Only one more time!
Tonight was our second-to-last Mahler Ninth, and I have to say, after all the prior performances, the Hamburgers had the most relish. It must have been an A-1 performance.
Two Famous Hamburgers
Sorry about that. I just needed to get it out of my system. You’ll have to be tolerant. We’ve been on the road for two weeks and I’m getting a little loopy. Also, I left my eyeglasses in my violin case at the hall and that’s made me grumpy as well.
Speaking of tolerance, the concert began with a ceremony that the musicians were unaware was going to take place, and didn’t even know until afterwards what it was all about because very few of us speak German and, as it turned out, Arabic. It seems that our concert is part of a series in which each performance is preceded by a recent immigrant talking about what freedom means to him or her. Tonight’s speaker was an Iraqi refugee and I’m not sure what he said, but in a way it didn’t matter because it was simply a reminder to me that we can’t take our own freedoms for granted. And we elect our public officials we should always remember not to vote for them out of anger, but out of the greatest wisdom we can muster.
Since tomorrow is the last day of the tour I want to say a few words about teamwork. I’ve written about it on the macro level a bit–the interaction of the musicians with each other and with the conductor, etc. But there’s a lot that goes on on the micro level as well. I’m referring to stand partners in the string section.
For those who don’t know much about orchestras, the strings are divided into Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello, and String Bass. All the musicians within each section play the same part. And for every two players there is one music stand. Hence, stand partners. You might not think there’s much that goes into sitting with another person in the string section, but there are actually a million little things. I just name a few that we have to agree on: the height of the music stand; it’s position between us so that we can both see the music and both see the conductor without twisting ourselves into pretzels; what (if anything) to pencil into the music; how and when to turn pages (I could write a book on this alone, and maybe I will); when to talk about the weather and when not to talk; and being basically supportive of each others musicianship. I could add a bunch of other things to the list, but I’m running out of steam. When added all up, these things can lead to a wonderful professional relationship in which each musician becomes a better musician as a result. Or a toxic one.
Let me give you a true life example of the latter: a stand partner relationship that went terribly wrong. Two former Boston Symphony members, who have both passed away, sat together for decades. They were both wonderful people and fine musicians. But at some point, one of them apparently said the wrong thing and their relationship started to go sour. For about twenty years they didn’t talk to each other or even look at each other.
When I became chair of the BSO negotiating committee in 1979, one of the things my committee worked very hard to achieve was to establish a system of seating rotation so that approximately every month string players could change their seats and have the opportunity to sit with other musicians within their section. It was made optional so that those who were happy where they sat didn’t have to move.
As soon as our contract was ratified, I was overjoyed to be able to tell one of the unhappy pair of violinists that now he didn’t have to sit next to his stand partner anymore. He told me he had no intention of moving. I asked him what he meant. He said, and this is a quote I’ll never forget: “I’m going to sit next to him until the day he dies.”
Whew! That’s serious stuff. Fortunately, it rarely gets anywhere close to that point, but it gives you an idea of how critical it is to maintain a good relationship between stand partners. And basically the point of this whole blog is to thank my stand partner, Caroline Pliszka, for being the consummate pro not only for this particular tour, but also for all the times we’ve sat together over the past decade. I couldn’t ask for a better stand partner.
Tomorrow will be my last tour blog! After that I’m taking a little vacation before getting back to posting. This is also your last chance to enter the caption contest to win a free book!!! (See the May 7 blog for details) As they say in Austria, “You could be a Wiener!”