Thursday, June 24, 2010

after Bogota -- preparing for Talcott Mountain

I was in Bogota last week, conducting Schoenberg's Pelleas und Mellisande -- a piece which you will never hear played by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. That's not a bad thing, just simple fact, because the Schoenberg piece is one of three (along with Transfigured Night and Gurrelieder) that are early, late Romantic works before the composer abandoned this post-Wagnerian style for serial composition.

Schoenberg's Pelleas requires an enormous orchestra: take the usual count of woodwinds and brass you would normally see, and double it. (eight french horns, and FIVE trombones!) When the Hartford Symphony takes on the challenge of an orchestral work requiring enormous forces, it must choose carefully because, unlike the Filarmonica de Bogota, or the New York Philharmonic for that matter, extra players contribute significantly to the expense side of the ledger. (For example, in several major orchestras, they carry upwards to four trumpets on their full time roster, whilst the HSO carries just two: even hiring a third, a frequent necessity, is an added expense which the orchestra must adequately plan for.)

During a rehearsal of Haendel's Royal Fireworks last night, I had to catch myself, for I had just spent dozens of hours speaking in (albeit somewhat fractured) Spanish, and here I was, able to speak in English again! (por favor. . . otra vez ['once more,' please] uh. . .. diez y ocho. . .. no, wait a minute, rehearsal #18!) And with all the fussiness of Haendelian articulation at stake, I truly would have been at a loss with a Spanish-speaking ensemble.

Some Bogota players took me aside (Maestro, you are free to speak English, as most of us understand. . .), but I've always felt it disrespectful to do that. Even with a Czech orchestra twenty years ago, I did as most as I possibly could in Czech and German, their second language. (Of course, their word for the number 'four' gave me fits, but you have to give it a go, no?)

But as the rehearsal continued, I was in a mild state of amazement at the weather, which was positively glorious. (Usually, we only have one dress rehearsal on site.) Would this beautiful weather continue through the weekend? I was told that it would. How many summers have we played at Talcott Mountain where the Rain Gods had their way? Too many that I can recall. So this seemed like a very good omen, and the players responded in like fashion. Even all the extra time spent taking care of Baroque neccessities ("sixteenth, maestro?" "double-dotted or triple-dotted?" "you want fries with that?") did not diminish the overall good humor of our first rehearsal of 2010 in The Great Outdoors.

And the feature work of the program is none other than Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, to be played by the orchestra's concertmaster, Leonid Sigal. In our pre-rehearsal discussion, I was delighted to learn that Lenny wanted to dispense with some of the traditions that have come to be associated with this masterwork, including the traditional (what I like to call) 'hiccup' that comes right before the very end. Kind of like growing up with burnt potatoes, and expecting the rest of the world to like them, just because you do.

Did you know that this Vivaldi work is the only classical (that is to say, any work written by composers of the Baroque, Classic, Romantic and Modern periods) to make it on the Top-40? After Nigel Kennedy (who now goes by just "Kennedy") came out with his thrilling recording of 1989, some enterprising DJ figured out that each of the twelve movements (three for each of the four concerti) is approximately 3 minutes in length -- that is to say, the same length as most of the pop and rock tunes which get air time on radio stations. And just like that, a phenomenon was born: Vivaldi, the new King of Pop. Well, for 15 minutes, anyway. (After all, MJ was still in his hey day.)

On Friday night, when we get to the storm movement of 'L'Estate' (Summer), I surely hope that the Rain Gods will be snoozing.