Sunday, August 19, 2007

Aspen Conclusion

This Aspen season was concluded in a thunderous hail of notes that could only be the infamous classical-pop crossover (read tired) that is Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

But, overall, I would have to say that my time spend at the Aspen Music Festival was a success. The artistic envelope was being pushed from the first day, with the performance of John Coriglano's Symphony No. 3 "Circus Maximus." Now if this piece is unfamiliar to you, let me share with you a part of the score:

“A 12-gauge shotgun is required. It should fire a full load/black powder “popper” made by Winchester. Smokeless gun powder charges are an acceptable alternative, but the black powder is louder and throws a much larger flame from the barrel. Because of safety/insurance issues, a licensed pyro-technician may need to be hired to fire the gun shot instead of having a percussionist do so.”

Yes folks, this piece, which is undoubtedly the loudest classical music composition I have ever heard, requires the use of a shotgun to complete the piece. Just watching the piece come together, combining all of the winds and brass in the Festival into a main ensemble, jazz band, surround band and marching band. I encourage you get yourself to a performance. You won't be disappointed.

Over the 13 weeks, I developed a solid knowledge of orchestra operations. I had my own personal failings, which dug deep into my core. Yet, I overcame my feelings of organizational inadequacy by constantly reminding of myself that I am doing this for the musicians, despite their feelings and attitudes towards me.

I was most sad to leave behind all of my fellow Fellows. If I ever had a bad day, I could always count on them to listen to my problems and offer solutions. Pittsburgh will be lonely without them.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sinfonia Concert No. 5

Stravinsky - Scherzo fantastique

The Aspen Music Festival had developed the idea of a mini-festival, a week long celebration of a selected composer with at least one work feature on every concert. Igor Stravinsky was selected for this mini-festival, so a lot of his early and rarely played works were highlighted. For our concluding concert the third piece he every published was programmed... and it was hard. Featuring 3 harps to drive the melody line of the piece, it was fast, rhythmic and proved to be a good challenge for the orchestra, though I could not really see how it fit in with the rest of Sinfonia's program.

Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 4

John O'Conor, Aspen Faculty member, performed this concerto with Sinfonia. While not as popular as concerto's No. 3 and 5, it has a unique quality that always draws me to it. The beginning alone had a precedent that other Romantic concerto would follow - having the piano introduction proceed the orchestral one. The orchestra deftly followed the soloists fingers as they played their way across the lovely slow movement and into the stunning finale.

Mahler - Symphony No. 4

While the performance was stunning and powerful, it was the adventure leading up to show day that was most exciting to watch. Mahler's Fourth Symphony is known for the sleigh bells that introduce the work. On the first day of rehearsal, our principal percussionist was double-booked and unable to make it our rehearsal. Unfortunately, this also meant that she had the sleigh bells. When Peter Oundjian, Principal Guest Conductor of the Detroit Symphony, dropped the first downbeat of rehearsal, the hall was filled with the familiar sounds of the flute introduction, but there was no cling-cling of sleigh bells. After confirming that we had no bells, I suggested to the percussionist to improvise. Maestro Oundjian repeated his opening downbeat, and he was now greeted with the semi-familiar sound of bells. Maestro Oundjian started laughing and the orchestra turned around to see the source. The percussionist was standing in the back of the orchestra, knocking out the beat on a tambourine.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sinfonia Concert No. 4

Mozart - Symphony No. 39

I am partially ashamed to admit it, but it is the truth that I am not that familiar with the body of works by Mozart. Of course I know the operas, the overtures, the horn concertos, the massive body of piano concertos and sonatas and his final symphony, but I have not studied them well, dissected them and made their themes as familiar to me as those of Brahms. It is not that I find Mozart terribly boring, but the compositional style of the Classical period is just not as inviting to my ear as those of the Romantic or 20th Century styles. But, this is the industry I have chosen to work in, and to be successful I must grow my knowledge base.

This symphony, one of his last, is a unique compositional gem. Writing for strings, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani, Mozart leaves out the tender voice of the oboe. But the rest of the orchestra makes up for the lost instrument by writing very energetically and melodically.

A Selection of American Arias

This concert also featured four soloists from the Aspen Opera Theatre Centre. One song was by William Bolcom and three by Kurt Weill, two from his musical Street Scene. It was really great to get to work with vocalists again. Backstage, it was enjoyable to laugh and talk "voice shop."

Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 4 "Italian"

One of the pillars of the modern symphonic repertoire, this symphony's melodies are a joy to hear. It was exciting to watch the members of Sinfonia dig their teeth (and bow arms) into this piece, and sharing their energy with the audience.