Bass Blog

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

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Ravinia Week 5

Stop the Planets - I Want to Get Off

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once did a bit where he wondered what aliens landing on earth would make of dogs and their owners. Seeing members of one species following those of another, picking up their poop and carrying it around in a little bag, which would the aliens consider to be the masters?

The thought crossed my mind the other day while playing The Planets with a click track syncing the live orchestra to a film. While both dog and owner are at least living creatures, the subservience of something alive to something not alive is problematic, at least when considering that the 'live-ness' of the music is supposed to be one of ts most compelling features.

Strangely, the most 'real' imagery from the Planets film was shot by the robots sent to Mars a few years back, actual photographs taken by real cameras as opposed to digital animations. Whether in service of our curiosity or merely our vanity, those machines nevertheless operated at the behest of humankind. With technology at our disposal capable of sending a robot to another planet with enough artificial intelligence to roam around for months taking pictures and doing experiments, I am certain it would be possible to arrange somehow that moving images, digitally created and mechanically reproduced could be made to follow a live performance of The Planets. Technology in the service of, if not humanity, at least art. Making a hundred or so highly skilled performers slaves to a click track in order to sync to a film left us holding the bag, so to speak.

The one more or less normal concert of the week took place on Thursday evening – the Holst, which was paired with the Grieg piano concerto took place on Tuesday – when Gianandrea Noseda lead an all Rachmaninov program. Noseda is an upbeat sort of fellow, although not cloyingly so, and almost in spite of myself I have come to enjoy working with him. It didn't take much to make this a high point in an otherwise lowly week.

After two 'classical' concerts in a row, you could pretty much guess what was in store for Sunday at 5 PM. If a pitcher throws two strikes in a row, right down the middle, you can bet good money the third will be way outside, or in the dirt.

Ann Hampton Calloway has a great voice and probably deserves to have her own show. The same could be said for the orchestra, I suppose. It seems as if the critics are finally noticing that a large, late-romantic sized orchestra, a jazz combo, and the great American songbook don't necessarily go together. Sometimes when 'pop' acts get onstage with us, their slick showbiz antics cause a few eyes to roll. The Sunday show was in no danger of eliciting that sort of reaction as it dipped below even a minimal level of professionalism.

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