Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jeremy Denk used to play the viola?!?!?

I don't hide my dislike for the viola. I've never really been a fan of it, and I've become less and less of a fan of it ever since high school, when the violist I liked turned out to be gay, and then in college I was chasing a violist around in the music library and broke my right hand, and then...oh, I'll spare you further viola drama.

I can't really fault anyone for playing the viola back in their childhood, when they are now famous on another instrument. Yet I found my face falling slightly upon finding out that Jeremy Denk used to play the viola. (it's around the 4 minute mark) I don't mean to be dramatic, but for a second, I was disappointed in him. Why the viola? Why not the violin, a far superior instrument? Did he have bad taste growing up? Did his mom and dad force him to play that thing? Or maybe there were too many violinists in orchestra. I was hoping to hear anything but viola, but alas. I would have been happy to hear he played the kazoo, or almost as bad as the viola, the flute!

But, thank goodness, now he just plays the piano. (stunningly well, I might add).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mahler 8: Review from Robert

OK, so the only person who's been gutsy enough to send me their reviews of Mahler symphonies so far is Robert, and once again, he has come through! He flew out to San Francisco to see Mahler's 8th symphony, and apparently had a good time. I'm amazed and proud and envious, all at the same time, for Robert's spur of the moment decision to go see a Mahler symphony a few states away, and of course felt great affection for him when he said it didn't matter what his colleagues said about his trip--it's Mahler, after all. Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did!

In keeping with the spirit of the fearless Chantal, this review is more about experiences than discussing the details of tempi, timbre or interpretation. For a real, professional review, check out reviews by the SF Gate or the Oakland Tribune.

On a spur of the moment decision, I purchased a ticket for the last concert of the San Francisco Symphony's performance of Mahler 8. The plan was to arrive at SF around noon and fly back home about twelve hours later (with somehow squeezing in a concert and a some sights around town). Most of my coworkers and friends didn't quite understand the desire to fly out of town for a concert, but it didn't matter--I was going to see Mahler.

This performance was the SFS's last symphony in their Mahler cycle recording project. There are still one or two vocal works remaining, but this is their last symphony to record (including Das Lied). It's clear that the community loves their orchestra and this project. I arrived at the hall 80 minutes before the concert started and there was already a large throng of people waiting to get inside. By the time the pre-concert talk started an hour before the concert, there were at least a couple hundred people in the hall.

After the talk was over, I proceeded to walk to my seat and saw three music stands nearby. The three off-stage trombones were positioned about 20 feet from my seat. Whereas some people next to me were nervous being so close to them, as a wannabe trombonist, I was excited to see it. It's not to say that all the people in my section were trombone-phobic or just there to make out. Two people I seated next to me were big Mahler fans. One person totally understood my trip out to SF and mentioned that he's planning to catch The Ring production by the Seattle Opera next year. He commented that if the NY Philharmonic were to perform Mahler 8, then he would travel out to see that. I told him that the NY Phil is indeed performing this next June as part of Lorin Maazel's last concerts as the NY Phil's Music Director and he jotted this down in his program so that he could buy tickets when he got home. The other person sitting next to me brought his own score for Symphony No. 8 and followed along during the second movement (but not the first).

As Michael Tilson Thomas walked to the podium, the entire audience erupted in applause. The community loves him as much as he loves them. Interestingly enough, Thomas brought his hands up to start the symphony but instead of giving a downbeat, he smiled and took a deep breath. Lest you think anyone was relaxing, before you knew it, the 90 minute experience began like a screaming baseball off the bat of a juiced up Barry Bonds. Thomas' enthusiasm and love for Mahler was clear to anyone and it seemed like he wished he could sing along with the soloists.

Mahler once stated that this music was practically dictated to him by a higher power. This concert was certainly a spiritual experience. Once the final notes died out in Davies Hall, the audience immediately rose to its feat and roared in appreciation for a unbelievable performance. The ovation lasted for at least 15 minutes with numerous curtain calls and bows. The look on the faces of members of the orchestra was one of relief. I'm sure there was some sadness as well that their seven year journey was nearing its end.

The recording from these concerts is scheduled to be released sometime next fall. I will be ordering this as soon as it comes out and based off of the SFS's previous Mahler recordings, I know the engineers will do a fantastic job in getting the concerts onto disc. Hopefully, the engineers will also be able to get all of the coughs out.

I'm not the only one who has put up with annoying smoochers at concerts....

If you have been reading regularly, you know that recently I went to the Chicago Symphony, only to be distracted by annoying youngsters making out. I'm not the only one who has had to put up with such annoying people at concerts, I'm happy to know!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I am trying to make a habit in my life of listing things I am thankful for on a regular basis, so I never take any of them for granted. It's helpful to have a holiday to help me make the Mother of all "Things I'm thankful for" lists. And without further ado....

While some people might feel this is simply something you HAVE to say although they might not totally mean it, I am so unbelievably thankful for my family. My mum, dad, sister, brother, and sister in law mean the world to me. I am so grateful to have their support in my life, their shoulders to cry on if needed, etc etc. They rock, every single one of them. They are my heros!

I also have a spiritual family, as in the people involved in my life through the church. I could never really express how thankful I am for them too. They to me are examples of what it really is to love one another, even when it is hard and mean and unpleasant. I'm thinking of many of them right now, and cannot seem to stop smiling.

Now, in a more musical direction...

I could never stop thanking the readers of my blog. I would keep this blog even if I had just one reader, but I love knowing there are people that actually enjoying reading my entries. I really appreciate the reader who writes to me saying they love Mahler as well. I enjoy seeing musician friends downtown who say they loved the latest entry. I also love it when strangers seek me out in an audience to ask if I'm the lady who keeps the Mahler blog! You guys are good people, to say the least.

It is impossible for me to cease thanking the wonderful media/communications/PR people who hook me up with tickets to concerts for this Mahler journey. What I love about them even more than the tickets, is that are happy to help out. Their responses to me are always gracious and supportive of my efforts. My thanks go to the good people of (in no particular order, of course) the LA Philharmonic, Cincinnati, Chicago, National, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's, and the Cleveland Orchestra. Every single one of you, you have my thanks, my gratitude, my appreciation, and my admiration as well, for everthing you do for your orchestras.

I'm grateful to meet such cool people on my trips too, whether they be conductors, old friends from IU, new friends (often in the form of bassists, of course!) or just the person sitting next to me who enjoys Mahler as well.

I wish Gustav Mahler were around so I could thank him for his compositions. Of course my words wouldn't do it justice. Not to mention I wouldn't say anything well, I'm sure. I'd stutter, trip words up, and probably drool a bit too. Or maybe none of that would occur. Maybe I'd just go up to him fresh after a symphony with tears in my eyes, and the tracks of earlier tears down my face, or maybe I would be glowing with joy---those would be my "words" of thankfulness to Derr Mahler.

Whatever you are thankful for, I hope you have an awesome and totally kick ass Thanksgiving Day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mahler 2 in Chicago

My last entry was hard to begin because so many things went so well, and each amazing memory was fighting to be first up on the blog. I'm having the same problem right now, except the memories aren't amazing. They are....I dunno. Just WEIRD.

And speaking of, this post will be weird. You won't hear so much about Mahler, as you will all the things that happened to me in Chicago, and things I did and said. I have ALWAYS maintained that this blog is not meant to be a place of amazing musical sophistication--it is a DIARY, essentially. It just happens to have a classical music lilt to it. So, with that in's my diary entry, regarding Tuesday, Nov. 25. Be warned---it's going to be VERY long.

I was torn about going to Mahler 2 in Chicago. It was at night, and I have to be up early the next day, I'll be tired, etc etc---these were the reasons flying around in my head as to why I shouldn't go. Not to mention that the Chicago Symphony was unable to get me a comp ticket. (no big deal--please do not think I am complaining, I AM NOT. I realize this happens from time to time, and that's totally fine with me. They were very cool about it, and besides---they hooked me up ROYALLY last year for M6 with what are, in my opinion, the best seats at that hall). So, did I want to shell out $$ for tickets? Did I really want to make the drive? I ended up spending the money (only $34), and I made the drive, although didn't bother to see about construction on the way up, so of course that made getting to Chicago interesting, around the northern part of Indiana. But, got there I did, in plenty of time for a coffee, and the pre-concert talk.

Normally I am the world's biggest fan of pre-concert talks, but this one was....not my cup of tea. A very intelligent prof from the U of Chicago spoke on Mahler and images, and that wasn't what I wanted to hear. I have no idea what I wanted to hear, actually---just nothing about images. I dunno, maybe it's because I don't really think about "images" when I hear Mahler. When I listen to Mahler 2, for instance, I remember the bass line pretty well, and I think of a bass section. I guess that's an image, but it's not an image in the sense of images like the sunrise on a prairie, or the calm after the storm, etc. So, in light of not wanting to hear about images, I did something that I would normally look down upon severely---I texted a bunch of friends, to tell them that I was at the CSO, and they weren't. Awful! Seriously, I mean it--that was rude of me! I am not happy I did it, but the strange and even more awful thing is that while I was doing it, I was conscious of how impolite it was, yet did nothing about it! I should have left the ballroom, but I stayed put. I'm not proud, I assure you.

Then, along comes concert time. My seat was in the gallery, a place so high up that when you look down you get vertigo. I'm sure you could bungee jump off that balcony, if there weren't others below it. I actually didn't care about how high up I was. I was very happy to be at Symphony Hall, listening to one of my favorite american orchestras play music by my favorite composer. I would have been happy standing in the lobby, looking through the crack of the door for a glimpse of the orchestra.

The place was PACKED. I did not see one single empty seat at all, which was marvelous. (I am jealous of Chicago because of this. What I would give to have the Hilbert Circle Theater filled like that!) In front of me came four youngsters--2 of them not looking over 15 years old, and the other two, a couple, looked no older that 19. I am always happy to see youngun's at the orchestra. I say that as if I'm old or something, although I'm only 29. I think you get what I mean though, right?

These young whippersnappers didn't come for Mahler though. Maybe the younger two did, who knows. But the other two, the older ones, came because I think they thought Symphony Hall would be an exciting place to make out in. I'm not joking.

The seats in this hall are unbelievably close to each other, whether it's regarding the person sitting next to you, behind, or in front of you. My toes touched the seat in front of me, simply while I was sitting normally, and I'm sure if I leaned my head back a lot, I could have touched the dude's knee that was behind me. So, I was very close to this making-out-at-the-symphony couple.

I didn't mind the first kiss or so. They seemed innocent little pecks on the cheek or even lips, and having their arms around each other was sorta cute for a moment or two. The thing is though, that they didn't stop, at all. It was literally non-stop smooching. A kiss on the cheek here, and there, and then their cheeks seemed glued together for a bit, while they each stroked each others' faces. Then that would change quickly, and there'd be a flurry of smooches, and they were LOUD. Normally if someone at a concert is doing something that is visually annoying (like seeing people making out) I can simply close my eyes, and just listen, and all is well. However, I could not do that tonight. I would close my eyes, hear Mahler, and hear smooching and giggling and whispering. The thing is, they KNEW they were being annoying and loud, because their friends told them to be quiet, because a gentleman behind them told THEM to be quiet. They kept on, however. Plus, they made noise getting Milk Duds out of the box, and drinking water out of the bottle, and it wasn't a big deal to them. I kept hoping (all throughout a Mahler symphony!) that they'd be quiet soon. I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt, thinking every so often, "Surely they are done smooching by now!" I never said anything to them at all. During the last movement however, I felt this amazingly strong urge to do something rather odd, and I literally felt like I could not escape from doing it; the urge was that strong. I got out some paper and a pen (very quietly, I might add), and started to write the happy couple a note.

I started by saying something like "Hello happy couple!" because I didn't want them to think I begrudged their relationship at all. I certainly didn't; it was their noise I couldn't stand. I went on to write that while it's nice that they enjoy being affectionate, the symphony is not the most appropriate place to do such a thing. I mentioned that it was distracting to people (meaning me, who drove 3 hours to see the concert). But then I felt compelled to talk about LOVE, and what it really is. (like I know or something) I wasn't intending to lecture at all, but all throughout their making out, I wondered if this is what they do all the time. Were they just really horny this evening or something, or is this their idea of a relationship? Before the concert, when they were speaking, I noticed they had all misty eyes for each other, and everything was sappy and nasty and gross and very superficial sounding. They also were very very young, so I figured this was just good ol young people love. I could have been wrong, I know. However, I plowed ahead with my note writing, just like I plowed forward with my texting earlier.

I said I did not doubt that they liked each other, and would most likely say they loved each other. I think I said something about how they might know all about what I was going to write about, which was what REAL love is. I can't remember exactly how I worded that, but I did try to show that I was giving them the benefit of the doubt, since I was being so audacious in writing them this note. (I do not regret writing this note, however I am fully aware of how many people would object to me doing such a thing, and I can certainly understand why, and maybe even agree.) I basically said that the warm fuzzies are great, and little pecks on the cheeks are sweet and wonderful, but are these the things that keep people married for 50 years? No. Then I spoke briefly about love being an action, not a feeling, and that love is best shown when you are doing good to your partner when they least deserve it, and you least want to do good to them. I said that I wished the best for them in their love, told them good luck, and again, to not make out during the symphony. So, it wasn't anything dead serious, or written with any hatred. I gave it to the guy after the concert was done, by saying "This is for you!" and handing him the note when he turned to walk up the stairs. I saw his girlfriend look curiously over at it, but I didn't hang around. I was to meet my sister at a restaurant, and wanted to get to that pronto.

I met my sister and her dear friend, and I also met, for the first time, my sister's boyfriend. I am terribly protective of my sister, I should say. I have told her that if this dude isn't good to her, that I'd slash his tires, glue his fingers together, etc etc. All in good fun, all in good fun....I'm just very fond of my sister, and think the world of her, and I don't want any dudes treating her badly. Naturally, I would be slightly skeptical of any guy she is dating. Well, when she introduced me to him (which I was not expecting at all--I had no idea we'd be at the restaurant he was at) I guess I gave him a really bad look that said something akin to "Your head will roll tonight". He shook my hand, and then promptly left (he was working, I should add). Long story short, my sister gets mad at me, I get annoyed with her and apologize, later on we fight/talk outside the restaurant, then go back in (after I said I was heading home), and I then take she and her friend back to her apartment. I left Chicago pretty late, and was on the road around 1am or so.

Now, I'm not sure if you know this or not, but I have a day job. I start work around 8:30 in the morning, so going to Chicago the night before I have to be in at work at my usual early hour isn't the smartest thing. I however, am always up for stuff like this. For me, life cannot be interrupted by anything---not a test, not an early doctor's appointment, not work, not catching a flight early, NOTHING. I insist on "living life", which seems to involve going to concerts far away on nights where I have to work early the next morning. Also, another thing you might not know about me is that I am narcoleptic. I took a fun night and day sleep study a few months ago, and the disorder was so apparent in me that the nurse even told me I had narcolepsy before I left. No joke. So, suffice to say, having a day at work and then driving to Chicago and driving home really late and having to go to work really early isn't smart. So, I pop an extra pill I take to keep me awake, and I drink a few coffees. For a while, I wonder when they will kick in. I get a little bit north of Lafayette and my contacts begin yelling at me, to remove them from my eyes, and I do so, and put on my glasses. That woke me up quite a bit, as did the cold when I got out to fill my car up. Thus, a second wind, only an hour from home or so.

It's now, as I write this, 7:15am. I've been home for roughly two hours. I have not slept. I got up Tuesday morning at 8:30. In one hour and 15 minutes, I will have been awake for 24 hours. (doesn't that mean I'm legally insane or something now???)

A night of Mahler that I never really heard (I don't remember much at all of the concert). A night where I had the audacity, and most likely arrogance, to write a letter to two people I'd never met. A visit with my sister, who I hadn't seen in months, and then proceeded to scare off her dude which was followed by arguing with sister, which was anything but enjoyable. Then, me, the narcoleptic driving home at way too late an hour, with lots of caffeine bouncing around my belly.

How awful (or funny?) is it that the above paragraph was my visit to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to hear Mahler? There's no story of tears forming, or how moved I was by this or that movement, or how amazing the horns are. Nope. None of that. Just a bunch of weird stuff.

This Mahler trip will certainly never be forgotten, but not exactly for the right reasons....

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mahler Mondays: St. Louis Symphony Orchestra/Mahler/Jeremy Denk recap

It's hard for me to start this blog, because so many amazing things happened this past weekend, that I have no idea what to say first. I suppose that's a good thing!

I made the 4 hour drive out to St. Louis this past weekend for the mother of all perfectly-constructed-concerts-for-Chantal's-taste concerts: the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, with pianist extraordinnaire Jeremy Denk playing Mozart Piano Concert No. 19, and on the second half of the program, Mahler's 9th symphony. Can a concert get any better??? I think not.

While I loved this program, I couldn't help but think if Denk felt overshadowed of sorts, by a big looming symphony on the second half. Hmmm, I wonder. But no matter, really--if he DID feel that way, it certainly didn't show in his playing. I cannot describe to you, dear reader, the joy that his playing brought to me. That concerto is a wonderfully joyous and cheery work, and how much more so it was with Denk at the keys! If I could assign a sound to joy, it would be his playing of this work. He even looked full of happiness himself, with youthful exuberance and playfulness. His legs would bounce up and down from time to time when just the orchestra was playing, and he would make his usual little quirky, fun movements. When he was waiting to come in in the first movement, he playfully played along with the horns, quietly yet cheekily. His playing was ever so expressive, and at times I found myself either nearly laughing or squealing for joy, or gasping slightly over a pause he would make. (amazing how he makes those pauses as wonderful as the notes!) During other moments, I would find myself looking away from center, with my head down, and a smile on my face, as if the music was flirting with me, wooing me, and telling me that it wanted to get to know me. I even blushed once! The power of music, eh?

Denk of course got an ovation afterwards, although there was no encore, which was a bummer. I kept thinking to myself, "Maybe he'll play the Alcotts!" Alas, no Alcotts though.

During intermission, I was hanging around, and who comes walking along, but Jeremy himself. He is following someone who seems to be a friend of his. I noticed people saying "oh look, there's the soloist" but no one seeming to have the guts to say anything. Well, most of you who know me and this blog won't be surprised---I followed him. I was hoping he'd wait in line for a glass of wine or something, and then I'd try to not pounce on him, but politely catch him attention somehow and tell him how wonderful his music making was. Did this happen? Of course not! He stopped briefly to shake someone's hand, and then turned with his friend to go find seats for the second half. As he walked by me, I touched his shoulder, which obviously caused him to pause and look at me. My eloquent compliment to him? "You totally kicked ass". He laughed, and said thank you, and I said I wish I had my camera out to take another picture of his middle fingers, which again caused him to laugh (I really hope he remembered who I was when I said that--I think he did), and I then said again that he really was awesome, he again said thank you, etc etc etc. Mission complete! I spoke to one of my favorite pianists. (the others being, for those of you who are curious, Mitsuko Uchida, and Richard Goode).

Second half: my man Mahler. I have owned a CD of Mahler's 9th symphony since high school, yet I never listened to anything other than the 4th movement until a few years ago. Why? I have no idea. But I remember listening to the 4th movement many times in college, and every single time, I would be in tears, sobbing, with a snotty nose. It doesn't happen so much anymore though. If anything, I find the first movement to be even more moving in many ways, than the last. Tears did form a few times in the first movement, but they held their place, and refused to move.

Conductor David Robertson steered the SLSO very well through this work. I was amazed at how straight forward, and nearly conservative his conducting was, yet how passionate the orchestra sounded. I was so worried I would hear a sterile, dry, and detached Mahler 9--it was anything but that, thank goodness. I heard instruments pondering life and death, whole sections conveying deep, intense emotions, and solos that were adamant in their desire to affect you.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is a fine, fine orchestra. They have an incredibly lush sounding string section. It sounded to me like a section of people that know how to play unbelievably well with each other, and they all happen to own Italian instruments made in the 1700s--that kind of lush sound! Unfortunately there were times that the cellos and violas were a bit too covered up it seemed, but that could have been due to where I was sitting (right below the balcony). When I did hear them very clearly though, they were terrific sections. Jonathan Vinocour leads a solid and very good viola section. He himself is an exceptional violist, and that is quite the understatement. The same can be said about Daniel Lee, principal cellist. The basses were also wonderful, under Erik Harris, who I hear nothing but stories about how awesome a musician he is. Also in the section was Sarah Hogan, who was in her last year at IU, when I was in my first. It's always nice to see IU bassists with great jobs! (and there are a lot of them, btw)

However, hands down, no contest whatsoever, the best section is the HORNS. When the principal horn stood up to be acknowledged, the applause went wild, and I myself was hootin' and hollerin'. I've heard many horn sections in my life---Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, National, LA, Minnesota, and the Royal Concertgebouw. None of them--I repeat NONE of them matched how the horns played Saturday night. I don't remember a single mistake. They were powerful but never overbearing, and at the same time, they still kicked everyone's ass. I was literally blown away by this section, and their spectacular playing.

After going wild with the rest of the audience, I walked to the front of the hall to get a better idea of what this hall looked like. (it is beautiful!) As I was looking around, a gentleman said to me, "Excuse me, are you the lady from Indianapolis who keeps the Mahler blog?" To say that I was shocked wouldn't cut it! This kind man went on to tell me that he heard his first ever Mahler symphony (the 6th--what an intro to Mahler, WOW) not long ago, and since then has been gonzo for his music. This of course delighted me, because I could completely understand. He then did an internet search of Mahler symphonies being played this season, and stumbled upon my blog, and spent quite a bit of time there, I surmise.

I was most amused and happy when he told me that he told his colleagues of his journey to drive 6 hours to hear the St. Louis Symphony, and other trips as well around the country for Mahler. They all told him he was crazy. His response? "I'm not the only one!" Ah, the delight I felt in knowing I'm not the only person who drives around for Mahler! We both agreed that it was well worth the time, effort, money, etc etc.

I'm torn about what the highlight of this whole experience was. The fact that I heard an awesome symphony orchestra play an awesome symphony? Or that accomplished my goal of speaking with Jeremy Denk? Or that I met a fellow Mahler enthusiast, who drove even further than I?

I'm not sure. All I know is that it made this trip more than memorable. I can't ever imagine forgetting this past weekend. It was simply too wonderful.

Friday, November 21, 2008

St. Louis, here I come....

Words cannot express the excitement I am feeling about this weekend. Saturday night, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: MAHLER 9!! I'm thrilled.

What has me almost as thrilled as Mahler 9 is Jeremy Denk, the amazing pianist and blogger. He's playing a Mozart concerto, and no doubt it will be lovely--it's Jeremy Denk, after all.

In case you aren't aware of how amazing Mahler 9 is, please click on this link. It's just a little taste of how amazing that work is---the first few minutes of the first movement.

And if you aren't acquainted with the writings of Jeremy Denk, my favorite posts of his (so far) can be found here and here.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rosin sniffing---I'm not the only person who does it, right?

I swear, I think I am the only person on earth who absolutely loves the smell of rosin, and so much so that during rehearsals, when the bow isn't moving across the string, and there's a good chance that if I'm not playing tic-tac-toe with my stand mate (kidding), I'm smelling the hair of my bow. I cannot get enough of the smell of rosin. (for me, it's normally Pops, and sometimes Carlsson). Surely there is someone out there who knows what I'm talking about, right?

For me, the smell invokes about 903218765 memories of bass playing and orchestral experiences, all at the exact same time. I remember all the amazing symphonies I've played, the great players I've sat next too, and the wonderful conductors I've sat under when I smell that wonderful scent of sticky tree sap, or whatever that stuff is made out of.

Lots of stuff on the bass makes it 'go', if you will---good strings, good bridge, etc etc, but the rosin is kind of like putting gas in the tank. Without it, you're not going anywhere, so I am obviously fond of this silly little thing that comes in a little plastic tub that costs around $8 a pop. Yes, I am fond of a great instrument, an amazing bow, good strings, and all that good stuff. But there's something, I dunno---wonderful about rosin. Corny---I know, I know. I'm just a cheeseball who gets the warm fuzzies about the stupidest things, rosin being one of them. It's just never left my side, really, when it comes to bass playing. I always had back up rosins in case I lost some, and at one point I was collecting as many as I could at a time, and I even considered melting a bunch together to make my own mutt version. (I never did it, although Mr. Bransby told me he melts Pops and Carlsson together over the stove or something).

The days I forgot my rosin in orchestra were DEVASTATING. I'd nervously look over to my left or right, pray for a good answer from this person and hope they wouldn't lose respect for me, take a deep breath, and then say,

"Hey, do you have any Pops/Carlsson? May I borrow yours? I forgot mine. Sorry, man."

I mean, forgetting one's rosin is nearly equal to going in to a private lesson without your instrument or something. OK, maybe that's going a bit far....

After orchestra, in the evening, I'd do quite a bit of practicing, and by that time I would have found my own rosin, and it was like a reunion with a long lost relative that was stuck in the jungle for years living off of the carcasses of 2-toed sloths that had fallen from the trees and died, and you wondered when you'd ever see that relative again. Tears were shed, a party was held, Kumbayah was sung, and the world had peace. Then in between playing pieces the bow would go up nose level, and then, SNIFF! Ah, that wonderful smell! There's nothing else like it.

I tried explaining this the other week to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's newest bassist, Brian Smith. He kinda just looked at me, and being the polite kind man that he is, he nodded and said "OK!" with a smile of sorts. Then Mark Ortwein, contrabassoonist extraordinnaire told me how he likes to sniff something else, and pointed to a bottle of rosin remover. I had never smelled that stuff---if I ever needed to remove rosin from my bow, I just got it rehaired, and if I ever need to remove it from my strings, I just use a key to scrape it off. I was ignorant about this rosin remover, and demonstrated my ignorance, by picking the bottle up, unscrewing the top, and inhaling deeply. Little did I know that Mark was kidding about what he said.

Whoops. That stuff reeks, plus it burned off the skin of my nasal passages I'm sure. The odor seemed to stick to my nose ring too, and I spent some time sniffing OUT the smell that seemed stuck in my nose. Of course, Mark (and Brian I think) found this all amusing. I guess I won't be making that mistake again....

But away from remover, and back to rosin--surely someone else out there loves the smell of rosin, right? Is there another bassist reading this that can back me up? Anyone?

I refuse to be the only rosin-sniffer I know!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mahler Mondays

Yet again, I wish to share with you the wonderful impressions my friend Travelling Type has on another Mahler symphony. These are so refreshing to me! I grow tired of the sophisticated descriptions by learned musicologists, critics, writers, etc. I even grow tired of my OWN descriptions of works, if you can believe it. TT has once again, left me in complete joy after reading his description of my favorite Mahler symphony.

Dear Chantal

Another week
another adventure.

In the rain yesterday
I stalked around
a second record shop.

Stealing glances
at your list,
I found
Bernstein/Vienna Philharmonic
Mahler 6.
In fact I bagged numbers 5 and 7 too (it was a sort of a boxed set)
but the important thing was
I followed
your recommendation
for Mahler 6.

And now I've listened to it.
Just the 6.
Not the Kindertonlieder yet
(though they are by Thomas Hampson, as you recommended).

So the Number Six.
First impressions:
Lots of nature.
And human sorrow.

First movement:
martial grandeur
and then
a simple whistling carnival-like melody.
Echoes of 1st Symphony I thought.
Then - by jove -
Clear, tinkering raindrops.
What instrument is this?
(12'44 if you have the same disc.)
And the march returns.

Movement Two
a sort of domestic argument.

Third was classically symphonic.
But by now really I'd lost my way.
Blues? Jazz? Golly Gustav.

The Fourth.
The clarinet making bird calls.
The brass bellows animal activity.
A night storm
and calm.

Final movement.
The big one.
The motifs of the first reappear,
tortured. Demented.
And a finale
that I was calling
until it came to rest
in silence.
And an anguished

But I'm no musician.
Nor have I read yet
what the symphony is about.
First impressions, as I said.
I'll now go to the encyclopaedias
and read.

Best wishes Chantal as before
and thanks again
for guiding
my Mahler mission.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ticket to Lulu---who wants it?

One of my fellow Mahler fanatics recently gave me their two tickets to Alban Berg's Lulu at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on November 30th, at 2pm. (thank you so much Chris!) I am in search of someone who might want to see the opera.

You'd think out of my huge circle of musical friends that I'd get a taker for this, but alas. No one seems to be able to come. So, I'm now reaching out to my dear blog readers.

So, who lives in/near Chicago, and wants to see Lulu on Nov. 30th at 2pm? Email me at to claim the ticket!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On playing operas...

Playing an opera is, to this bass player, completely different than playing a "regular" symphonic work, like an overture, symphony, tone poem, etc etc. It's like this whole other monster to me, and it nearly feels foreign.

I'm playing Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana right now with an orchestra I've played with many times now, and this past evening was our first rehearsal. I've played a few other operas in my life, all during my time at IU. (Lucia di Lamermoor, Madame Butterfly, and another I can't remember)

You always have to be looking at a conductor when playing music--that much we all know. But let's face it, during Beethoven 5 we can afford to keep our eyes glued just a wee bit more on the music and not look up so much. Yet in opera, you do that, and it's a DISASTER.

So, you're pluggin' along during the opera, and during one particular part you are just playing downbeats. You're chuggin' away, oblivious to the world around you because you forget that you aren't playing a straight forward piece of music, you're playing OPERA, and all of a sudden, while everyone else has stopped playing, or is holding their note out extra long, you just keep playing your downbeats like a complete dumbass, not noticing that the conductor's hands are in the air, and looking over at the idiot who is engrossed in his part and playing when he shouldn't be. Then the rest of the section is looking at you like you are a blemish, a disgusting, pus-filled putrid blemish that they wish to rid themselves of asap. OK, so that's a bit extreme, but you get my drift....

That, my friends, is what it's like to play opera. Now, the above description does NOT describe me. Ok, well, it could--I'm sure I've been that person, although this past evening I did well.

I do remember times though that I've played when I shouldn't. Sometimes it is extra awful, because as you are going to play that down beat that you aren't supposed to, you see the conductor hold the note before, or pause, and your brain registers that as "down beat to come later than expected" but your arms and hands don't get that message soon enough, and it's like this slow motion process of sorts. You are thinking "No, don't play the down beat!" but your arms are like "Sorry buddy, you started this process, and it's too late to abort the mission". Then you hit that down beat and you hate yourself for having crap reflexes. Yes, this has happened to me.

And tonight something else happened that annoyed me, although it is found in all areas of music: pizzicato. More precisely: everyone pizzicatoing together at the exact same time. When that happens, surely it is a miracle. Isn't the 8th wonder of the world the perfectly placed pizzicato of persons who play string instruments? It has to be. Tonight, we all were watching the same conductor, we all saw his baton, and we all know how to count (I think.) Yet instead of one single "PLUNK!" I heard this: "plunkplunkpluplunkplunpppllunk". It was like someone hit a domino, and it then hit the next, and then the next, and the next.....

It's like we don't trust our eyes, hands, or the conductor. We think we won't be able to see the beat or something (no trust in our conductor) or that we'll react wrongly (no trust in our hands, our ability to actually pizzicato) or that we think the beat will come sooner/later than it does, which is both a mistrust of our eyes, and the conductor.

Do I have a solution to this? Of course I don't. Don't be silly! Goodness, I'm probably part of the problem. So where am I going with all of this?

Quite frankly, I have no idea. I'm not trying to make any profound statements anyway---I save that for talking about how much I love Gustav Mahler, and what a complete skank his wife Alma was.

All I know, is that I have to keep my eyes glued to the conductor, and that I should pluck when my conductor conducts, not when I think he will, or not when I think I'll respond, or not when I think the best place for me to pluck is. Let's hope the rest of the string players have resolved themselves in such a way before the next rehearsal!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mahler Mondays

I was most happy a few weeks ago when one of my favourite bloggers, Travelling Type emailed me, telling me that they were interested in the music of Mahler, and asked for suggestions on where to start. I think I emailed back a small novel, and off my friend went, in search of Mahler's first symphony. I got an email describing their thoughts on this wonderful symphony, and I couldn't help but be delighted. To hear people's descriptions of music (particularly Mahler, and particularly when the listener is not a musician) is wonderful for me. They aren't bogged down with the knowledge of harmonic progressions, orchestration, etc etc. Here's what TT had to say about Mahler's first:


Thank you
for your thoroughly thought-through thesis.

I've now begun my Mahler journey.

Armed with your list,
I strutted into the shop on Oxford St.

The Mahler shelf was overflowing. With Distractions. Temptations. And Allure.

Yes Tempted I was
by ancient recordings by Barbirolli (a family connection: a cousin of mine plays double bass for the Halle Orchestra, and remembers him)

And Allured I was (admit it)
by the super-budget low-price offer from the Slovak Carpathian Camerata, conducted by Vltvsk Skrwcwsky. Two discs for the price of a cup of tea oh yes.

And Distracted I was
by Simon Rattle (an unbearable luvvie in interviews, who drives me nuts. I got revenge: I slipped his Mahler discs into the adjacent section marked Messiaen, where nobody will look for 50 years)

Tempted, Allured and Distracted I was Chantal.

But nobly,
I waved
your paper email high
and stuck to
the mission in hand.

I wanted to walk out victorious,
with perhaps your three top recommendations.
Easily begun: Mahler 1 by Solti/ChicagoSO
but then thwarted.
The Mahler 6 and 9 discs were by everyone BUT the ones you recommended.
So I left them. (I will hunt elsewhere.)

I've now
listened through
the Mahler 1 disc
three times.

It's tremendous!

And journalists don't use "!" marks easily.

My reactions:

The first movement begins with sinister suspicion. It ends in a carnival, and a musical joke (yes it made this non-musician chuckle). The strings poking precocious fun, and the brass shutting them up.

The second commences with a confident military march, perhaps a continuation of the good days from the carnival. But it becomes an elegant conversation between lovers. With the march reappearing, with a swagger.

The third begins with a folk tune. It made me think of Tchaikovsky's nationalistic 1812 overture. This unnervingly becomes an examination of the soul. And THEN the strangest development: Mahler brings in orienal melodies and harmonics. Some commentaries I read described these chirps as birds but to me they were the Middle East, pashas and mosque arabesques. Arabs and the Orient, as known in the 1890s.

Then in the fourth. Triumph. But an unnerving one, appropriate to this discordant life. It's not a comfortable listen.

The story of the symphony?
Search me.
And my hearing
won't jive
with commentaries
by learned acadmics
and musicians like you,
but there it is

Well thank you
for Lesson One
of my Mahler education.
To be continued,
when I find the recordings you name.

Thank you and
here's sending you
every good wish always

My dear friends, this to me is more thrilling than most things. I remember bursting in to laughter as TT spoke about putting a recording in the Messiaen section, and found myself bursting with happiness and joy when I read the description of Mahler 1. Truly lovely, I must say.

Travelling Type, I hope your Mahler journey is going well my friend.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Narkoleptuk kitteh

Ah, more glorious photos from I Can Has Cheezburger! This one especially spoke to me, since this cat is so cute, and on a piano, mentioning Beethoven. (also that the kitty says he's narkoleptuk, something that I am too)

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

Playing Brahms Requiem

I heard the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra do Brahms Requiem either last season or the season before, I forget. I remember not being in the mood for music that night, and all throughout the piece I was ignorantly wondering, "What's so great about this work? Why does everyone drool all over it?" Not that the ISO sounded bad---I remember them sounding very good. I just wasn't smart and mature enough to appreciate its beauty.

Well, that all has changed now. Tonight I played that piece (granted, a sized down version of it, but the real bass part, nonetheless) in a concert, and I can officially say that I now understand why people drool all over this work. It's amazing!

While it is not a challenging work for bass, unlike Brahms' symphonies, it's still very enjoyable to play, and never boring. Even the long held out notes, or the same note in a row forever is enjoyable to play. There are many low f's in that piece, and I found myself in love with those notes this week, because of the sheer beauty of them---they are warm, delicious, comfortable, inviting, embracing, and attractive. In fact, I think it's one of the most beautiful notes on the double bass.

My low f's were extra beautiful because I have at my disposal some amazing Italian bass from the 1800s. I am so lucky. (I have a bass of my own, but I think the bow I have on loan to me is worth more than the bass). My bass is getting its bridge shaved down, so a friend from the symphony said I could borrow his, as long as I went to the hall and got it myself. (and got it, I did). This old Italian is gorgeous beyond belief, and the sound I get out of her is simply sublime. We were in rehearsal the other day and we had stopped to work on something, and I just said out loud, "I sound so good!" I couldn't help it; the sound was that beautiful!

Tonight at the concert I sounded great too, although I was strangely always doubting my intonation. They positioned me in a different place than normal (this Brahms was greatly reduced, I was the only bassist). To my left were the brass, with a french horn playing in my direction, and 3 cellos to my right. When I thought I was out of tune, I kept wondering if it was me, if it was the horn, or the cellos. That really freaked me out as well, because intonation is not something I have struggled with for this concert. In rehearsals I have been very pleased overall, and tonight I was full of doubt all the time. It was discouraging actually. Sometimes it was me, and other times, more often than not, it wasn't me. With a french horn playing in my direction, I had a hard time hearing myself, which was frustrating as well. I found myself with my ear up to the bass on several occasions, trying to make sure I was really in tune, and also to make sure a sound was coming out. (actually that's a lie, I knew a sound was coming out. That bass resonated wonderfully against me).

Speaking of one movement of the Brahms, the bass has low D pedals, nearly for 2 minutes, or something like that. Since this bass has a C extension (with closers at each note) I enjoyed giving my left arm/hand a break, and basked in the glory of the low D. The bass was resonating strongly against me, and I was sad when that movement was over. I was speaking with a choir member before the concert, and telling her how that vibration is one of my favorite things about playing bass. It's comforting to me. (don't you think it is? Does anyone understand what I'm saying?)

Another thing I love about bass playing, while I'm on this tangent, is the feeling in the left hand as I move it all over the fingerboard, playing notes. Perhaps more specifically it's the fact that I know where to go for notes, thanks to glorious muscle memory. I love the familiarity I have with the bass--even if I haven't played for a while, I still know where notes are. Sure they need some tweaking, but you never forget where to put your left hand, in general. As I was playing in rehearsal, I would look over at my left hand, and see it moving like second nature, and I found that so absolutely fantastic, yet it's something that isn't really that amazing. It's just fingers moving around on a string---there are many people in an orchestra who do that. Yet because there are so many of us who do that, we forget how awesome it is. Seriously, we take it for granted, that string sections know where to put their fingers and how to move them to get from one note to the next. And then when you think about us bassists and the distance we have to travel, it's even more amazing. (I'm biased, I know).

It's sorta corny of me to point out such small things like the left hand, and the way a bass resonates as things that thrill me. Or maybe it's not, maybe it's sweet and innocent and lovely. Maybe I think those things are awesome because I don't play bass as a regular job, and I am not constantly playing/practicing. Each time I come back to it, I always feel refreshed and invigorated about my instrument. It's like I fall in love with it again or something, like a rekindling of a romance or something.

And now that I look at that last sentence, I realize it's time for me to shut up. I think some of you might get what I mean though. (I hope).

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Could Harry Potter and Shostakovich be related????

Look at them, the resemblance is striking!

Harry Potter, jk rowling, composer, Dimitri Shostakovich
see famous look-a-like faces

(from the funny look-alikes site brought to you by I Can Has Cheezburger).