Monday, April 27, 2015

On Louis Krasner, Dmitri Mitropoulos, and preparing for performances of Haydn's "Paukenmesse"

My students are tired.  It's the end of the semester, and they need a break. Final exams are looming, and they are preparing for recitals and chamber music concerts.

They don't want to know why I need yet another rehearsal in between two performances of Haydn's Paukenmesse (Mass in Time of War).  Time is at a premium.

They are right to ask.
Always question authority, yes?

They don't realize that this Friday will be our only rehearsal in Lincoln Theater, where we will perform Haydn's masterpiece that same evening.  And they aren't thinking that, even with all the hard work the orchestra has put into the piece, this Friday afternoon will have been only our second rehearsal with the chorus.

But sometimes a couple of good stories are the best way to explain, and for this, I decided to quote the great Ukrainian violin virtuoso, Louis Krasner.

As a student, I had the great opportunity to meet Krasner, for whom Alban Berg wrote his *Violin Concerto (which was to be conducted by Anton Webern, who bailed at the last minute, probably because of nerves).   Krasner also premiered Schoenberg's Violin Concerto.  

Krasner was a nice man, very engaging, and loved telling stories.  There were two memorable ones he shared of his time with the Minnesota Orchestra (formerly the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra), where he had been concertmaster in the 1940s, when Dmitri Mitropoulos was their music director.

(It is not well known that Mitropoulos was a mentor to Leonard Bernstein, who succeeded Mitropoulos as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958.)

Mitropoulos was legendary for his memory, even memorizing rehearsal figures in the score. He was a perfectionist, and his work ethic could sometimes drive the orchestra musicians nuts. For example, when the orchestra was on the road performing in smaller venues throughout the state (sometimes in high school gymnasiums), Mitropoulos would rehearse the orchestra at every stop, even if the work was well known to the players.

One player summoned the courage to ask him: 

'Maestro, why must we rehearse Beethoven's Seventh Symphony at every stop?  We know this work very well, we have performed it many times under your great leadership, and we know what you want from us.  Is it absolutely necessary to rehearse at every tour stop before a concert?'

to which Mitropoulos replied,

'My dear colleague, for the one person who may be hearing Beethoven's masterpiece for the first time, we must still do everything in our power to get it just right.'

After Mitropoulos had already left for New York, Mr. Krasner returned to Minneapolis for a visit.  He asked the players how things were going.

One player responded:

Orchestra Musician: 
Well, things are a lot easier here now, since Mitropoulos left.

Krasner: Oh, well then things must be better, yes?

Orchestra Musician:  
Not at all, Lewis! Because there is only one thing worse than being overworked - - -   boredom."