Sunday, December 16, 2007

Holiday Pops, and murmurs on Tchaikovsky

Truth be told, I cannot remember having more fun conducting a pops concert. For those of you at the evening performance on Saturday, there was a moment after our trumpet section had just put the finishing touches on their horse whinny in Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," and I started laughing and couldn't stop! Not the kind of thing you expect from a conductor in the middle of a performance. But I think what happened is, for that brief moment, I became a member of the audience, a spectator rather than a participant. And when I acknowledged Jay, Tom and Jerry, they stood up and pumped their chests out as if they had just played the call from Beethoven's Leonore Overture no. 3. Wow.

There were other moments...

Many of you have remarked to me how surprised you are to learn how nervous I get for my pre-concert talks before Masterworks concerts. Well, our Santa Claus was nervous as ever before the Holiday concerts, but you wouldn't have known it to see him in front of the audience. His biggest concern was remembering his lines. (I wrote two dialogues for him to do with me on Act I and Act II.) He only received the second dialogue on Thursday, which made him more nervous, and then, to throw him another curve, he rehearsed his lines with the Connecticut Children's Chorus (for their jaunty take on "Mr. Sandman" to the words, "Mr. Santa") only moments before the matinee concert, which only made him more nervous.

But when Santa told me he also sings the blues and plays guitar, I somehow knew he would be fine, no matter how nervous he was. (There is no substitute for having performed in front of audiences -- either you've done it, or you haven't. Santa had.) And I knew I'd be able to count on him in a pinch.

As it turned out, he was sensational. Our audiences loved him. When he started dancing to the kids' singing, I nearly lost it again. And rather than trip on his lines as he had feared, he ad-libbed new lines on both performances, throwing me curve balls that I had not expected. Well, given our mantra for "Expect the Unexpected," seems only proper that the music director get a taste of his own mediciine from time to time.

My favorite part of the program? Well, though I always love performing with the the Hartford Chorale (and Saturday was no exception), and though soprano Sarah Callinan was a revelation, my biggest thrill was conducting the finale to Act I of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, with orchestra, children's chorus.... and ballet. You see, I have never had the pleasure of conducting this ballet, for some reason. Music from the suite? oh my gosh, I cannot count how many times I have conducted this music...dozens upon dozens of times. But the Snow Pas de deux must be the most gloriously majestic C major music known to man -- it makes me weep and shiver to hear this music. And then the Pas de deux from Act II......oh lord help me, when the harps enter, and then the strings with their pizzicati, all acting as tapestry for the celli, as they play a descending G major scale. That's all it is, folks, a G major scale. But in Tchaikovsky's hands.....pure genius.

Music teachers everywhere tell their students: 'Music in the major mode is happy; music in the minor mode is sad."

Then why does Tchaikovksy's music in the major mode sound so sad, so poignant? His gift for melody has few equals, if any, and there are none who do [or did] it better.

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