mozart & mahler

Today was my first day at work for this week’s classical series concerts. Rehearsals for the rest of the orchestra (those playing the Mahler 6th) began on Wednesday. I’m still transitioning to full-time work by playing partial concerts, so I get to play the Mozart G major Violin Concerto this week, with our new-to-me soloist Alexi Kenney.

Violinist Alexi Kenney

I’m at the back of the section again – to avoid disrupting the seating of everyone in the section – and find myself sharing a stand (or rather two stands) with Martha Warrington, who I haven’t regularly sat with since I first joined the orchestra in 1995. We had a laugh over that!

The OSO rehearsing Mahler 6 with Carlos Kalmar, and not me.

It was great to arrive early for my part of the rehearsal and hear this magnificent band play the finale of the Mahler. Terrifying music, played to the hilt, it’s going to be exceptional. Every section of the orchestra sounds fantastic. I’m trying not to feel too bad about missing out by not playing it, but it’s the right thing to do, recovery-wise.

I can’t get over what a different universe it is playing in the back of a string section than playing at the front. In our hall I can see the first desks just fine, but have no inkling of how they’re playing passages, unless I spend all of my time looking at them to figure out bow strokes, etc. I can’t really even hear the stand right in front of me. I can really hear the double basses, though. I can sort of hear my stand partner, but only if we’re out of sync.

What I can hear – besides the basses – is the soloist, the winds, and occasionally the first violins. The second violin section may as well be on another planet, which is especially vexing as they and the violas share a lot of inner voice figuration. I think I can sometimes hear the cello section, but I’m not entirely sure about that.

Anyway, it was so nice to be back, and not tagged onto the end by myself this time. I have been worrying a lot about coming back from a long absence and being in the back – it’s a double case of unfamiliarity. Last week I played the Chick Corea special, on the front stand, but the violas were sitting inside for the first time in eons, and that didn’t really count as ‘normal’ due to the novelty of the situation.

Next week I’ll be back in my normal location for the entire concert, and it’s going to be pretty special. We’re doing a full production of The Tempest by Jean Sibelius. It’s completely unknown to me – I never even read the play in my English literature courses – but the cast is stellar and the production values should be high. It’ll be a concert evening that you won’t want to miss! Check out the deets here.

more random musings

I come up with these ‘random musings’ posts every now and then. What do they mean? Mostly they mean that I’m thinking about what I’m doing in a new way and becoming more engaged in my music making. Or I am just bored and want to write something. Take your pick.

This week we’ve been rehearsing a wonderful (if very traditional) program of Glanert, Mozart, and Brahms with a stellar young violinist (Benjamin Beilman) and excellent guest conductor (David Danzmayr). So, some observations relating to the rehearsal period and first two concerts. Tickets here.

  • Mozart is really, really hard to play. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, immediately discount any of their other opinions as completely worthless. Part of the difficulty, as I see it, is that Mozart’s writing is so perfectly symmetrical and logical. One’s phrasing and musicianship must be equally as impeccable to pull off a performance better than merely solid. Beilman really has the goods here. Lustrous tone, beautifully in tune, interesting ideas.
  • It’s been just under five years since we last played Brahms’ First Symphony, and I’m struck by a number of things. First, our woodwinds, playing as a choir as they must often do in the works of Brahms, are simply phenomenal. Such blend and unanimity of phrasing! And their solo work is also good – Martha Long in her big solo in the last movement, Martin Hebert in his leaping, yet sinuous solo in the first movement, John Cox with the gorgeous alphorn call in the last movement. And our brass in their chorale, etc. Deep bench and more than a few star players. We’re so lucky here.
  • There is little as terrifying as the pizzicato entrance and accelerando in the last movement introduction. So much can go so wrong and be so audible to everyone! But when it comes off well, it’s electrifying!
  • In the string chorale (reminiscent of Beethoven’s 9th finale) in the last movement, there is nothing better than playing the descending counter line in the violas. Especially when the section is allowed to really play. So much fun!

Those are my musings for today. Hope to see you at one of our concerts!

mozart for mom and spring is almost here

It has been a crazy month. On January 26th my mom died after a long struggle with dementia. The following weeks were taken up with arranging details of her memorial, going through thousands and thousands of pages of saved documents – some of which were important, most of which were not – reminiscing with my sister and my mom’s caregiver, and generally being exhausted. When we got back home after nearly three weeks away, it felt like we’d been on the worst vacation ever.

Slowly, I got back into the swing of things at work and teaching. When I’d gotten the news of my mom’s passing, I went into a panic about the upcoming playing obligations that I had over those next few weeks. The Oregon Symphony was very flexible and understanding with me taking leave to deal with the estate. Similarly, Third Angle and the University of Wyoming were very accommodating to my cancellations. The family does indeed come first.

One gig that I really wanted to try to keep was playing the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with my dear friend and former OSO and Ethos Quartet colleague, violinist Denise Dillenbeck. I know the piece quite well and know Denise’s playing equally well, so even though rehearsal and practice time was going to be at a premium, my thought was that I could make it happen without making a fool of myself. So, the concert is coming up this Sunday, March 5th at 4 pm. It features the wonderful young musicians of the Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia¬†Conservatory Orchestra, and I’m greatly looking forward to it. I’m dedicating my performance to my mom. I think she’d like that a lot.

Here’s me playing the opening viola solo line from the second movement. This movement is one of the greatest things written for stringed instruments. It’s essentially an instrumental opera, a love duet, I’d like to think. See that cool shirt I’m wearing? That is a prized memento of Portland’s great classical radio station (of which I’m a board member) AllClassical Portland, which just happens to be the No. 1 classical radio station in America*! ¬†Help keep a great thing going strong, and give what you can by clicking here.

*#1 SHARE OF ALL NON-COMMERCIAL CLASSICAL RADIO STATIONS IN THE TOP 45 PPM MARKETS (Nielsen Stations) – Nielsen Audio PPM Market/January 2017