Bass Blog

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

Feel free to email your comments.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marcello sonatas recording project, part 14

It is difficult to get anything done in the summer, with the infernal temperatures and interminable rehearsals. However, the recording project continues to creep along.

The second movement, Allegro, begins with a similar 'theme' to the other sonatas in the minor keys, no.s 2 and 3.

It is interesting to see how Mr Marcello took the material and went off in different directions with it. This movement has more legato to it than the others and, rather than ending with a flourish, sort of dissipates with the descending chromatic figure. Perhaps I'm betraying the paucity of my musicianship, but that's about all I have to say about it, other than that the continuo player got an unusual workout in the movement and was not at all happy about having to (try to) play this passage.

click below to listen

Friday, July 22, 2011

Endless Summer

Last week, we played two programs at Ravinia.

A) Brahms, Piano Concerto no.1; Symphony no.2
B) Brahms, Symphony no. 3; Piano Concerto no.2

Christoph von Dohnรกnyi, conductor
Emanuel Ax, piano

(There were six two-and-a-half hour rehearsals for these two concerts.)

In preparation for the two programs of familiar pieces, we managed to squeeze the work of three rehearsals into only six – any efficiency expert who happened to look in on the proceedings, including listening to the final result, would have gone away seriously scratching their head. If the point of rehearsals is the preparation for a concert, I can't say the majority of the time was well spent. However, if it is to indulge the urge, latent in many who fancy themselves 'leaders' of one sort or another, namely sadism, then the week must be chalked up as a roaring success. The Marquis, peering down from heaven (or wherever he ended up), must have looked at the fifteen (15!) hours of rehearsal time with a horrific kind of glee.

Arriving at certain rehearsals is akin to stepping into the doctor's office, hearing the snap of the gloves going on at the same moment one realizes the jar of Vaseline is long ago empty. Any positive reasoning about what is about to happen in the next two-and-a-half hours might understandably be replaced with a kind of dread. And after fifteen hours of probing, merciless, relentless, and ultimately pointless - “You were here for a headache? Terribly sorry!” - if the patient, when asked to sashay down the hall, proves a bit unsteady on his feet, it should surprise no one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The {redacted}SO season at Ravinia got underway last week. As all things Ravinia go to short term memory only, I can't say if it is unusual or not to begin a season without the music director on the podium, but it seemed like it. At the stroke of the new year, you're supposed to grab your SO for a kiss, not your ex.

Things went as well as could be expected through the first two concerts. A decent rendition of Symphonie Fantastique (except that the sluggish second movement could have been renamed from Un Bal to Medicine Ball) followed an all Lang Lang first half, which I did not play – comments about his hairdo from players coming off stage at intermission made me even more happy with my lot. The following night, omens (like the piano soloist having to stamp his foot to keep things together in rehearsal) foretold of rhythmic accuracy being on the sacrificial altar later that evening. But the gods smiled on us, and the Rite went better than it had a right to.

On the third day of Ravinia, things changed.

In the NFL, one of the most important elements under the control of the head coach is 'clock management', knowing how many minutes are left in the game, how many timeouts are left and when to use them, which plays eat up the clock and which save time, etc. Conductors have similar issues in the way they allot rehearsal time when schedules are made and, more importantly, how they actually spend the time once rehearsals begin. This is true especially in a situation like Ravinia, where tight schedules make it always seem like the fourth quarter of a close game. The clueless coach who squanders timeouts early, sending in the old Statue of Liberty play, or the Flea Flicker, only to watch helplessly as the clock runs out in the final quarter, down by 2 points, with no time to get the field goal unit onto the field, this hapless time-manager is like the conductor who works too long on the pieces that don't need rehearsal, lets players out early at one rehearsal only to run out of time at another.

There is a provision in our contract to bail out the chronologically challenged conductor, but at a price. (Come to think of it, if a conductor is not so good at managing hours and minutes, how are they doing with beats and measures?) 'Extraordinary Overtime' is supposed to put pressure on the time managers and schedulers to get their act together. The criticism leveled at players is often that since the management side are all people of good will, a little more flexibility on our part might be in order. I have no objection to stipulating to the good will. However, good will, too easily overridden by bad planning, sometimes needs the help of a fiscal incentive to fully manifest itself. So, in cashing my overtime check, I feel content in the knowledge I'm helping some folks realize their better nature.

You might think of extraordinary overtime as something like that scene in the Batman movie where, as the Joker, Jack Nicholson and his merry band parade through downtown Gotham City showering the amazed citizens with cash. (I think they then spray everybody with poisoned gas, BTW.) EO is not a demand by greedy, avaricious musicians. All somebody higher up the food chain has to do is say 'no' to the conductor and both money and time are saved. The $16 bottle of Bud Light in the mini bar looks ridiculous when you check in. In the middle of a sleepless night, it may even begin to seem like a reasonable solution to a problem. Opening the bottle demonstrates a failure of will. These, and other boondoggles tend to stick in the mind during contract negotiations when the quadrennial pleas of poverty come out.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Marcello Sonatas recording project, part 13

After taking some time off, then coming back to listen to what I'd done before, it struck me I had probably messed around, trying to 'engineer' too much (tweaking the EQ and levels, etc.) with Sonata no.3. I also was experimenting with placing the microphones a little farther away from the instruments. I'm not so happy with the sound of that, so for no.4, I went back to the close mic placement, and other than a very slight reduction of high frequencies on the room mics, which seemed to pick up some hiss, most probably due to sub par preamplification, I did nothing but pan the tracks left and right.

A brief note on how I've gone about making these recordings. The image above is the tempo track for this movement. A click track came in handy at the beginning, as well coming out of the fermata. The midi version of the continuo part followed the various nuances in the tempo track and provided a guide while recording the solo part. The continuo part was recorded listening to the click track as well as the pre-recorded solo part. That probably sounds needlessly complicated...

click below to listen