Bass Blog

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

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ravinia Week 4

programming, old school!

A concert featuring an overture, symphony, concerto and virtuoso showpiece, nary a Broadway show-tune in earshot, Teutonic death worship given the week off, sweltering heat, swarming gnats, cannons – this week had it all.

Program A
BARBER Overture to The School for Scandal
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70
BARBER Violin Concerto, Op. 14
RAVEL Tzigane
(Joshua Bell, violin)

Program B
BERLIOZ Three Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17
VERDI Overture to Giovanna d'Arco
DVOŘÁK Slavonic Dance No. 2, Op. 72
MENDELSSOHN The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26, “Fingal's Cave”

ROSSINI Overture to William Tell

Program C
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23
TCHAIKOVSKY 1812, Overture solonelle, Op. 49

The brief flashback I had in in the middle of program B took me back to circa 1993. That is until I realized we were playing on a Thursday night and the Pavilion was nearly half empty. The gnats buzzing their way into every exposed orifice might have helped sour my mood on an otherwise enjoyable evening – finally the kind of lighthearted concert one would ideally imagine for a summer audience. Only the lack of an audience seemed to contradict the argument that poor programming leads to sub par attendance. Even the brutal heat wave had dissipated enough to where the temperature could be classified as pleasantly sweltering. If you can't fill seats with Rossini, Verdi, Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Berlioz on as cool an evening as we are likely to see any time soon, then perhaps classical music is doomed after all. Or else there is something horribly wrong somewhere.

To get a job in an orchestra a bass player has to master the Beethoven 5th symphony. It shows up on every audition. I'm sure each instrument has some piece from the repertoire that serves a similar function, but the Beethoven 5th is pretty good because it is also well known to the layperson. So to pass the audition, typically a player has to go up against fifty, one hundred, two hundred others, play the Beethoven 5th, plus a bunch of other, often more difficult things, and somehow come out at the head of the pack. Brutal as it is, the process assures a certain level of quality on stage. I wonder what would happen if the folks selling tickets to concerts went through a similar procedure – get handed a typical program and released onto the streets for half an hour. Anyone who can't sell tickets to the Beethoven 5th is out of the running.

All of the above does not take into account what happened at the Sunday concert, which I can only imagine was overflowing – an all Tchaikovsky concert with cannons is sort of the twinkle-twinkle of of concert programs. Anyhow, a bit of strategery in choosing my concerts off had me sitting this one out. Canons (or ballistics of any type) are on my growing list of things that trigger an almost uncontainable urge to take a night off. I think I have already mentioned some of them – Galas, Benefits, Festive concerts, etc. Leafing through my notes, I identified a few things I've endured over the years which, having dealt with at least once, I feel perfectly comfortable with trying to avoid in the future. Many of these items are perfectly fine and acceptable in and of themselves. It is only their inclusion in a 'classical music' concert that sends me scurrying for the leave request form. So, count me out of any concert featuring:

tap dancers
puppets (shadow, marionette, sock, etc.)
animals (trained or feral)
musicologists or historians
Jingling Johnnies
conductors in costumes
dirndl wearing zither players
bunting of any kind
powdered wigs
ice skaters
former music directors (living)


pjay said...

I'm surprised to not see "on stage speeches" in the list.

Michael Hovnanian said...

Good point - but then again, I didn't put in being poked in the eye with a red-hot iron either...

Unknown said...

I suppose that was an amazing concert. I wish I was there, as I love Beethoven very much!