I don’t know what you call it, but I call it “chicken elbow” – the roughened scaliness that crops up on the elbow of your non-dominant arm when you’ve been spending too much time sitting at a desk with books and proofs. (I don’t think you acquire it from leaning on the arms of seats in concert halls; if that’s a culprit it’s a lesser one.)
Anyway, I have it. And the source of my chicken elbow is also the reason I posted only twice last month and just six times the month before. Too much work and not enough play makes Thomasina a dull blogger, but she’s going to work harder at playing and see what comes of it.
Meanwhile, a dash through the past 36 days.
I had the pleasure of interviewing some of the participants in a concert being given by another orchestra, one an old colleague from Cleveland and the other a visiting director. The visiting director, in particular, was an absolute joy to talk to. He has a wonderful way of putting musical matters into words and of characterising sound. There was too much to use, but some of the results turn up in a program book and in a short audio feature that you can find here.
Yet another orchestra needed program notes for a “Night in Vienna” style concert. I love and thoroughly approve of these sorts of concerts, believing Johann Strauss II to be, in many ways, the superior article to Richard. (What’s the saying? “If Strauss then Johann, if Richard then Wagner.” Must have driven the composer of Der Rosenkavalier wild to hear that bandied about.) Except this particular concert kept changing. I finished the essay only to discover that some Mozart had crept into the program when I wasn’t looking and bits of Kalman had sidled out. Nothing for it but to cook up a new lead and write a new essay… I will add, for those who might find themselves writing on a similar theme, that the Marco Polo recordings of the complete works of the “right” Strauss are a mighty useful resource. The performances are ordinary, but the liner notes are extraordinarily thorough. Even I can’t imagine getting that nerdy over four-minute polkas, but one man’s obsession is this girl’s lifesaver, so I can’t complain.
There were concerts every week, sometimes more than one. The highlights were Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who brought Haydn fully alive as I’d expected him to and gave me the illusion that I really like Bruckner (also as expected). Actually, I don’t dislike Bruckner, but he falls into the same category as opera: I don’t want to hear his music on recordings, but I’m always game for a live performance. All the same, I came away confirmed in my view that Haydn is the more satisfying composer. The following week Yannick was back, again, to conduct Shostakovich’s first cello concerto and Saint-Saëns’ symphony-with-organ. By the way, I can assure the speculating reviewer [alas, I can no longer link to the piece, SMH having removed it] that Han-Na Chang’s sound easily projected to where I was sitting – rear circle, on account of the popularity of the program.
[On a side note, at least for now, bloggers planning to post reference links to my orchestra’s event pages from the past (where the past can include yesterday) should take a copy of the url before the concert takes place. The beautiful new website no longer allows you to navigate to past concerts in the way you might expect, although the past program books continue to live here.]
A tricky bit of scheduling saw me catch a reverse half show in the form of an Australia Ensemble concert, beginning with Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro. This is a favourite piece, despite the fact that as a student I turned the main flute tune into a kind of tone-colour exercise that I would play in every key down the chromatic scale. A year of this did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm, and may have even improved my tonal range.
My orchestra “launched” its season on 21 August, not with a small function for VIPs as it has in recent years, nor with an event for its audience as some other orchestras do, but with the release of thousands of orange-hued booklets into the wild and some press articles, which kindly paid attention to the highlights and didn’t chastise us for any neglectfulness. (Whether such kindliness is a good thing for the art form in the long run is a whole ’nother post. Not going there.) From my perspective the most distinctive thing about the 2010 brochure, which on the surface looks much like the 2009 brochure, was that we stopped trying to be all things to all people. By which I mean, forgive the marketing speak, it no longer had to be an “acquisitions” brochure for non-subscribers as well as a brochure for renewing subscribers and the most avid of our single-ticket buyers. So I had some fun describing concerts in ways that occasionally stepped outside the box or which took a wry sideways glance at the conventions of concert brochure copy. And it took me most of June and July, but generally I was successful in sidestepping the most unhelpful and boring of the clichés.
There was the week-from-hell in which two interlopers joined the regular program book schedule: elaborate designed-from-the-ground-up programs for Kiri Te Kanawa and Star Trek. Two more different productions playing on alternating evenings you cannot imagine, but at least some of my colleagues had fun dressing up for Star Trek. I liked the idea a lot, but not enough to buy a ticket. Perhaps the 20 minutes I’d had to spend on the phone with a typesetter, changing every reference to a Star Trek ship from USS to U.S.S. and ensuring that each ship’s name was also italicised put me off. (Official trademark requirement, apparently, and I thought I was pedantic.)
A challenging month was lightened by the presence of the 2009 AYO Music Presentation Fellow, who was spending four weeks discovering first-hand how words and music and orchestras interact as well as how program books make it into print. This particular training program is very close to my heart, since it was the inaugural fellowship, back in 1995, that gave me an all-important foot in the door to orchestras, concert programming and the whole words about music thing. Back then AYO (or Youth Music Australia as it was) had money to burn: my fellowship lasted three months and took me to three cities and various parts of the ABC and several orchestras. Nowadays, four to six weeks is the norm, but it’s still a hugely valuable program as well as an important avenue for talent-spotting. Sadly, too many of the young talents seem more interested in burrowing further into academia than in getting their hands dirty with real music-making, the putting on of concerts and writing for real people. The most pragmatic advice I was ever given – once, in Wales, when I let slip that I was toying with the idea of postgraduate research – was this: “That’s all very well, but an orchestra needs you to know which Sibelius symphonies go down well with audiences and why, and how many harps and timpani are needed for the Symphonie fantastique.” (At that stage I was up on the instrumentation for Berlioz but had been avoiding Sibelius.)
The end of the month saw a fascinating program marred by a confusion somewhere along the line (the paper trail suggests where) as to which Haydn sonata in A flat the pianist was going to play. The link in the previous sentence suggests one thing, but the reality was quite different. No sprightly minuet but a rather soulful slow movement and every sign – to anyone reading the newly written program note – that we’d been advised of the wrong piece. (It was in fact Landon 31, Hob.XVI:46.) Some noticed, but not as many as you’d hope for in an alert and observant audience. This was depressing but not all that surprising. It’s disturbing how easy it is to be reading one thing and listening to another while happily entertaining the most startling of disconnects. And I was reminded of this in more ways than one.
This month, CityMusic Cleveland presents the premiere of a piece for string quartet and chamber orchestra by Christos Hatzis, a Canadian composer, and my orchestra premieres its sole major commission for the year in the form of a horn concerto. Also this week, it sounds like there will be some very interesting things to see and hear in the SOH Concert Hall as the next stage of acoustic trials comes into play. More important, though, Thomasina has a spring holiday planned. And she will get rid of the chicken elbow.