the morning after

 

Needless to say, I overslept. There was a lovely and generous bagel and lox breakfast scheduled at the Strand bookstore, an NYC institution, which is owned by the wife of Senator Ron Wyden, Nancy Bass. But, I missed it.

After the last massive chord of the RVW Fourth Symphony faded into the fabled expanse of the Carnegie Hall auditorium, and the cheering audience finally let us leave the stage after four curtain calls, we all made our way to the Hilton Mercury Ballroom for a wonderful reception with our many Portland friends that joined us here in NYC.  The canapes and drinks were flowing, and there was a great time had by all. Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening was seeing the evening finery that many of the female musicians (and some of the men) donned for the after party. We’re a classy bunch, onstage and off.

There are still so many impressions and memories swirling around in my brain after our performance last night. I’ll share some of them here in no particular order.

While we do have an orchestra with incredible principal players and soloists, we also have a great orchestra – and that comes from what a sports team might call a “deep bench”. You don’t get a warm, luxurious, flexible string sound with a few stars and a bunch of deadwood. You have to have quality all the way through every section. This is a fact that is often omitted in reviews (even if it’s regarded as a given). That being said, our stars proved their worth last night.

Concertmaster Jun Iwasaki played wonderfully all evening, but his solos in John Adams’ Wound Dresser, which are like a high-wire act, were great playing. His sound was wonderfully plangent, by turns warm and relaxed, then tense is wiry as befitted the text he accompanied.

Principal trumpeter Jeffrey Work nailed his high work in the Adams, and sounded great in his offstage solos in the Ives. He continues to inspire and impress all of us in the orchestra.

The entire brass section was just awe-inspiring. They finally had a space in which to allow their power to be rounded and warmed, rather than brightened and made harsh, as in the Schnitz. And they played exquisitely softly and sensitively in the RVW Fourth Symphony, when they accompanied the plaintive final flute solo of the slow movement.

The percussion section was precise and powerful and accurate – always a good combination with percussion. It must have been nice to finally hear the rest of the orchestra on stage and be able to actively play chamber music with the rest of us. Their work is so difficult to do well back home at the Schnitz. Susan Dewitt Smith did a great job on the piano and keyboard parts in the Adams and Britten.

Our woodwinds: just as world-class as they always have been. Gorgeous playing all along from everyone from top to bottom. But I’ve got to single out one player for special praise: Acting principal flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulsen. She has been brilliant in her acting role all season, and she more than rose to the occasion last night. She owned the stage with her wonderfully emotive playing.

Principal bass Frank Diliberto and his bass section must have been in seventh heaven last night – their sound was warm and full, and clear to everyone. We never get to hear them well at the Schnitz, and they constantly have to practically beat their instruments to be heard in that acoustic. Last night, they sounded unified, blended, and warm. What more could one ask for in a bass section?

The cellos also benefitted from the bass-friendly acoustic, producing a sound that belied their still too-few numbers, even with one extra player. The opening to the Britten was chilling, the Jaws-like semi-tones insinuating themselves through the hall. Wonderful playing from our cellos!

The violins finally had a space that didn’t turn their sound more shrill than warm, and their sound took on a golden sheen at Carnegie, no one player sticking out, all playing in unanimity of purpose and expression. Principal second violin Chien Tan led ably, and with confidence.

The violas! I think it’s safe to say that we all enjoyed ourselves a lot. Principal violist Joël Belgique led with his clear and pure sound, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard our section play so perfectly together before. It may have something to do with the fact that we could finally all hear each other as a section, rather than just one seat next to us or in front of/behind us. I’m so proud of our section – we always try to have a good time as well as play our best, and I think we managed to do both last night – DIE BRATSCHEN SIEGEN!

Finally – Carlos. It must have been a night of extraordinary pressure for him, the eyes of lots of critics and managers were upon him last night, but he handled it all with easygoing grace and fierce conviction in his conducting. During the soundcheck, he adopted the perfect approach to inspire confidence, carefully checking balances and giving us several chances to get through the tricky corners in a new and unfamiliar acoustic. It all worked brilliantly, we were thoroughly ready to just play when the concert came, and he led with confidence and joy all night. Thanks for the great leadership, Carlos!

yeah, we rock

 

There’s not much more to say, other than that Alex Ross, the music writer for The New Yorker tweeted after hearing our concert tonight:

Triumphant Carnegie debut for the Oregon Symphony — best of Spring for Music so far. Eloquent Sylvan, explosive Vaughan Williams.

UPDATE 5/13: David Stabler has his RAVE review here.

NEW YORK — They looked like they belonged. They played like they belonged. And for one night, the Oregon Symphony did indeed belong on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

Triumph is a strong word, but after the orchestra’s debut in New York, Thursday, it fit the occasion. Historically, New Yorkers had to wait for the early morning papers to find out what the critics thought about a play or concert. No more. Immediately following the ovations, when music director Carlos Kalmar was recalled to the stage four times, Alex Ross, the respected music critic for the New Yorker magazine, tweeted his reaction: “Triumphant Carnegie debut for the Oregon Symphony — best of Spring for Music so far.”

UPDATE: If you missed the live simulcast, you can listen online to an archived recording of the broadcast here.

We quite frankly nearly blew the roof off of the place. It was a moment that was long in coming. It was built not just in the last eight years since Carlos arrived as our music director, though it’s undeniable that his impact on the artistic health of the organization has been positively huge. But before Carlos, there were generations of dedicated musicians and the previous music directors, and managers, and support staff. They, too, all made last night possible.

We were also, as an orchestra and as an organization, ready for this trip. We were in the perfect position to make the maximum impact. We have thrown a rock into the pond that will send ripples out for the foreseeable future. The little orchestra that could came and did. We not only punched above our weight, we k.o.’d the heavyweight champ.

  • David Stabler’s Oregonian review of the Carnegie concert.
  • The Oregonian coverage of the Carnegie concert.
  • The chat room at NPR’s live broadcast of the concert.
  • NPR’s page dedicated to the concert.
  • The Oregonian article on the Carnegie rehearsal.
  • Video feature from The Oregonian about the Carnegie rehearsal.

 

rehearsing in carnegie

 

Just got back to the hotel after a two-hour rehearsal on the great Carnegie stage. There’s a lot to talk about, lots of impressions, but first, I’ll share with you my experience of being reunited with my viola for the first time since last Sunday afternoon, as it was on the giant semi-truck wending its way across the country until just after midnight last night.

As the song goes: “Re-united, and it feels so goood!”

Carnegie Hall - Photo: Charles Noble

Anyway, on to the Carnegie rehearsal experience. To say, that from my vantage point, that it was anything less than a total revelation would be an out-and-out lie. It was an earth-shaking experience, literally, for me. I wasn’t really even expecting it to be like that, but it exceeded my expectations nonetheless. Why is this?

Well, first of all, the hall that we make our home in shouldn’t really even be described as anything more than adequate. You can pretty much hear the orchestra in the Schnitz, but that’s about it. On stage, it’s much the same. You get a vague idea of what your neighbors, near and far, are doing, but often there are many blanks to be filled in.

At Carnegie, it is like having an oppressive veil lifted – not a light, gossamer veil, but a heavy, canvas version of a veil. Suddenly, what you thought was a pianissimo is revealed to actually be a mezzo-piano. There is a warm, open, vibrant bass sound from the bass section – who must have been just beside themselves with joy! As one of my colleagues put it during the rehearsal break “I’m so excited, it sounds so freaking good! It’s like everything has a golden glow around it.” Where before you knew that you had made an entrance together with your colleagues, now you realize that you were together, but used a different kind of attack than they did. I now understand why great orchestras with great halls can play so spellbindingly quietly – their halls demand it. Carnegie demands a flexible and graduated sound from all the instrumental groups, but especially the strings. And rising to that challenge (and meeting it, as we did this afternoon) means that we have learned some very valuable lessons already in this journey.

In just about all of the pieces that we played today, I heard instrumental combinations that I’d never even been aware of before, or maybe had just been aware of in a theoretical way from having studied a recording. People in our business take Carnegie Hall for granted, I think. It’s like the King James version of the Bible – it’s been around for so long, but its language still has an ineffable beauty and grace that rewards those who return to it after a long absence. So it is with Carnegie. Youth orchestras play there on their own dime every year, and so do many orchestras. Some of the lucky major orchestras are booked by Carnegie itself for their orchestral series, and they return year after year. I remember that the Philadelphia Orchestra, when they still played at the old Academy of Music, used to love playing in Carnegie, because, they said, it was the only place within driving distance of Philly where you could hear what the orchestra really sounded like. But for us, the Oregon Symphony, it’s such an honor to play here. It’s our first time (and not our last – 2013!), and we were invited by a new festival on the basis of our unique programming.

I’m still all aglow about the rehearsal. There are so many of my colleagues that are just playing at a world-class level, and to hear them in this acoustical splendor is such a treat and a revelation at the same time. We’re the “little orchestra that could” and we have come to one of the musical capitals of the world to show our stuff, and look out Big Apple, we’ve got a monster bite all picked out!