Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Standard Concerto"

I LOVE auditions.  Have I mentioned that before?  It is so inspiring to hear wonderful players performing beautifully for us, and I always learn something that I can apply to my own work.

Friday we listened to Cello, Bass, and Violin auditions here in South Bend.  In each case, the candidate was asked to start with the exposition of a “standard concerto”.  In practice, this means that everybody played a different piece, which in many cases was unfamiliar to me.  A concerto that bass players learn as a “standard” is not necessarily one that is frequently performed in the orchestra, and even a piece I’ve played many times, like the Sibelius Violin Concerto, sounds different when I’m listening from the house and not playing at the same time.   How, I asked myself, is this segment of the audition relevant to me?  As the token wind player on the committee, I figured I’d just wait for them to get to the excerpts; since everyone would be playing the same material I could then compare apples to apples. 

But that’s not how it felt at all.  Even having never heard a piece before, you can tell if a person is playing in tune.  Even the first time through, it’s apparent if the rhythm is insecure.  And most importantly, you can tell immediately whether the player is communicating or not.  A surprising number of people in our first round played fairly proficient concertos which just didn’t mean anything.  Strings of notes with no purpose.  Some who started out with a lovely singing line lost track of that line the first time the piece became technical.  As though at that moment the metronome was the only thing they were trying to channel.  As though getting all of those triplets or doublestops in was what making music was all about. 

I would not say that this was the case for any of the outstanding musicians we hired.  The attention and care that are required to really understand your music and the ability to communicate that understanding to a listener are, unsurprisingly, transferable skills.  Although a section violinist IS much of the time a technical workhorse, with little personal discretion as to how a line is phrased, and although the orchestral excerpts are primarily technical and permit little interpretation, still the players with a sense of line, style, and communication rose to the top of our consideration immediately. 

The entire day, there was only one candidate I heard whose concerto moved me but for whom I did not vote.  You’ve got to prepare the excerpts too - even an excellent player can make just too many mistakes to be advanced.  But in general, a beautiful, singing, communicative opening to the audition led to more beautiful, intentional, well-directed playing thereafter.  Great players just can’t be ignored.  

So it matters.  The Standard Concerto clause of the audition repertoire list is a candidate’s chance to speak directly to the committee.  To make himself a person worth working with, and a person worth getting to know, musically.  Without words, and behind a blind screen, you can reach out and touch someone - which is always worth doing. 

I was honored to have heard so many outstanding performances on Friday.    Thank you, everyone who played for us!  I’m inspired and enriched by your work.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Upcoming Concert: Bringing the Community In

We’ll be doing a Community Play-In at the end of our Saturday night park concert - an arrangement of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (with all the vocal parts and the hard parts removed).  The South Bend Symphony will be joined on stage with nearly fifty players from the community.  These range from young high school students to senior citizens, and I think that this will end up being a thrill for us and for them.

We had a rehearsal the other night with these community players.  Only a handful of symphony musicians were present, and we worked on an eight minute piece for two and a half hours, which felt to me like a recipe for a dreadful evening. 

And it did feel interminable at first.  The group started playing, and fell apart completely at the first time change.  We corrected, restarted, and fell apart again in some string section counterpoint.  I was already checking my watch. 

The work we did was not as directed as it would have been in a professional group.  Pretty much we just played little sections until we got them and then strung them together into bigger sections.  It took about eight times longer to rehearse this piece into playability than it would have for our orchestra.  But compared to the rehearsal pace of a high school orchestra, or a municipal band, we put together a difficult piece in the snap of a finger!  

At the beginning of the session I was seeing panic on the faces of some string players.  And by the end no one was afraid.  Beethoven sounded like Beethoven.  It was absolutely exciting to watch the progress that this very mixed group made over such a short period of time. 

When we perform it Saturday night, with these newly empowered community musicians joining the full SBSO, the effect will be terrific.   Our orchestra is always trying to build ties within the community, and MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER is such a great way to do it.  Yes, performing on the Morris stage with a full house in passive attendance is our real job, but here at the very end of summer I am so pleased to have this chance to collaborate with our audience!

This final outdoor concert of this summer season will be Saturday at 7. Now, all of my concerns about parks concerts still apply - the sweat, the bugs, the interminable pops charts.  But I’m looking forward to this one.  Details HERE.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Time!

School has started!  I now have FOUR GLORIOUS HOURS of uninterrupted grownup time every day where before I had to fight and beg and bribe for every minute of practice and reed work and thought that I got.  I’m already planning my approach. 

I read a book this summer: Laura Vanderkam’s “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think”.  I’m not exactly recommending it - there are plenty of spectacular productivity books out there and this was not at all one of the best - but I was inspired by her way of considering the week in terms of total hours - so that you can decide how to spend your time over a longer block than a day or an hour.

It’s a little bit obvious - that if a week is composed of 168 hours you can choose how to spread your work and life out within that time, and plan hours for sleeping, working out, cooking, and DOING GOOD WORK.  But somehow I’ve never thought of it that way - as a big chart instead of a little one.  I often feel bad if I don’t get to practice, run, write, cook, and catch up on laundry and emails every single day, on top of teaching and orchestra work, but over time everything eventually does get done.  It would relax me to remember that the 45 minutes I am practicing today and the 2 hours I got in yesterday are all coming together to make up a good week’s worth of productive time. 

During the summer it was hard to predict how my day would go.  I can plan ahead all I want but if Zoe is determined to bother me or is having a cranky day I can’t always get past her to everything I want.  Steve has his own work to do, and I can only justify so much TV in her life.  Often my day becomes one of responding to only the most urgent emails in my box between four-year-old demands, and arguing about the relative proportions of macaroni to veggies on a plate.

Now, though, with good, productive morning work behind me I can enjoy my daughter in the afternoons.  We can eat together, go for a walk, talk about her day which was DIFFERENT FROM MINE.  Interact like people who like each other. 

And I have so much that I can’t wait to work on!  A stack, many inches thick, of exciting recital music.  A budget and website and programming for my new chamber music series.  ALL of the student scheduling that has to happen at this time of year.   Loads of blog topics that I have contemplated and just haven’t gotten to.  The introvert in me is rejoicing at the possibilities.

Life is good - but it’s about to be so much better.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

GREAT Chamber Music

I attended a concert Monday night!  This just about never happens, but it was utterly good for my soul.  I’ve been inspired ever since, both in my practicing and in my planning for the season ahead.

I went out to Michigan City, Indiana, where my friend Nic’s Michigan City Chamber Music Festival is in the middle of its twelfth season.  I had never made it to one of their concerts, although they are located less than an hour from my home, during my slow season of mid August, and some of my good friends and colleagues are featured performers.  We were in Colorado last summer, but beyond that I have no excuses whatsoever. 

And the concert was wonderful.  Friendly and informal in all the right ways, beautifully professional and uncompromising in others.  The musicians were completely accessible - there was no backstage to speak of and so they stood right at the back of the hall until everyone was seated.  I got to visit with them on the way to my seat.  They spoke before almost every piece on the program, which I always love - it’s nice to have a little inside information about the piece we are going to hear and charming to sense the personality of the performers before the music begins to speak through them. 

Once they began to play, though, they were absolutely professional.  Beautiful, focused music-making, communicating like crazy with each other and with us but never breaking character.  I’ve seen - and been - musicians who take the informality too far and keep mugging for the audience or reacting to errors or relying on the audience’s good will too much.  This was not that.  I loved that Nic had hired a solid crew to make the stage changes as seamless as possible.  I loved that the program book itself was glossy and fat and easy to follow.  It made the whole thing seem real, which of course it was.

The programming was fabulous.  Piece after piece that I did not know but now love.  I looked through the program at the next few concerts (there are MORE!) and saw nothing but more excitement to come.  I loved the mix of new and old, wild and peaceful, singing and dancing. 

 I loved the audience which sat paying attention and listening HARD throughout every piece and then leaped to its feet whooping and hollering at the end - EVERY TIME.  The church was full and everyone was rapt. How do you develop an audience like that?  Over time, I think, and with a gentle hand, and by putting on outstanding concerts in a small town not know for them. 

So.  The Michigan City Chamber Music Festival is on again tonight, and Friday, and Sunday afternoon in Michigan City.  The schedule is HERE.  (It's not so easy to navigate the site - but if you click on the word Program it will download the concert pages with times, the address of the church, etc.)   If I can beg Steve’s indulgence again I will be back.  You should go. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Final Parks Concert - New Oboe!

Yesterday our outdoor concert moved indoors, due to torrential rain, and because we were inside and climate-controlled I could not resist playing my new oboe. 

Yes, I bought a new oboe.  Just a few days ago.  A Bulgheroni Opera model, and I was pretty sure I loved it - but playing alone in your room for a week is a great way to talk yourself into some doubts.  I was eager to get it out in public, just to make sure that it was a team player. 

After all, I could play the oboe in tune with my tuner, but matching with other players is another factor altogether.  Did every note have the flexibility I needed?  Would I be able to easily change the sound to blend with a flute or a trumpet or to bring a solo line forward?  Was it easy to USE, in other words?  I knew I liked it in isolation but needed to know how much it would fight me in the orchestra.

And it was great.  I know I’ll write more about this instrument as I get to know it better - but right now it seems to be giving me exactly what I wanted.  I was looking for an oboe that allowed me to project my ideas more without sounding ugly, and I feel great about the maiden voyage of this new horn.  It had a big, beautiful sound, and I had no trouble fitting in with the group. 

Also, I continue to enjoy the NISO’s summer parks concerts, and we have one more event tonight in Gary.  Details HERE.