Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rochberg String Quartet no. 3

Earlier today, I went to a friend's house in Lenox, Mass, to hear four students from the Tanglewood Music Center perform Rochberg's String Quartet no. 3. Their coach, Andrew Jennings, was in attendance, as were about twenty other new music afficionados who had come to hear this work, created for the Concord String Quartet (of which Mr. Jennings was a violinist) in 1972.

I know Mr. Rochberg by name only; I knew none of his music before today. A score to the Transcendental Variations for string orchestra, taken from the middle (3rd) movement of this quartet, sits on my shelf, waiting to be perused. Studied. Well, opened.

But today, with the help of Katherine, Stephanie, Pei-Ling and Catherine (I don't know if I got the spelling of their names right, and they didn't tell me their last names, but I do know that they are from North Dakota, Houston, Taiwan and San Francisco, respectively, and that they are 3- to 4-year veterans of Tanglewood, and that they all met at Rice University in Houston, but that this was the first time they had ever played together as a quartet. . . sorry for the run-on), those of us in the living room audience were treated to a concert that I will never forget for as long as I live. It was a seminal event.

Thank you, Jan and Hermine, for inviting me.

and thank you, Fromm Quartet, for introducing us to this masterpiece, and for playing it with such devotion, technical virtuosity, and passion.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2009 season at Talcott Mountain

There is a serenity prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

The Hartford Symphony was set to perform with David Foster and his band on Friday June 26, but thunderstorms necessitated that we move the concert to the following day. The concert was great fun ("Pass the Peas" was a hit, and for the introduction to Maceo Parker's rendition of 'Georgia,' the audience could even hear the orchestra, however briefly!), but it was clear that we had lost most of our intended audience from the previous night.

Doggone weather!

Then, on Thursday July 2, with lousy weather all day, we held our patriotic "Celebrate America" concert as planned, even though it sprinkled throughout the evening. Ken Trestman, HSO Technical Director, hobbled on to the stage (he tore a ligament earlier that day) in the second half and said to me, ". . . electrical storm on the way . . ." which meant I had to either take quicker tempos or cut something. I'm sure the audience would not have minded if I had cut the Ives piece we were just about to play, but with all the work concertmaster Leonid Sigal had put into his solo part, I wasn't about to do that. The next piece, a new arrangement of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" I had created specifically for this program, I was loathe to cut for selfish reasons, I suppose. . . but also because an HSO staffer, Ashley Malcolm, was so disappointed last year when I had pulled another arrangement of Porter's 'Beguine' from the program. So, we cut an arrangement of the Duke's "It don't mean a thing. . ." In hindsight, we needn't have, because the storm didn't arrive until well after the fireworks were over and the audience -- several hundred folks under their umbrellas -- had left. A highlight of the evening: during the traditional "Armed Forces Salute," I asked veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard to raise and twirl their umbrellas when their song appeared, instead of standing. One woman out on the lawn had quite the twirl during the Navy song; during intermission, when I walked out to thank the patrons for coming to our concert in such inclement weather, I tried to find her, so that I could give her an award for the fastest and finest twirl! All of the umbrellas were quite a beautiful sight, since members of the audience were brandishing the most colorful striped varieties I had ever seen.

Confounded weather!

Needless to say, it was a stressful evening, wondering if the weather would hold out. (It did.) Afterwards, a few of us had a glass of wine on the stage. Poor Nick, the Holder of the Keys -- we had to rouse him out of his pajamas, as he had locked my dressing room and went home before I had a chance to get my things.

On Friday July 3, the HSO was treated to its first sunny evening at Talcott Mountain. Spirits were high (and flowing) for a change, as we prepared to present our first summer concert without the threat of menacing clouds. As it turned out, rain fell like buckets in other parts of Greather Hartford, but it mercifully left us alone for the evening. Still, with such wet stormy weather throughout the day, we couldn't help but think how many folks had elected to stay home. Gosh-darn weather!

My view of Talcott Mountain is that, for the most part -- save for the isolated Motown review, or perhaps ABBAMANIA or the music of Billy Joel -- if the weather is glorious, people come. They bring their wine and cheese and children and blanket and make a nice evening of it. Those people who were at the Thursday July 2 concert were music junkies, plain and simple. Or maybe they were fireworks fans, and they couldn't come the next night -- who knows. But when the weather is nice, I see thousands of people from the stage, smiling, being convivial, enjoying the music.

Gratefully, the weather looks good for July 10 (ABBAMANIA), and even for the Michael Cavanaugh evening the following Wednesday.

Fingers crossed!