Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

This week at the chalkboard: The Classical Era

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been covering the Classical Era in two of my classes. (One, a Freshman Intro to Music Lit and Two, a junior level survey of Music History) The Classical Era ends up being my most and least favorite era to teach, for the following reasons:

1. The music is insanely uniform and the era is insanely short.

2. There really are only three major composers.

This makes it both easy and difficult to teach. When I first started, I would dread this era. So much sonata form, so many symphonies and string quartets, and never mind all the piano music. And with only three composers, how to fill the time? I can’t really justify spending oodles of time on Stamitz and Sammartini, (although I do spend some time on them) and forget Wagenseil, Gassmann and Gossec. But over the years, I have come to love many things about teaching this era, partially because of all the other things there are to learn from it that aren’t necessarily about music.

These days, I really relish the time I have to spend on HMB (that’s Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven). Their lives are so informative to modern musicians, and we have enough primary source material about them to get a good picture of their lives and personalities. (You can’t say that about most composers from the Baroque era and before.) So here’s what I enjoy sharing most with my students about these three amazing musicians:

Their career paths

The Classical era was the beginning and the end for the careers of composers and musicians. It was the end of full-time patronage, as fewer and fewer musicians held full time court or church jobs. Haydn worked most of his life at the court of Esterházy. The benefit of this was he had an ensemble to work with every day, and could train, hire, and rehearse them to his liking. He had a place to live, food at the servant’s table, and a steady paycheck. The downside of this was he had to compose whatever the Prince was in the mood for, stay on top of the instrument collection and music library, follow the Prince on lengthy vacation trips to the summer palace, and (at least at first) he was not allowed to publish his music outside of court. Haydn writes of “praying for ideas” to keep up with the Prince’s requests and composes way more works than Mozart or Beethoven. (104 Symphonies to Mozart’s 41 and Beethoven’s 9) Many will argue that he composed many more works of mediocre quality than M or B, which certainly has some truth to it, and most of his true masterworks come from the period in his life after he is retired from court and moves back to Vienna.

Mozart and Beethoven show us more of the beginning of modern music careers. They both spend some time holding positions at court like Haydn, then break away. Mozart spent a little time working in the ensemble at Salzburg, but really hated being seated at the servant’s table (and I’m sure there were other things he hated too, like still living with his Dad at 25) so quit and moved to Vienna to freelance. Beethoven worked as both harpsichordist then violist at the court of Bonn as a young man, but also eventually moved to Vienna to freelance in 1792 (the year after Mozart dies- good planning on his part). Once in Vienna, their careers look pretty similar. They both take students, publish their compositions, organize concerts, perform (although Beethoven can only perform as long as he can still hear), and take commissions. One thing Beethoven manages to do (that Mozart does not) is to convince some wealthy music lovers to give him a stipend, or places to live, or other helpful gifts that help keep him afloat. In return Beethoven dedicates works to them, so if you know his music, you may already know who these kind souls were (for example, the “Waldstein” Sonata). The careers of Mozart and Beethoven do not look too different from that of many modern musicians, who still cobble together a living from teaching and playing, so I always spend time talking about this aspect of their lives. In Higher Ed we often talk about how today’s musician needs to be more “entrepreneurial” than in past eras, but I’m not sure it’s true. What’s more entrepreneurial than Beethoven cajoling dozens of amateur and professional musicians into premiering his Ninth Symphony? Artists always have had to be smart and gutsy to make a living.

All that Sonata Form

While I do find it a little tiresome to listen to SO many works in sonata form, I think it provides a good learning opportunity as well. Comparing an early sonata form by Stamitz with one by Mozart or Beethoven really illustrates the genius of the latter two men. (And also how innovative Stamitz was to break away from just using rounded binary and to start developing his ideas. Although this tends to get lost in intro courses.) I also find sonata form to be a great listening exercise- can you hear (or feel) it when we enter the development section? What exactly are you reacting to? The harmony changes? The switch from longer themes to shorter motives? Or is it just a feeling in your gut? I also love recap sections. Do you feel relieved? Happy to be back in tonic?

I played a Minuet and Trio movement for my freshman last week. I didn’t tell them that’s what it was, just asked them lots of questions about it. It was an excellent performance on period instruments by Tafelmusik of Haydn Symphony #43. They were able to figure out that it was in 3, had an ABA form, it was a dance maybe, and the instrumentation. I was impressed. But my favorite part was that several of them were convinced that the return of the A section was somehow different from the first. Now those of us who have performed hundreds of these Minuets know that you use the exact same music to play the return of A, there are usually no changes other than to skip the repeats. But my students swore that the instruments were different, it was louder, it was faster- something had to be different! This to me was an excellent teaching moment about the transformative power of a good, contrasting B section (or a good development). That if the composer has done his job, “A” should sound new and fresh the second time around.

Three very different personalities

From everything I’ve read about H, he seems like an easy going guy that everyone liked. Especially in the few years before he gets his Esterházy gig, some pretty high-powered people go out of their way to help him. (His neighbor Metastasio gets him a job with Porpora, for example.) I think you can tell from his music that he was witty and had a good sense of humor. (“Joke” Quartet, “Surprise” Symphony) I am also impressed at how the influence of young M and young B seem to inspire Haydn to compose better and more complicated music in his later years- when he could be resting on his laurels.

M seems to have a fabulous sense of humor, although his humor tends towards fart and poop jokes at times. He loved word play and riddles, and was good with languages. He traveled the most widely of the three, and had friends all over, which proved useful later in life when he needs commissions. There are many moments where he seems to have a pretty big ego, but from our modern perspective, that was probably for good reason. He doesn’t deal with authority figures very well, so a freelance career probably suited him well. He seems to be a good husband, and for the most part, a good son.

B was a more difficult person to be around. He also suffered from bad health and stomach problems for most of his life, which I know would make me cranky. You can also imagine the heartbreak of a musician losing his hearing and how that might affect one’s outlook on life. He had very high standards, for his family and his art. While he didn’t have much formal schooling, he continues to learn and read throughout his life. And for someone who many people complained was in need of better grooming, ill-tempered, and moody, he still managed to win many life-long fans of his music. (Although it did not win him a wife, another source of pain for him for many years.)

So all in all, after years of thought, I feel like this era provides all sorts of good lessons about life in the music business, how to listen to music, and about life in general. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there I actually teach what the music of the Classical era was all about.

What if Schoenberg had been an American Civil Rights leader?….

Monday, May 21st, 2012

This semester, while teaching the Second Viennese School, a student asked a question about the word “emancipation” that made me think of this. With sincere apologies to Dr. Martin Luther King, I offer this post:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our art.

Five score years ago, a great Austrian, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the “Emancipation of the Dissonance.” This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of pitches who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. “The single tone” no longer held “the priviledge of supremacy.” It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Pitch still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Pitch is still sadly crippled by the manacles of tonality and the chains of function. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the musical dream. Some might say, an Impossible Dream.

I have a dream that one day this music will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all pitches are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of serialists and the sons of neo-classicists will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that my four little pitches will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their sharps and flats but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, little C sharps and F sharps will be able to join hands with little B flats and E flats as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream “that twelve-tone music in the near future will no longer be rejected because of “dischords””  “That today’s ear will become as tolerant to these dissonances as musicians were to Mozart’s dissonances.”

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

Let freedom ring from the conservatories of New York.

Let freedom ring from concert halls in the Heartland.

Let freedom ring from every studio on the coast of California.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every motif and every theme, from every choir and every orchestra, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, sharps and flats, pentatonic and whole tone, quartal and quintal, atonal and pantonal, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Content largely borrowed from http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm and the words of Arnold Schoenberg (in quotations)

My Heckel Bassoon #47xx, on his one-hundredth birthday

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

(This post is a bit belated, but I hope you enjoy it. Boris’ 100th birthday was July 2009.)

A musician’s relationship to her instrument is a unique thing. I often wonder if computer programmers get as attached to their PowerBooks as I am to my bassoon. Especially since I have played this instrument for eighteen of the twenty years I have played bassoon, I feel very strongly that he is responsible for much of my identity as a bassoonist. My sound and my style have been shaped and influenced by him. While I fully acknowledge that my instrument is an inanimate object, he does have expressive powers, and a personality.

The summer I turned sixteen, the school instrument I had been using was stolen. The school was not going to replace it right away, and I was starting Juilliard Pre-College in the fall. So an instrument was needed rather quickly. But buying a bassoon is difficult. Music stores rarely carry them, and buying a brand new instrument can be costly or risky. (How will it “play in”? What will it sound like in two years?) My teacher had met the man trying to sell #47xx a month or so before, and suggested I buy it. However, the owner and instrument had returned to California in the meantime, so I couldn’t really try it myself. I had to take my teacher’s word that it was good. My father, being practical and cautious, decided to fly out to LA with the check, and pick the instrument up himself. At the time, I don’t think I realized what an amazing thing he was doing for me.

When Dad brought it home, it was not what I expected. It was in a horrible case, the joints were banging around inside and it smelled of cigar smoke. It wasn’t shiny or pretty, like all the bassoons I had played before. It felt strange to blow into it (as I now know it is with any foreign instrument). In retrospect, these are the things I now love about this instrument. The lack of finish is why it sounds so beautifully rich and dark. The cigar smell gives him character and history. The little nicks in the wood from banging around in that case are battle scars. Now I can’t imagine playing on a brand new instrument, all perfect looking and shiny.

Heckel #47xx was originally purchased by someone in Boston in July of 1909. (My birthday is also in July. Coincidence?) I don’t know much about its first few decades, but since Boston was opening a new opera house that year, I like to imagine it was purchased by a bassoonist in the opera for his new gig. I bought it from Artie Drelinger, who purchased it from Simon Kovar. Kovar (1890-1970) was the second bassoonist in the NY Philharmonic, and taught almost every major American bassoonist of the 20th century. In fact, if I were to make a “family tree” of my teachers, and their teachers, all branches would lead back to Kovar (in some cases with only one degree of separation.) He also was Drelinger’s teacher. I don’t know if it was Kovar’s instrument, or whether he was selling it for someone else, but it is awe-inspiring to think it passed under his fingers at some point.

Artie Drelinger was a reed doubler, meaning he played most of the reed instruments. He played tenor saxophone in Charlie Parker’s Orchestra, and clarinet and tenor sax with Paul Whiteman’s band (who had premiered Rhapsody in Blue.) He later joined the CBS Studio Orchestra, where he played my bassoon on the Carol Burnett Show. In his retirement, he was running a music store and repair shop. Just after I first contacted him about the instrument, someone else called and offered him more money. He agreed to sell it to me, because he liked that I was a student.

I christened my bassoon “Boris.” All the good bassoon repertoire, as far as I’m concerned, is Russian orchestral music by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich. Plus the beat-up, cigar smelling nature of the instrument made me think of tough, weathered, old Russian men who had survived a few nasty winters. I don’t refer to him by name very often, but I do think it fits his personality better than a mere serial number.

Boris has been with me through my entire adult life. In high school, we commuted to New York City to take classes and play at Juilliard’s Pre-College Division in Lincoln Center. Since then we’ve played in Carnegie Hall, Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, and the tent in Aspen. I’ve played him at conferences in New York and Melbourne, Australia. He accompanied me for summers as a student and a faculty member at Kinhaven Music School in Vermont. Together we played a gig at the Hamden, CT Post Office with Carol Channing to inaugurate the Thornton Wilder stamp. We’ve taken lessons from some of the greatest living bassoonists in North America. I think the best moment I ever had with him was in my practice cabin while doing an Artist Residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada. No one heard it but me and the elk outside my window.  I’m looking forward to playing him at a competition in Paris over spring break. It may be his first trip to France!

Boris can be a crotchety old man. His keys stick in humid or dry weather, and his D’s are always sharp. I have to use weird fingerings for a few notes that make other bassoonists think I’m crazy. His 100-year old bocal (the curvy metal mouthpiece) doesn’t work as well as it should, so I’ve replaced it with a newer Heckel bocal that sounds much better. I have added a few keys to make it easier to play the extremely high notes that bassoonists didn’t use very often in 1909. He isn’t perfect, and neither am I. I’m still trying to figure out how to make the best reed for him, and probably still will be in another twenty years. It is rare for any woodwind instrument to last for 100 years, so I’m not sure how much longer he will last, but I hope we will enjoy many more years together. I can’t imagine playing without him, and would hate to have to replace him with a shiny new instrument.

Chamber Music America talks

Monday, December 21st, 2009

For the past few years I’ve started my year by going to the Chamber Music America conference in New York City. (http://www.chamber-music.org/events/) This year’s theme was Big Ideas for Small Ensembles. While I personally didn’t have any big new ideas for my trio, Neoteric, I did get to hear two great talks by some important men in classical music.

The first was by Steve Reich, which whether you like his music or not, you have to admit has had a giant impact on the music world, and probably isn’t finished. He started his talk by trying to convince us that music has never been an economically viable art form- which I happen to agree with. JSB (his little moniker for Bach) had the church, Haydn had Esterhazy, and Wagner had King Ludwig. I think sometimes we forget this, and lament that ticket sales won’t support us on their own. They never have! “Haydn never needed the NY State Council for the Arts!”

He also talked at length on his own music and process- including on “Different Trains” and his recent Double Sextet for Eighth Blackbird. He confessed to being incredibly drawn to canons in pairs of instruments. Reich recently turned 70, and clearly is comfortable with himself and confident about what he likes to do, and what he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to compose operas, or teach composition, or write string quartets. His talk was funny, and self-depricating, and interesting.

The second talk I attended was by Leon Botstein.  He began his talk by warning us that he may offend, and then declared that “Recording is Dead!” Controversial at the least! While I don’t completely agree with this statement, I do agree that recording as we have known it for the last 70 years or so is greatly changed. He pointed out that with iPods and downloading, the idea of “definitive recordings” is over, because there are so many available, and that we don’t listen the same way we used to. Walking around with earbuds in is not the same as sitting at home in front of your elaborate hi-fi system. Botstein also reminded us music has never been economically sustainable. (I guess I left feeling a little less of a capitalist and more socialist…) My favorite point of his was that in this new era, people will be able to judge music without fear. Since the age of the definitive recording is dead, there are fewer established opinions to agree or disagree with. We can judge music the way we judge movies- we can appreciate all the “in” jokes and fine points of cinematography, or we can just get sucked into a great story and get swept away.

I performed with my trio (Neoteric) on a session about audience participation. We had commissioned a piece for our trio and audience from John Steinmetz. He skillfully composed moments where the audience sings a drone with us, and claps a specific rhythm with us. John led the session along with Claire Hoffman- who had done some amazing work with the Native American tribe living in the Grand Canyon, and Eli Yamin- who has some great strategies for audience participation while giving jazz concerts on state department tours. I never fail to be impressed by the inventiveness of my musical colleagues- there are a lot of great ideas out there.

Neoteric decided that since we were in NY, we would visit the afterschool program that my mom runs in the Bronx. This was the largest audience of elementary school kids we ever played for, but we think it was a good experience for everyone. John came with us and led the kids in clapping and singing along in his piece. We ended with Bernie Hoffer’s arrangement of “Tale of the Oyster” which the kids really liked (and Jen did some great acting where the oyster, shall we say, re-emerges)

Colin Currie and St. Louis Symphony

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

On Saturday I heard the St. Louis Symphony’s concert with British percussionist, Colin Currie. Currie performed two concertos by Chinese-American composers- Tan Dun and Bright Sheng. It was fascinating to hear these two works back-to-back, since the two composers have such different approaches to their music. Both men use a hybrid style of Chinese and Western influences, but it takes them in two contrasting directions.

Tan Dun’s Water Concerto was full of new and unique colors- most notably those created by numerable objects being played in water (or the water itself) and an instrument that I assume is of Chinese origin (unnamed in the program-shame on the program!). But Dun also uses the western instruments of the orchestra in new ways, having wind players play on mouthpieces only, brass players drumming on leadpipes, and high effects in the strings. This made for an extremely colorful work with novel and interesting sounds. (When someone who’s been playing in orchestras for 20 years is looking around frantically, trying to figure out where that sound came from, you know something novel is going on.) However, musically this work was a little less interesting. I felt like certain cliche “Chinese themes” kept popping up, so melodically the work wasn’t as engaging. It felt more like a movie soundtrack than a concert orchestral work in that regard. And to be fair, Tan Dun wrote the great soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He’s good at soundtrack music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The main attraction was watching Currie (an attractive man himself) and the two SLSO percussionists playing in the water, making novel sounds, and seeing what they would do next. (What’s the sieve for? What is he going to do with that long tube and the ping pong paddle?)Overall, I enjoyed the work. It opened my ears, made me consider the musical possibilities of water, and was entertaining to watch.

(I didn’t get the chance to interview Currie, but here’s what I would have asked him– How do you hold on to your drumsticks with wet hands? Do you have to travel with your own water bowls? Or the 5 octave marimba? What is the name of the cool metal instrument with the tines and cool asian sounds? Is it harder to predict when a bowl of water will sound than with a traditional percussion instrument? Does it hurt your feelings to have to be separated from the rest of the orchestra by plexiglass? Did you feel like you were in Star Trek Next Generation when you had to keep tugging the cool red shirt you wore for Colors of Crimson?)

Bright Sheng’s work (Colors of Crimson) was completely different. It was a work for marimba and orchestra, and in more of a western style with some Chinese elements- rather than the other way around as it was with Tan Dun. It was more of what I expected of a “new” piece. It had some nice contrasts of mood, some nice colors (not nearly as exciting as Dun’s), some challenging and athletic playing required for the soloist, but little to stick in my mind the next day or make me want to go back for a second listen. It was well-crafted and pleasant. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams- mostly harmless.

I don’t want to neglect to mention that the two non-percussion works on the program were excellent. Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale and Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite were excellent choices to bookend this Chinese themed program. The orchestra did a great job of playing with fire and passion, and delicacy. There were many excellent principal solos (clarinet, english horn, the trombone gliss), but my absolute favorite of the night was Susan Slaughter’s beautiful trumpet melodies in the Stravinsky. She melted my heart with her warm sound and lyrical playing. I felt sad when she left the stage for the Tan Dun (don’t leave, I want to hear more!).

I thought this program was yet another excellent example of David Robertson’s very thoughtful programming. The juxtaposition of these Chinese-inspired and Chinese composers’ works was ear-opening. It was also smart to put new works with more familiar ones (although not TOO familiar). A minor complaint may be that it was a smidge too long, especially with all the scene changes required for the percussion works. But I definitely felt that I got my money’s worth.

My best wishes to the musicians as they head to Carnegie Hall. Show those New Yorkers that we Midwesterners are a force to be reckoned with!

Here’s a link to the NY Times review of the Carnegie Concert- sounds like they did a great job

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/06/arts/music/06louis.html

Weekend concerts in St. Louis

Monday, October 26th, 2009

This weekend was a great one for classical music lovers in St. Louis. On Friday I was a volunteer usher at the St. Louis Cathedral for a concert of the English choir Tenebrae. The program was largely music from the 20th and 21st centuries, with works by Poulenc, Taverner, and Durufle. It also included works on the second half  by the choir’s director, Nigel Short, and by living composer Joby Talbot. In addition to Tenebrae’s beautiful singing, another hallmark of their concert was that they performed by candlelight. While the singers had personal lights to see their music by, the room was largely lit by candles and luminaria placed throughout the cathedral. It was gorgeous to see the lights flickering off the mosaic tiles.

Hearing a cappella vocal music in a candle-lit church, I couldn’t help but think that this was how choral music began. Choirs of monks and choirboys, singing a cappella in churches and cathedrals, lit by candlelight; this was a scene that would have been familiar to any 12th or 13th century churchgoer. While the idea of having women sing the soprano parts instead of boys would shock a 13th century music lover, and our modern printing techniques make it much easier and cheaper for each singer to have her own part (early choirs often sang huddled around one giant choirbook), most of the scene before me on Lindell Avenue would have seemed eerily similar to that of a medieval church service.Giant Music Stand in Florence, Italy

I also couldn’t help but wonder about the strange parallels of the situation. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is a Byzantine style cathedral, modeled after San Marco in Venice and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I’m not sure why in 1907 they decided to build a Byzantine structure, rather than a modern one, but they did- and it cost them plenty! It’s so exhausting to imagine all of those tiny tiles being affixed to every inch of the walls. Humans have been investing this level of time, money, effort, and artistry into our religious buildings for centuries. It’s also interesting to note that most of the first written music was religious music. Early church music is also where we find the first polyphony (different notes being sung together, creating harmony). So we have a 20th century version of medieval buildings housing a concert of 20th (and 21st) century versions of medieval choral music. I guess there isn’t anything new under the sun? Or maybe we humans know a good thing when we see or hear it? Maybe we feel a connection to these very old arts, or maybe we seek out a feeling of connection with our medieval ancestors. I don’t know the answer to this, but I’d love to know what those early architects and composers would say if they saw us all sitting there, in the “new world” cathedral, listening to a choir in the dark.

Another concept that Tenebrae borrowed from the past was that of moving around the church during their performance. It was common for early choirs to “proceed” to their spot up front while singing chant. It also became the fashion at San Marco in Venice to place singers and instrumentalists in the various balconies for an early version of stereo or surround sound. (When Gabrieli did this it was called “cori spezzati” or split choirs.) Especially for those seated in the middle section of the cathedral, this is a very effective way to envelope your audience in some very beautiful sound. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s nothing like being so surrounded by sound that you can literally feel the air vibrating around you. (And for those of you who accomplish this with your home stereo system, it is 10 times better when produced by live performers- spend your money on some concert tickets!)

My only complaint about the program was that the music was all of a similar style, especially on the second half. So while it was very beautiful music, and very well performed, it could have used a bit more contrast of style. However, the music was all suited to the space and the voices, and I’m guessing the second half of the program was music that was mostly new to the audience. I was really impressed with how quiet and respectful the audience was, in a big echoey space like that, even a quiet sound can easily disrupt a performance. I’m looking forward to hearing more choirs in this space.

On Saturday, I decided that since I hold a doctorate in music, it was time I heard the world’s most famous living cellist play in person. So I put up the $50 for a standing room seat to hear Yo-Yo Ma play with the St. Louis Symphony. The program began with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (which for once I was glad was only 2 movements, since my feet were already getting tired…) This work opens with a eerie melody in the cellos and basses, and the SLSO did a great job of this- really quiet and haunting. Kudos to the low strings! I was impressed with the dynamic range of the ensemble throughout the night, they were able to execute some beautiful pianos, and warm and strong fortes throughout the night. They also did a great job of bringing out the emotional contrasts in the music, from scary to triumphant, mellow to energetic. David Robertson did an excellent job of being accommodating (and possibly sarcastic?) when allowing the many late comers take their sweet time coming in between the movements.

Yo-Yo Ma is an artist I truly admire. He is a consummate cellist, with excellent technique and superb musicianship. But what I truly admire about him is that once he conquered the classical world, he branched out and has tried other things. Interesting collaborations with Bobby McFerrin, Edgar Meyer, and the choreographer Mark Morris have brought us some great music. He also started the Silk Road project, and recorded some other non-western music. So it was interesting to hear him play the warhorse of the cello repertoire- the Dvorak Concerto. I have to wonder what goes through his mind as he plays a piece I’m sure he’s performed hundreds, if not thousands, of times. That being said, it was not a dry or boring performance. His stage presence is so warm and inviting, I felt like I couldn’t help but go along with him and Dvorak on their journey through the Concerto. And like most great works, Dvorak really does take us on a journey with this work, traveling through several emotions and moods. Mr. Ma did an excellent job- he was relentlessly intense at times, and relaxed and ethereal at others. The orchestra was also in fine form, loud and full when called for, and able to play really soft and warm when accompanying.

The audience seemed to be as enthralled with the performance as I was. It was heartening to see so many young people in the hall, especially considering the ticket prices. (To be fair, this was a gala fundraising evening, and I’m sure the orchestra raised some badly needed funds. And it was worth $50 to stand through it.) David Robertson offered the audience a very sincere thank you, and reminded them that coming to hear an orchestra concert is celebrating what’s best about being human.

Let’s keep celebrating!

My dog Luna, upon listening to me practice my bassoon

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Swee-da Rhee-da Wee-da Wah-da

Swee-da RHee-da Wee-da Wad-DAMN

Really? Again? Shouldn’t a human her age know her whole tone scales by now? What has she been doing with her time? This is the fifth night in a row that she’s worked on that passage.

She should stick to the Baroque and Classical stuff anyway, she’s better at it.

Swee-da Rhee-da Wee-da Wah-da

Swee-da RHee-da Wee-da Wad-da

Her F-sharps are out of tune. I’ll go tell her. Plod plod plod. I’ll sit here nicely until she notices me.

“Hi Luna, what’s up?” Pet pet pet, head kiss.

NO you idiot, I didn’t want to get pet, your F-Sharps are out of tune! Don’t you know I have better ears than you do!?!

CLICK   CLICK   CLICK   CLICK   CLICK

Oh no, not the metronome. It hurts my brain. She needs the tuner anyway.

Clack clack clack clack, sniff sniff.

“Luna NO, get away from my bassoon.”

But it smells so good. It’s older than the sticks in the yard, reminds me of beer and bratwurst somehow. I really want to lick it, maybe even chew on it. She puts it in her mouth, why can’t I?

Sweeeee-daaaa Rheeeee-daaaa Weeeee-daaaa Waaaah-daaaaa

You know, she is so busy blowing into the big noisy stick, she might not notice if I curled up on her pillow… hmmm. Oh man, it’s so much softer than my bed, and it smells like drool! I’ll add some of my own, so later she’ll know I’ve been here.