the top, but not all conductors have sufficient cachet with the audience to prevent the loutish, premature applause that so often mars the endings of quiet pieces. If you’ve got it flaunt it, I guess. And considering how often in this business greatness and self-indulgence find each other locked in an unbreakable embrace, I consider a little of it entirely forgivable.

We used to have another conductor around here from South America – name escapes me – and there were a few times during the week when Dudamel reminded me strongly of that other Maestro. Dudamel’s Brahms was not always to my taste, however he proved very capable of getting what he wanted from the orchestra and it was quite enjoyable doing things a little differently – even getting what you want all the time can become disagreeable. His manner and the resulting fine performances he got out of the orchestra made a strong case for the argument that putting forth ideas in an agreeable manner might be a more efficient way of doing things.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

More of the Same for 2009?

Well, not entirely. First, a couple New Year’s resolutions.

This year, I will try and be more responsive to emailed questions. I get a fair number of those and although I have read them all, chuckled or gnashed my teeth where appropriate, I acknowledge being pretty lousy about answering them. I will try and respond to comments posted on the blog as well. However, if you have a question you really want answered by me – for what that is worth – better to email it. I may even paste it into the blog and use it for a post – god knows I’m running short on material. Let me know if you don’t want that to happen. Speaking of the deity, please don’t send me quotes from the Bible, or any other religious tome for that matter, I have no idea what to do with those. I will also try and post more regularly. A few readers commented on the boring posts listing rehearsal times, etc. – and those were for the most part people who didn’t even have to attend the boring rehearsals in question – so I don’t think I will be returning to that format. However, I will try and keep fans of the world’s 5th greatest orchestra abreast of what is going on here.