May4: Essen

A little of this, a little of that.

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A BSO breakfast buffet. (Simulation only. These are paid actors.)

When orchestras rehearse and perform in their home halls, it’s a lot like any other job. Show up for work, do what you need to do, and go home. You can’t really hang out with friends on stage if you want to remain employed, and there’s not much time before or after or during the 20 minute intermission to do much schmoozing.

All that changes on tour, especially thanks to the Hotel Breakfast Buffet.You grab a plate of food, find an empty seat in the dining room and begin a conversation with whoever else is at the table. If the buffet is good (and the ones in our fine European hotels tend to be excellent) you go back to the trough several times, thereby extending conversations and making new friends.

This morning in Frankfurt was no exception. I sat next to three guys who play on the other side of the stage from me, and with whom I hardly ever  have an opportunity to chat: Blaise Dejardin, cello; Gregg Henegar, contrabassoon; and Mike Roylance, tuba. The first thing I said was that I felt a little out of place as the only one at the table who played in treble clef. Mike acknowledged that he knows what one looks like. A noble concession on his part.

Within the course of about twenty minutes, we discussed an amazing variety of subjects. It started with how Blaise was dealing with a cold and how various infirmities are going around the orchestra. Then with Mike and Gregg discussing how the Chinese are now making good student quality brass instruments; I’d known that their string instruments have really improved as well, so we compared notes on that. Then how Mike was taking a train to Essen rather than the orchestra bus–and all the ramifications of ticket prices and schedules–because he was giving a lesson there.

Gregg and I discussed the evolution of the backstage of the Shed at Tanglewood. He told me there are some new renovations going on. I had been chair of the orchestra committee when the previous, primitive backstage was torn down and a new one, three times as large, was constructed. The musicians and management had worked with architects drawing up plans and what we came up with made everyone happy–except former principle oboist, Ralph Gomberg. He was highly upset that he had been accorded his own room with a tuner, because, as you may know, the oboist gives the A to the whole orchestra at the beginning of the concert. He was so upset that I remember one night on the stage of Carnegie Hall he accosted me and accused me of having a “tutti mentality”–meaning, I suppose, I didn’t understand the needs of real artists–which I guess he believed was the worst insult he could hurl. I didn’t take it personally, and we always got along. He just needed to get it out of his system.

That led to stories of former principle flutist, the legendary Doriot Anthony Dwyer, and the occasions when she would either forget her music or lose her flute. There was one time in particular, when we played Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite” at Tanglewood and Doriot forgot her music. There was no other part available, so former librarian Victor Alpert sat on stage with her at the performance with the score on her stand, turning pages frantically about every four seconds.

Then Greg and I started discussing aging, and how we both had family and friends that have done the Arizona retirement living thing. My parents lived in Sun City long ago and hated it, but before they hated it they recruited my aunt and uncle to join them. They loved it. My Uncle Sid, a retired dentist, had his true passion playing the violin, and at the age of 93 would play for the “old people” at the assisted living facility.

After several more cups of coffee, the party broke up, but it all had a good feel. Later in the day I shared a table for another cup of coffee with cellist Mike Reynolds. He has a cabin out in Montana and, as I do a lot of hiking and camping in the Utah desert, we shared stories of how spiritually transformative real silence is, especially for a musician. And how playing on a great Stradivarius is likewise a transcendental experience.

I had a bite at the bar in the hotel in Essen before the concert, joining cellist, Sato Knudsen, and violinist, Si-Jing Huang, who were already deeply into discussions about the mechanics of 1960s Chryslers, which Sato seemed to be drooling over. Somehow from there we got into a conversation about Jascha Heifetz’s incredible spiccato in the upper half of the bow; and then, when the tap at the bar decided not to function, we transitioned into a beer discussion.

Concertgoers usually only see the musicians onstage wearing their penguin suits. They’d probably enjoy getting to know what makes us tick. I certainly have.

Today was a typical day on tour: Three-hour bus ride; check into hotel in the afternoon; acoustic rehearsal before the concert; concert.

Tomorrow’s is the schedule from hell. (If it’s a blur to you, don’t worry. It’s a blur to me, too.) Three cities in one day, including an hour-and-a-half bus ride after a reception after a concert. But I’m sure tomorrow night’s concert will go as well as tonight’s, and I’m also sure at the breakfast buffet a good time will generally be had by all.

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Example of a tour day from hell.

 

Note: When I read over these blog posts I usually spot a word here and there that I’ve either left out or misspelled, or a fact that’s not 100% accurate. I’m happy when someone calls me on it. It’s mainly because I write these things at about midnight after a long day on the road. And it’s partly because I just screwed up. In either case, you can usually figure out what I meant to say. At least, I can…usually.

 

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2 thoughts on “May4: Essen

  1. hiwendyjane@gmail.com

    You Uncle Sid was so proud of you! He bragged about your accomplishments to every/any one who’d listen!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    Reply

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