An odd week

My orchestra is under the Curse of the Renter, which is to say that we
don’t own our own hall. I would say that’s good news and bad news,
except that there’s very little good about the situation. We pay the
county a fortune in rent and a long list of add-on charges and we have
little control over dates. To add insult to injury, it’s a lousy hall.
When I was out for two months due to a broken finger in 2006, I went to
a few concerts and was really horrified to hear just how bad the sound
was in parts of the hall.

As a consequence of the Curse, we spend about 1/3 of our season as a
homeless orchestra; a figure that would be closer to 1/2 if we weren’t
the pit orchestra for the Florentine Opera, which is also a tenant of
the hall. What to do with us during that 1/3 of our season is a problem
that no management has really figured out during my tenure (not that I
have an answer either; I don’t). We are relieved of the rental expenses
when we’re out of our hall. Unfortunately we’re also relieved of our
core audience.

We usually use a couple of weeks for state tours. In December, when non-Curse orchestras are selling tickets like hotcakes to their Chanukatide spectaculars, we are displaced by the Milwaukee Ballet doing the inevitable Nutcracker run. So we do Christmas pops runouts. This year we re-instituted Christmas concerts in a couple of local churches. But, even when sold out, such concerts don’t produce a lot of money, given the size of the churches, and moving the orchestra around isn’t cheap.

And then there are weeks like this one. We had a rehearsal and concert (actually half a concert) at the Milwaukee High School for the Arts on Tuesday, which had been a depressing event in the past. This time, the school orchestra played on the first half and we had a pretty good house. I was very pleased to find that the orchestra teacher, Pablo Amaya,  there is a former viola student of mine. Not only did he find a gig but he’s doing a really good job with the kids. Go Pablo! Still, the school is pretty run-down and it’s in a part of town that’s on the poor side of Milwaukee’s racial divide. So it’s still depressing.

On Wednesday we had two rehearsals at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center for ACE (Arts in Community Education) concerts next week. MYAC is a beautiful rehearsal facility for several of the youth arts groups in town. Why does the local youth orchestra own a facility and the local professional orchestra not? Good question.

Thursday was off. Friday morning was a concert at a local intergenerational daycare. Friday evening was a runout.

Saturday we were the back-up band for Video Games Live at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. This was not an orchestra-sponsored event; given that it was sold out, maybe it should have been. But I understand we got a decent fee for the job.

It was a lot better than I had feared it might be. The charts were in good shape and generally well-written. The production crew and conductor were very professional. And the audience was wildly enthusiastic. I was only using a plug in my right ear, but really needed one in the left as well to shelter myself from the audience reaction.

The composers were almost all Japanese, which makes sense given the nature of the videogame market. But they were all channeling Orff and Prokofiev and Bernard Herrmann, so it was a lot like playing a Pops concert of movie music – except for the audience, of course.

Did you know that Bernard Herrmann was the producer for the definitive Barbirolli recording of the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis? Didn’t think so. And did you know the recording was made in one of the churches featured in The Da Vinci Code? There’s a conspiracy in there somewhere; no doubt involving albino violists.

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