Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Get Your Red Scarves Ready!

Yep, it's that time of year. No, I don't mean cooking a turkey, buying presents, or anything of that sort. I mean it's time to get your red scarf out for Friday's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concert, because MARIO VENZAGO IS CONDUCTING!

I wrote a similar post last year, talking about his ever so famous red scarf. Pretty sure the man sleeps in it. It might even make it in to the shower with him, for all I know. What I definitely know though, is a few things:

1. Mario loves his red scarf.
2. We all love Mario (and his red scarf).
3. We can show our love by attending the concert, and wearing a red scarf.

Don't  have a red scarf? Fear not, dear reader. That's why there's Target, Macy's, Von Maur, Nordstrom, etc etc. You can meet all your red scarf needs at one of those places. Or your other favorite store of choice. They are pretty common, so I bet if you don't have one in your closet, you can find one pronto.

Last year's concert with him was amazing, and no doubt this year's will be too. Plus everyone will look great in their red scarf! Last year was pretty successful, in getting people to wear a red scarf, and I hope this year will be similar!

Rehearsal earlier this week with Venzago, his scarf, and the ISO

Monday, September 29, 2014

More, Please!

Ahhh, it's nice to return to the blog. It's ESPECIALLY nice when I return to praise one of my favorite bands---the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, of course.

They played their season opener a few weeks ago, with the brilliant Jeremy Denk playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 1, and just one other work, selections from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. I thought it a rather conservative way to open up the season, and said so in my review, and noted that Urbanski's rendition of the Tchaikovsky, while played well by the orchestra, was kind of tame and safe. And so, with their first subscription concert this past weekend, I was worried he'd be the same with the big work of the program, Brahms Symphony no. 4. How wrong I was.

All sorts of goodness happened with this program, from the Beethoven Coriolanus Overture, to Shai Wosner's fine Mozart Piano Concerto no. 20. What really grabbed me, however, was the Brahms.

The orchestra was practically on fire for the Brahms. I know that sounds so dramatic and over the top, but I don't think I have experienced that kind of passion or intensity from the orchestra in quite a while. Oh, they play wonderful concerts---make no mistake about that. But they dug deeper for this concert. They searched every nook and cranny for more guts, more heart, more EVERYTHING for their performance, and found it all, and in ample amounts.

The sheer sound of the orchestra was mindblowing, and for that, Urbanski is to be highly commended. He has molded the sound of the ISO very well, making them sound like a richer, fuller, larger orchestra. There's a tremendous depth to the ISO sound now, and I know he's worked hard to achieve that. Somehow though, that sound was doubled this past weekend, as if were a huge orchestra about to take on a massive Mahler symphony. It was never too much though---and that was the beauty of it. They went up to the border of being Too Much, but never set a toe across the line. And that incredibly big sound had real focus to it. It was centered, and controlled, yet never quite tame. The sound had teeth to it, an edge of sorts, and my ears never tired of it. The orchestra is maturing in it's sound, and it's incredible to see/hear the transformation. I have heard that Urbanski is quite the task master, and it's paying off, big time.

The accuracy of the orchestra is improving in leaps and bounds, in terms of intonation. Sure, some sections still need some help on occasion, but overall, they are up notches over where they were a few seasons ago. And it seemed like there was a real commitment to what they were playing, not just in the sense of getting all those black dots and lines correct, but actually SAYING something with the music. They honored the work that Brahms put in to this genius piece. Isn't that one of the many reasons we listen to and play classical music? To honor, enjoy, and celebrate the amazing skill and creativity that humans are capable of. What a joy it is when we get to hear performances that do just that.

I don't know exactly what Urbanski does to make the ensemble sound like 60-80 individuals coming together as one organism, and I'm unsure of the ingredient that made the Brahms so intense, so commanding, and completely unforgettable, but whatever it is that Urbanski did, the ISO needs it for each concert. They don't need to settle for just a good concert, but go for profound concerts, concerts that affect you, that make impressions on people, that reach out and tug at you with their intensity and integrity.

The way Urbanski led, and the way the ISO followed this weekend reminded me of Venzago, whenever he conducts Ravel's La Valse. He was so attuned to that work, and it was HIS, and in that, it became the orchestra's as well. It was almost magical to hear them play that work, because it seemed to flow so naturally from them all. Urbanski was so similar in that sense with the Brahms. He owned it, mastered it, and that seemed to flow right to the orchestra.

The day of the concert, I was chatting with one of the ISO musicians, and they stated that the performance would be one of their best, ever. I didn't take much stock in such a statement. I actually didn't believe him at all. Not that I didn't the orchestra was capable of it, but that's such a lofty thing to say. Yet that performance is some of their best playing I've heard yet (on a side note--I also heard another orchestra that weekend that was also giving some of their best playing--apparently is was the weekend to Play Your Best). It wasn't just good, but it was POTENT, and left an incredibly lasting impression on me.

So now the trick, is for the ISO to carry this throughout the season. It's completely doable, no matter the repertoire. They've set the standard--the bar is set HIGH. They have a genius at the helm in Urbanski, and each musician knows what it takes to produce a concert as good as this weekend's---if they've done it once, it can certainly be done again. I want more of these kinds of concerts, please!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Encouragement in the Form of Beethoven 9

I've been working on Beethoven 9 ever since I entered college. I bet many a bassist could say that. That fantastic symphony is chock full of great parts, and it's a blast to play. I can't begin to think how much I've worked on various parts of it, but especially the fourth movement.  I never played the piece in context though; I've never played it in an orchestra....until this past weekend!

I was definitely pumped to be playing Beethoven 9, FINALLY. Part of me was slightly apprehensive though. I have an audition coming up soon, and one that has caused me more stress than I could have ever imagined. So adding Beethoven to my list of things to do seemed almost unwise. I accepted the gig anyway though---I didn't want to miss out on this opportunity. 

About the stress: I feel like I've been fighting an uphill battle with the bass as of late. I've been struggling with the most bizarre pains in my left arm. Chiropractic work has helped a lot, but it's been slow going progress. I haven't been able to practice too long, and to avoid any more pain/damage, I've gone to taking a couple days off at a time. When I DO practice, I feel like everything sounds like elephants farting or something. My poor intonation is pervasive, my left hand fingers are always jumbled up, and it's amazing that I even know to hold a bow. 

Then there's the general stress of an audition. This one is a bit different than others, for reasons that don't matter. It's one that I care even more deeply about, but am having a very hard time thinking positively about. If anything, I've been discouraged, which is an odd feeling for me.  

Back to Beethoven: I think I NEEDED this gig. During this concert cycle, for the first time in a long time, I found myself very happy with my playing. For weeks, I've been thinking "ugh" whenever I heard myself play. But you know how you don't see/hear progress for a really long time, and even think you're getting worse, but then you pass a milestone of sorts (that you have no idea you passed) and then BAM, stuff seems to be falling in place? Fingers know where they are going. Notes are in tune. I can hold a bow, and make it do what I want to do. I would play in rehearsal and say to myself "Wow! That sounds good!" It was beyond satisfying to play hard parts and absolutely nail them. It was awesome to hear a bassist in front of me say "You sound great". It was satisfying. It was thrilling, and most of all, it was encouraging. 

And it was the encouragement I desperately needed. Thanks, Ludwig! 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Another Audition: "Thank You, That'll Be All"

I took an audition in the past....oh, month or two. It was for a section position in a regional orchestra, and I managed to convince a friend to take the audition with me. I was excited; I had learned a lot from my last audition, and was happy to be taking the audition with my pal. Although we technically were competing against each other, there was camaraderie as well.

Anyway, this list was quite normal and expected, for the most part. I was working hard on the list, and also working hard with billions of gigs (or so it seemed). I was in serious bass mode, like, hardcore, and pumped for the audition. 

So, my pal and I set off for the audition. It was a loooooong drive. I'm not going to say how long, as I'm not going to name the orchestra, but I'll say this: the distance was further than they were willing to pay gas mileage for. (I decided to take it anyway though, because reasons). We left in the early afternoon, and our auditions were not until the mid-evening. So, off we trek. 

We get there, and all is well from what I can tell. There aren't enough practice rooms for everyone individually, so we make our way to the makeshift green room. I hate those places, don't you? I walk in there, and always feel out of place. I completely forget the fact that I'm a good bassist, that I went to a great school and studied with  the greatest bass geniuses, and that I play and teach bass for a living, and I start thinking "What am I doing here?". I feel like I'm in a weird nightmare that I occasionally have, where I tell a personnel manager that I play the trombone, and I sit next to my trombone pal Brad, and try to play, BUT I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING. That's what it's like when I go in to those green rooms, when everyone else and their mother has their bass out, rocking their Mozart 35. And then I look at their basses (old, expensive looking, with attractive gated C extensions). Then I look at mine, and feel inadequate. (but if they only knew about the bow I have---oh man, it's AMAZING. Anyway). And then I kinda clam up, and am reluctant to play in front of anyone, in case I sound like a beginner, because in my mind, I am one. I foolishly think that I don't belong there, and that is such a load of hooey. I swear I'm the only there thinking that, because young hot shot in the corner is playing Mozart 35 in such a way that his bow is catching fire. Veteran audition taker on the other side of the room is blowing up his Beethoven 5 (in the good kind of way), and many people are playing like they just do not care who is in the room. They are just hammering away at stuff. I'm feeling small, uneasy, and weird. I'm listening to everyone thinking "Wow, they are so good!" and I'd hate to play and have them think "Wow, she is so bad!" It's so foolish of me, because I actually sound good. Am I ready for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra? No. But I'm no slouch. But anyway....time goes on, and my audition will happen in about an hour and a half, and to prepare, in addition to practicing and warming up, I take a beta blocker. 

Time passes, and I get a room to myself to warm up in. I notice a large group of people leaving, with their basses, and found out it was the first group of bassists, who were all dismissed, and none were asked to the finals. I think normally this would have scared me a bit, especially since I listened to a few of those people warming up, and they blew my socks off. But, I had the combo of feeling confident in my playing (despite my green room issues) and I had a beta blocker doing it's job. I felt AMAZING. I sounded good, I looked good, and I was ready to drop bass bombs all up in that place. I felt bad for those leaving, because I understand that feeling, but was then like "Oh well! Imma go win this audition now that they are gone! Peace out, suckaz!" 

So, I warm up, and run through my pieces, and I'm proud of how I sound. I'm so proud of the work I've been putting in. I'm pleased with myself, but not overly pleased. I know I have a mountain ahead of me, and am just trying to mentally gear up for it. 

It's my time! Time to go jam, and bust a move on some licks. The door to the audition room opens, and I start to walk in. I notice, that even though it's a blind audition, there's no carpet on the floor, and the floor is the kind that makes noise if you are wearing clickety-clackety shoes, like females are wont to do. I wore boots, so I didn't make noise, but I was momentarily concerned for my friend, who wore flats that made noise. 

The lack of carpet also worried me, because I worried about my endpin sticking. It sticks on wood, and carpet, but this kind of floor, it doesn't. I did bring a rockstop with me, even though I haven't used one in......I have no idea how many years. They had provided one as well. So, I decide to use theirs. After messing around a bit, it won't stay. I pick it up, spit on it (so attractive!), but it still doesn't stay. The proctor is watching all of this, and probably thinks I'm disgusting, but I don't really care. I try my rockstop. It slips at first, but then stays. I'm hesitant though; I have, to quote Han Solo, "a bad feeling about this". But, I go ahead anyway. 

So, I begin jamming away on my solo; a piece I've been playing for quite a while, and clearly know well. So, I'm one line in, and SLIP goes the rockstop. I adjust to this as best I can. It's not a massive slip, but it does force me to adjust things. I keep playing. Then, not long after that, it slips down a little lower. 

Now, I should have stopped playing at this point, brought the proctor over, explained the situation (although they could clearly see what was happening), and had them put their foot at my end pin. That would NOT have been unreasonable a request, especially since they did not provide carpet. Carpet SHOULD have been provided as it was a blind audition---they make it impossible to distinguish dudes versus chicks, based on shoes. But, also, it helps for stuff like rockstops failing. 

Anyway, so on I go, and things are suffering. I'm somehow still playing (I figured I should continue playing, instead of stopping to adjust) and it's actually not that bad at all. I've scooted to the very edge of my stool, and am doing my best, which is quite good, all things considered. Then a third slip happens, and at this point, I start to have a small sliver of panic. These beta blockers were working, I swear. I felt no real worries until the third slip. Anyway, after this third slip, I get REALLY concerned, and as a result, I invert a fingering and make up a new bowing, and kinda short circuit. I then stop playing for about a quarter of a second, composed myself, and then kept going. I made it through. It was not a complete loss. I didn't sound like a 5th grader. Was it perfect? No, thanks to my rock stop, it wasn't, but I salvaged it bloody well. So, after playing, I started to move my music out of the way for my excerpts, and I heard a voice say, 

Thank you, that'll be all.

They weren't going to let me play my excerpts. I actually LAUGHED. Not out loud, but the kind where you start to laugh, but shut your mouth, and have a little inner laugh. I rolled my eyes at the absurdity of everything, grabbed my music, and got out of that room.

I barely felt a thing, probably due to Mr. Beta Blocker. I wasn't too upset; I think I might have been in shock. Saying I barely felt a thing is slightly misleading; I was feeling intense, but I just wasn't going overboard at all. I went back to my room, and chatted with my pal. They didn't get past their first excerpt, which amazed me. I heard more stories of that from a few others. This was a stark contrast to people from the first group, all (at least all who I spoke with) who had played all of their excerpts. So, I think to myself, "is the second group of people just really bad? Or is the committee getting lazy? Perhaps they want to get home and have dinner?" It just seemed fishy to me, to hear of many people who played all their excerpts in their entirety, and then many of us were getting cut off. But perhaps I was just being overly suspicious. I dunno.

Later on, the finalists were announced. There was actually more than one spot open. Normally, for finals, if there's one spot open, there are two or three finalists. But for these finals, there were strangely the exact same amount of finalists as spots that were open. I didn't quite get it. I was confused, but was still in such a bizarre fog over my own situation, that I didn't ask questions.

While my pal chatted with one of their pals, I got to thinking even more. I was annoyed about the weird finalists thing. I was annoyed that it was a blind audition, yet there was no carpet. I was annoyed that no females advanced to the finals, and we made up a significant portion of those auditioning. I was annoyed that no one from the first group advanced, and there were some STELLAR people in that group. I was annoyed to hear that so many people were cut off during their playing. I was annoyed that I didn't even get to play my excerpts. I was annoyed that my rock stop slipped, and that I didn't do more to fix the situation when it happened.

What annoyed me most though, was that this regional orchestra didn't let me play a single excerpt. Now, I might be sounding like a spoiled, entitled little brat. I realize that. But hear me out. This was a REGIONAL orchestra. This was not an ICSOM orchestra. Sure, audition committees can pretty much do whatever they want, but let's think about it for a's a regional orchestra. Not the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You aren't going to get the same kind of perfection from the average regional orchestra audition taker. People who take regional orchestra auditions are often in college, and it's their first ever audition. They are often freelancers who teach and play, and don't get to devote every waking moment to practicing. There's all sorts of situations and whatnot. And, in general, the playing isn't the same as the playing at an audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, ya know? So, with that in mind.....why wouldn't they listen to my excerpts? My solo was not a complete loss, by any means. I clearly know the work. Part of me thinks they HAD to have know something was up with me, and that something was wrong. Sure, if they were the LA Phil, I'd understand if they cut me off and were like "thanks, but no thanks", but this was a regional orchestra.

Quick note: I'm not saying regional orchestras shouldn't have standards. And I'm certainly not trashing regional orchestras---for goodness sake, I play in several regional orchestras, and am bloody well happy to do so. I love playing with the orchestras that I do.

But do you get what I mean? This orchestra seriously wouldn't even listen to a fraction of an excerpt? I'm STILL shaking my head over this, and it was a while back.

Back when I took an audition in August, I learned about four billion things, about mental preparation, nerves, and all sorts of goodies. I came home with a compendium of audition info and knowledge, and for that, I'll always be grateful. I'm so glad that audition went the way it did, actually. I NEEDED to learn those things. But this audition was different. I learned a couple things:

1. Bring the kind of rockstop that attaches to your stool.
2. Don't be afraid to speak to the proctor if/when something goes whack.

These are fine lessons to learn. I just wish I had learned them after playing all my excerpts, ya know? Sigh.

This was by no means my last audition. If anything, I'm hungrier than ever to take them, and there are a few on the horizon that I have my eyes on. I'll be sure to bring a new rockstop with me when I go.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mario Monday: A Magical Weekend

If  you were at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra this past weekend, you knew, saw, felt, and experienced the incredible return of Mario Venzago to the podium of the Hilbert Circle Theater. Oh, dear friends, it was glorious!

The first delightful thing I noticed when I got in to the theater Friday was the plethora of red scarves. I'd of course like to think that everyone read my earlier entry, but I probably wasn't the only person with that idea. Regardless, it was beautiful to see. It was heartening, quite frankly. 

Also heartening, was the standing ovation that Venzago received when he came out on to the stage. It was incredible, and so deserved. Seeing him back on the podium was amazing. All my words, by the way, are not doing justice to what it was really like. It's hard to put it in to words. I can still feel what it was like when I saw him walk on to the stage, and it was thrilling, but thrilling isn't a strong enough word, really. That's what it was like. 

After he came out, he talked to the audience a bit, thanking us for the warm welcome, and then we went on to talk about Mahler's Totenfeier.  He was telling us about it in good detail, and then after speaking about it a bit, the craziest thiang happened, that I wasn't expecting---he said "Chantal, are you here?" 

Yeah, that's right. Mario Venzago asked, from the stage, while talking about the Mahler, if I was there. I was (and still am) flabbergasted. Not so flabbergasted that I couldn't wave furiously while uttering a loud "HI!!!!!" after he asked if I was there. I know he has read my blog before, and knows how much of a Mahler fan I am. I didn't expect to hear my name though! It was incredibly touching. How cool was that? I got a shout out, from my favorite conductor! When has that ever happened before???? Simply amazing. 

The concert was also amazing, to say the least. It was like Venzago never left, honestly. You could feel the connection between he and the orchestra, and it was beautiful. 

I had the fortune of attending the after party, where his portrait was unveiled. It was a joyous occasion, just like the concert was, complete with champagne flowing. We toasted to Mario, as he so richly deserved, and celebrated his return. 

I managed to speak to him a couple times, and it was lovely. I didn't feel the years it has been since I last spoke to him. That's one of the many wonderful things about Venzago---there's such familiarity and warmth when he speaks to you. So, we chatted about various things, and if I could, I would have chatted with him all night---but the line to chat with him was long. I managed to get a few pictures, this one being my favorite:

Sigh.....what a night! What a performance, and what an incredible conductor, musician, and man Mario Venzago is! And he and the ISO together are such a potent combination. It was a beautiful, touching, delightful, compelling, and perfect evening. 

I can't wait for him to return again.....the sooner, the better. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Yay! The Maestro is Here!

Mario Venzago is back in town! He's been rehearsing with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and all I can hear from my friends who play or sub with the ISO is how thrilled they are to have him back. In fact, the musicians gave him a standing ovation at the first rehearsal. How incredible is that?

Since returning to Indy, Maestro Venzago has made a video for us, that's incredibly touching and warm. Check it out, and notice how heartfelt his message is.

You know what else I noticed, other than his wonderful message? HIS RED SCARF. There it is again! See? See what I was talking about in my last entry??

And look, here's a picture from the first rehearsal, taken by amazing bassoonist Mark Ortwein:


Has everyone gotten their red scarf? I went out and bought a new one---I'm quite thrilled about it. I really can't wait to see everyone with their red scarves! 

I'm also thrilled to hear the program, which includes MAHLER! Part of me wants to think that that was programmed specifically for me.....but that's just me getting carried away with myself. I can't wait to hear the concert, and see the Maestro in his glory again, with the wonderful ISO. This is going to be such a special concert. I hope you'll be able to make one of the concerts this weekend! It's going to be amazing, and you don't want to miss out on it! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mario is Coming to Town! Get Your Red Scarves Ready!


I, of course, am excited about this concert.....just like everyone else is. Talk about a much loved man! What a gift he was to week's concert will be very special, I'm sure of it.

Now, I think there's a way to show Mario our love, even more than just attending a concert. I say we pay homage to him by wearing a red scarf. What's this scarf business about, you say? Let me tell you.

I have never, ever seen Mario Venzago without his red scarf (except on the podium for concerts). I've seen him backstage after concerts. I've seen him in rehearsal. I've seen him at various receptions, and he always wore his red scarf. Even in the MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER, he would wear his red scarf. Here's a picture of him and me, taken a few years ago in the middle of July:

See! A red scarf! In July! You know if he was wearing this in July, he wore it in the cold months too...and the not so cold months. Point is, if you wear a scarf in the summer, IN INDIANA, it means you are attached to your scarf, and it's not simply a way to keep warm. It's something rather beloved.

Do a simple Google image search on him, and you will see splashes of red everywhere, in pictures and videos. No joke. Look here. And here. And here (scroll down a bit). And here.  

So, to honor his return, let's all wear a red scarf to the concert. The weather warrants it, and the occasion does as well. 

You will have NO problem finding a red scarf, ANYWHERE, at ANY store that sells clothing. There's no excuse not to come to the concert without a red scarf! You probably need a new scarf anyway, right? 

I can't wait to see sea of red scarves when I get to the hall next Friday night. More than that, I can't wait to see the Maestro back in action, right here in Indianapolis. What a treat this will be!