Bass Blog

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

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The 23.8% solution

Many thanks to those who came to the Gunnelpumpers CD release show. Also, many thanks to those who wrote heartfelt comments about the Ravinia Festival. For those who haven't given up on it entirely, I would encourage you to make your feelings known to someone higher up in the organization (which is just about anybody but me, honestly). Hopefully the opinions of past, present, and possibly future ticket buyers might carry some weight.

My apologies for the dearth of posts this summer. I really couldn't bring myself to do what might be taken as the moral equivalent of strolling through a hospital ward and making snarky comments about the patients: “Geez dude, you're looking a little pale there.” However, since today (Saturday, July 31) is my last at the festival this summer (the Operas next week and the Musical the following use small orchestras) I struggled mightily, trying to come up with some sort of closing remarks to put the whole thing in perspective. Last night I woke in a cold sweat (the best sort of sweat, really) and hurried to my computer to check a few things and make a couple calculations. If my numbers are off, blame it on a lack of sleep.

Here are some Festival Fun Facts:

Percentage of our concerts this summer featuring Patti LuPone: 23.8 (5 of 21)
[A caveat is in order here: I have not looked closely at the rosters for the Mozart Operas next week. I'm assuming them to be LuPone free, but who knows....] I've got nothing against Patti LuPone, in fact, she's great, but that seems excessive.

Number of concerts without a soloist: 0

Number of concerts on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday: 13 (including two matinees, see below)
All {name redacted} concerts used to be on weekends. Now when somebody asks me when we're playing next week I can only shrug, “Tuesday?”

Number of concerts lead by our music director: 12

Number of concerts on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday lead by our music director: 4 (including the two matinees)
The Saturday and Sunday Mozart Opera concerts are at 1 PM in order to make way for the Temptations/The Four Tops, and the BoDeans. I wonder if one lawn ticket covers both shows each day, or if truncheon wielding, Segway riding security guards will clear the park of classical music buffs after the Opera is over.

Number of concerts canceled: 1.
The Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy show died as a result of our contractual limit on the number of 'Pops' concerts we can play in a summer.

Number of disappointed FanBoys slinking back to parents' basements: unknown.

After the cancellation of the video game music show, we were interested to see an extra rehearsal for the Sondheim: 80 show (with Patti LuPone!) pop up on the schedule. This could only be described as a 'punitive' rehearsal – sticking in an extra service where none was needed, bringing the scheduled rehearsal time for the 90 minute Gala performance to seven and a half hours. (The 3-hour long Operas the following week each get eight and a half hours of rehearsal, BTW.) The poor fellow on hand to conduct the Sondheim show found himself looking down the barrel of a pretty testy orchestra at the first rehearsal. After the break he came out and hastily announced a 'deal' had been struck, canceling the punitive rehearsal. I once struck a similar deal with dubious character on a darkened street: I agreed to give him my wallet and he agreed not to beat me. Sometimes you have to cast something aside just to save your skin.


Unknown said...

"Number of concerts on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday lead by our music director: 4 (including the two matinees)"
Shocking, absolutely shocking! I wonder what Kauffmann would say about that.
Also in the program book, he went out of his way to mention that when Haitink did the Mahler 6 at Ravinia on a Wednesday night, that's because it was the only date the Maestro was able to fit in his schedule (which is fine). But then Kauffmann says he wants to get Muti to come back to Ravinia too. Even if Muti is only available in a 10pm slot on a Monday night, Kauffmann will take it! (or something along that line) That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! As if all this marginalization of the crown jewel of Ravinia is not Kauffmann's own doing... Shame on him.

Michael Hovnanian said...

I bet Conlon was available most weekend evenings this summer - just a guess.

Michael Hovnanian said...

Sent by 'Max' with the request I post it here:

I found the Sondheim benefit rather dispiriting. A lot of people whom I respect have enormous esteem for Sondheim. I just don't get it. It seems manipulative and formulaic, with a few striking moments. After doing most of "Candide" a week or two ago, it is abundantly clear that Sondheim is not in the same universe as Lenny. My favorite moment in the concert came as they went into the Grand Finale, "Side by Side by Side". Patti Lupone urged the audience to sing along, but this being a Sondheim number, it is basically unsingable if you are untrained. I saw two mouths moving in the whole audience, and I had plenty of time to look, because the song did not call for violas, so we didn't have to double the high hat as was the case in the rest of the program.

eric said...

So did everyone in the orchestra make it out unscathed at the Sondheim concert? I have to imagine that if you're toting a bass you may be a target of quite an angry mob.

Michael Hovnanian said...

Thanks for the link. That article and the reader comments should be required reading.

My bass was packed in its trunk beneath the stage and I was happily on my bike pedaling home by 8:30, As someone pointed out, it wasn't even dark yet.

Unknown said...

Have not commented here in the past, however in the spirit of being less lazy than usual, here goes. Ravinia Festival is now, first and foremost, a business which happens to have that lovely non-profit designation so that it pays no property taxes, among other things. That said, it's all about ticket sales and revenue, and having attended 10 of your band's performances at said Festival this summer, anyone can see that, sadly, your band is not the draw that it once was at Ravinia, and they have to fill the place every night in order to keep paying Welz his $500,000 plus salary.

Let's face it, the competition from that wonderful orchestra that plays in that truly amazing pavilion downtown for FREE throughout the summer is pretty stiff competition, and is so much more accessible to the vast majority of the metropolitan area. By the way, the Ravinia audiences may be even smaller in coming years, as I understand that this is the last year that Metra will stop at the Ravinia Park station, and a lot of folks will be too lazy or intimidated to walk from either Braeside or Ravinia to the Park, so they will likely not attend at all.

Given the small audiences, I don't think it is so bad that 6 of the 20 ___ orchestra performances were not on the weekends. I am also a bit confused as to your comment about your illustrious leader only leading 12 of the 20 performances. My impression from my many friends in your band is that most of the orchestra has no respect for him as a conductor whatsoever, so I'm not sure if his 12 turns at the podium are too few, or too many??? I would think most of your band would welcome the guest conductors.

Can't wait for Muti, and thanks for some lovely music this summer.

eric said...

A tunnel is being added underneath the railroad for easier access to/from the parking lots, only.

Plush said...


The Ravinia appearances of the orchestra and the downtown appearances of the Grant Park orchestra are two totally different experiences.

The fake competition between Ravinia and The Grant Park Orchestra is a made up crisis fueled by a small cadre of classical music critics and their henchmen.

One is an urban experience with a fullly amplified orchestra where none of the actual sound of the orchestra is heard by the audience. The downtown audience IS treated to a spectacular view now that's for sure.

The Ravinia experience is far different with minimal amplification and the audience actually is able to hear the sound of the orchestra in the pavilion.

The downtown audience gets its experience at no cost. For that benefit they are also bombarded with an extra high level of background noise typical of an urban environment. Quiet passages are punctuated with sirens, overhead traffic helicopters and the like.

Ravinia is a little uptight with the "shush-ers" but the paying audience has much nicer accommodations, a good seat and people whose prime interest is not visiting with others but gathering there to listen.

Presenter economics means that tik prices are higher and higher at Ravinia and it also means that pop concerts pay for the classical orchestra shows.

Only the most challenged fan would find the trek to HPark a mystery and the train gets you right there.

Myth, hearsay, and a buying in to the fake crisis
is a popular moaning topic. I hardly feel that the sky is falling.