Archive for the ‘Dear Diary’ Category

A good week

March 8, 2009

I’ve not been posting much recently, due mostly to being swamped on multiple fronts. But this week reminded me that being swamped is not necessarily a bad thing. Working backwards, then…

We ended the week with two lovely subscription performances with our music director. The program was Goldmark’s In Springtime, the Grieg piano concerto with Bill Wolfram, and the Brahms second symphony. The Goldmark was a bit of an oddity (and I’m sure I just did the last performance I’ll ever do of it), but a very attractive piece. The Grieg was played compellingly by Bill, who really is one of the best musicians of any kind on the circuit today. (I had the pleasure, years ago, of doing the Brahms songs for alto, viola, and piano with Bill, and it was only strolling through an airport a few days later, singing to myself, that I realized that not once during the performance had I felt constrained by the piano – something that had never happened to me before when playing with anyone except once or twice in quartet. I simply did what I wanted to do, and it was magically and perfectly together with Bill. Pretty clearly it wasn’t my fault that it was so together either.)

And the Brahms benefited from the 12 years we’ve spent working with a music director with a particular love and feel for Brahms, as well as from this orchestra’s innate feel for the Germanic romantic literature. It just all came together in the most natural and easy way; ensemble and pitch fell into place, and there was a lovely pacing, intensity, and (paradoxically enough) intensity to the whole effort. I can’t imagine us doing a better Brahms 2, or any orchestra doing one much better than we did last night.

On showing up for the first concert on Friday morning, I saw the program book for March and April. Suffice to say that I was front and center on the cover. Actually it would be more accurate to say I was the entire cover.

Further backwards in time, on Tuesday our principal 2nd violin, Jennifer Startt, and I played the Handel/Halvorsen Passacaglia for the subscription campaign kick-off event, which featured a Q&A between Edo de Waart, our music director designate, and an audience of several hundred subscribers, hosted by our concertmaster Frank Almond. I was surprised to find out that I could still be that nervous. Perhaps spending all that day (and the previous day) listening to auditions with Edo reminded me that, in a sense, one is always auditioning when one plays for the boss. But it went well, or felt as if it did. We had spent a lot of time on the violin/viola repertoire over the past few months, working in real detail, and it seemed to have paid off, in terms of ensemble and pitch in particular.

And I discovered the subscription brochure led off with a quote from me about our music director designate, which of course I had known about (having supplied the quote) but was interested to see in context. A laudatory quote, of course, and an honest one. But it reminded me that there times when the multiple hats I wear sit at odd angles to each other on my head.


Your daily factoid

January 21, 2009

We have another guest conductor this week; this one a very young and extremely talented Russian by the name of Vasily Petrenko. It’s actually his second round with us; I believe we were his American debut in the fall of 2006 (the performance we did of the Grieg Peer Gynt became our first download for sale with a conductor other than our music director, and our second binaural recording.)

This time, the big piece was supposed to be the Tchaikowsky Manfred, but apparently management got a little nervous about ticket sales and changed it to Scheherazade. As someone who’s salary comes in part from ticket sales, I’m not going to claim it was a bad call, although it would have been fun to do the Manfred.

But I learned something this morning as a result of the program change. We were working on the second movement and Petrenko was coaching the second trombone on how he wanted the big solo to go, when he stopped and told us why Rimsky-Korsakov wrote all those big soli for 2nd trombone. (This is apparently a legendary, but true, story in the musical community of St. Petersburg, where Petrenko did most of his schooling.)

The 2nd trombone of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestra in St. Petersburg was a member of the Romanov family, although distant enough to avoid meeting the same unfortunate fate as befell the Tsar and his immediate family. This meant that, whenever the 2nd trombone had a solo, and got a solo bow from the conductor at the end of the piece – the entire audience had to stand up as well.

I guess that beats playing Stars and Stripes at the end of every concert (especially for a Russian orchestra, of course). But I hope it’s not an indication that, at our upcoming audition for assistant principal viola, I’m going to have to do some quick online genealogical research on the finalists. I’ll bet that 1st trombonist spent most of his career in a complete snit.

Xmas Xrap

December 6, 2008

December is not, for most orchestra musicians, the most wonderful time of the year. For many of us, December involves a kind of musical Groundhog Day – endless performances of Nutcracker or Hansel and Gretel – for the lucky ones, and a Purgatory of bad arrangements of Christmas carols and holiday dreck for everyone else. (more…)

United we crumble

May 11, 2008

I’ve been meaning to write about some important stuff, such as the
catastrophe enveloping the Columbus Symphony and Greg Sandow’s
comparison of orchestras and museums. But first I’m going to vent about
an airline.

I was supposed to go to Rochester tonight for a meeting with the
Polyphonic staff tomorrow. Now, on paper, it’s not hard to get from
Milwaukee to Rochester. One hops on a plane, flies to a hub somewhere,
hops on another plane, and lands in Rochester about 4 hours or so after
one started. The actual door-to-door time more like 8 hours, of course.
But it’s still faster than driving.


Sancho speaks!

May 8, 2008

Last night (May 7) we did Don Quixote with Yo-Yo Ma. Any performance of
Don Quixote is a Big Event in the life of a lead viola operator; doing
one with Yo-Yo as The Don ups the ante some.

I’ve done it twice before; once with then-principal cellist Ron Shawger
in 1989 and once with Lynn Harrell in 1997. So I knew the piece and had
some ideas about what to do with the viola part. But stuff like that
doesn’t get easier as one gets older.


Revisiting Vaughan Williams

May 4, 2008

Norman Lebrecht takes a short holiday from being acerbic to write a
warm remembrance of Ralph Vaughan Williams on the occasion of a BBC4
broadcast of a film about the composer on May 23rd:

Ralph Vaughan Williams feels to me almost like family. I grew up in the 1950s with his music on the radio and the tales of my older sisters, who were evacuated during the War to sleepy Dorking where he lived in a house at the edge of the town. Beatrice got taken with her class to sing for him at The White Gates on his 70th birthday, in October 1942. ‘Very shabbily dressed,’ she recalls, ‘his socks didn’t match’.


Worth a riot

April 5, 2008

We did Le Sacre du Printemps this week. What a great piece of music.
The audience at the Paris premiere in 1913 (conducted by Pierre
Monteux, who was the mentor of two of my favorite conductors, George
Cleve and David Zinman) deserves a lot of credit for their riot. They
recognized that they were present at a world-historical event.


Mozart looked like this

March 13, 2008

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what Mozart looked like. But a portrait of Mozart has recently surfaced that may be the best representation of Mozart’s physicial appearance that we are ever likely to have.

Does it add to our knowledge of Mozart in any meaningful way? No. But curiosity defines humanity in a way that no other trait does.

In other news, Bach’s head has been reconstructed by a forensic scientist, and he looks very German indeed. Too bad they couldn’t manage the brain part.

Not a Squishedivarius after all

February 17, 2008

Apparently David Garrett didn’t smash up his Strad. Boy I am relieved.


When good artists happen to bad people

February 15, 2008

When should an artist dissent? The answer, for Arts and Ammo, is when the Right tells him to:

Scott Spiegelberg at Musical Perceptions points approvingly to pianist Leon Fleisher’s aversion to going to a White House occupied by George Bush and to conductor Lorin Maazel’s eagerness to perform for Kim Jong-il in North Korea.

It’s easy to find approval these days shunning the supposed dictator Bush while cozying up to real dictators elsewhere.

The writer (whose name I can’t find on his/her blog) goes to to excoriate my brother-in-bratsche-blogging Charles Noble for having defended the decision of the New York Philharmonic to go to North Korea (with the approval, I would add, of President Bush’s State Department).