Monday, November 03, 2008

Bad Blogger

Okay, so it has been nearly two months to the day when I last blogged.

All my attempts to be a daily chronicler of events in my life and observations of the musical world were lost in the daily shuffle of work, concerts and meeting new people.

Perhaps I'll just wait around for the new year. I did well on all my other resolutions.

We'll see.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Another Hurricane averted

I was actually hoping Gustav would come ashore near Houston.

It would be quite special for my first hurricane to be named after the composer who created the best instrument ever, the Mahlerbox.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Swing into the Symphony

There are only two orchestras in the nation were Pops can even be mentioned in the same breath as the normal classical performances:
  1. The Boston Pops, which operates a separate orchestra
  2. The Cincinnati Pops, which is really the CSO but with better jackets
Since most orchestras tend to believe popular concerts dilute the art form, I was extremely surprised to see the first performance of the Houston Symphony 09 Season was a concert with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

Now, in high school I went through a swing dancing phase. I even still have a Lou Vega CD. There was even a brief attempt at learning how to dance in college, before my two left feet and large dose of social conscience got a hold of me.

Tonight's performance was energetic and a true crowd pleaser. BBVD performed the 90's hits that made them big and brought the swing movement back to suburbia. One of the highlight's was the performance of Minne the Moocher, a song that I have always loved.

After the show, BBVD joined the over 200 young professional on the backstage of Jones Hall. What a great start to an organization that has the potential to do some really great things for the symphony in the future.

Now I just cannot wait to hear the full orchestra doing one of the classic works, so I can finally hear what I am working for everyday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If I Curse you enough, will you go away?

In order to help myself accomplish a personal goal of becoming fit and in better shape, I hired a personal trainer. Over the next three months, Cedric is going to coach me three times a week in a wide ranging of activities ranging from grueling to downright painful.

If I were to describe what he puts me through, my fingers would refuse to relive the horrors the rest of my body suffers through.

But I wake up the next morning feeling sore in a good way. If this keeps up, I could lose up to 10% body fat in time for Thanksgiving, where I plan to pack 3% back on.

I just need to get there and I hope my legs will be able to make the journey with me.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Largest. Ask. Ever.

I cannot tell you who, yet.

I cannot tell you for what, yet.

I can tell you the ask would total seven figures over three years.

I will know in about three months if I get what I asked for.

An early Christmas present would make my year.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In the Line of Fire

I hate having to give an impromptu speech, especially when I have no forethought to prepare some type of coherent message. When I was introduced at the Executive Committee meeting of the Houston Symphony, I never expected I would be giving an overview of my campaign strategy for my 2009 Corporate Relations program.

So, when this occured, I did what any self-respecting development officer would do. I attempted to articulate an action plan formed from my six weeks on the job. I discussed about a new set of benefits, wrapping up all renewals by December and going after lapsed corporations before investigating new leads unconnected with the symphony.

I think it sounded alright. A few nods, one person applauded. I survived my first test, but next time I just wish I had some better ammunition.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Places in Houston I frequent the most

My apartment
My office
Jones Hall (where all the non-development offices are located)
My apartment complex's pool
My apartment complex's gym
Ikea
Sonoma wine bar
Kroger's
My mailbox

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Blogging

I have been a horrible blogger. Instead of posting over the past two months, I have typing up articles and just keeping them locked up, bottling the electronics and just holding them until I finally had internet in my place.

So I hope to now be more regular with my posts, barring any sudden hurricanes or shift in work schedule.

First month at work

To date, I have
  • Survived my first tropical storm (just a lot of rain and wind)
  • Wrote five proposals for corporate sponsorships
  • Raised my first $15,000 for the symphony
  • Heard the phrase "We are so glad you are here" uttered over a dozen times
  • Got lost in one of the largest shopping malls in America
  • Watched all three seasons of Arrested Development
  • Became a Texas citizen (I am still waiting for the complimentary belt buckle)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

First Day in Houston

Timetable of the first day in Houston:

9am - Arrive in Houston
9:30am - View my first apartment
10:20am - View my second apartment
11:10am - View my third apartment (This one had a shower that could fit a king-sized bed)
11:47am - View my fourth apartment
12:31pm - Signed Lease at the 2nd apartment I viewed
1:13pm - At Ikea furnishing my apartment from scratch
3:47pm - Back at my apartment to sign the final papers
4:21pm - Moving my stuff into my new apartment (I fit everything I owned into my car)
5:03pm - Finished moving into apartment; heat just beginning to wear on me
6:15pm - Quick dinner
8:30pm - Bed, on the floor, where my bed will go tomorrow

Quite exciting

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Vacation

When you have been working hard for thirteen month straight, it is great to get away and relax. I took the last two weeks to go back and visit all of my friends in the places I have lived over the past 4 years. I could tell you what I did, but most of the people reading this journal saw me on my own personal version of "This Was My Life."

In the end, all I wanted to do is relax, and I was able to do just that.

I am now very prepared to face the final 14 hour drive to Houston.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Final Days in Detroit

Out of all the places I have been this year, Detroit had the largest impact on my life and will be the hardest to leave. Both the people I worked with with at the DSO and my roommates were fabulous, allowing me to feel extremely comfortable with myself. I was often pushed to new heights, whether being thrown into leading staff meetings or having to manage a project from half a country away.

My last day in the office, I was greeted with a Texas-sized going away party, including myself in cowboy hat, pistol and big belt. When I was leaving the office for the last time, I actually could not look back for fear of breaking down.

I would love to recount all of the lessons I have learned, but I suspect you will see them actually become a part of me as I continue to grow in Houston. But, I will be sad to leave behind D-town.

Go Wings!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Back to the Office

While it is old news by now, I did want to write a post about my new job.

On June 2nd, after a long, multiple month and multiple interview job search, I finally accepted a position. Beginning July 15th, I will be the Director of Corporate Relations with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

Now, I did not come into the Fellowship knowing at the end I wanted to return to a position in fundraising. I initially applied to marketing and operations positions. But as I took the interviews, I learned more about myself and my interests. Yes, I was very intrigued about working on the production side of concerts, but I would have a step learning curve just to bring myself up to a decent level. I have just not been around the operations side enough for it to be second nature to me, and the greater level of unfamiliarity, the greater the chance I will miss something small and important. I could never feel comfortable when talking about my reactions to operations situations, mainly because most of them I was struggling to come up with an answer, any answer.

In the marketing interviews, I felt extremely comfortable. Marketing is very similar to development and I have always felt I would be great at marketing. Since I have never grown up in playing in an orchestra, there exists a vast majority of work I have never heard before or never heard live. This puts me in a great position to be able to accurately describe to a first time audience member what they are going to hear. But I was unable in interviews to accurately convey my own marketing perspective to my interviewers. I kept getting caught up on buzz words and concepts and was never able to make a good statement of my case.

In the end, I am quite happy with my position in Houston. It allows me the challenge to doing something I do not know within the context of my background (corporate fundraising vs. general fundraising). It is also a city that is growing and not in the Midwest, since I wanted to attempt to break free from cornfields if at all possible. And while there are a whole slew of challenges I can name, I am just excited to be able to begin to plant roots and settle down. Traveling for 13 months straight is draining and I am looking forward to being the proud owner of furniture again.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

8 Days in June

My last evening in Denver coincided with the opening night of Detroit's 2nd Annual 8 Days in June music festival. While not a challenging concert from a programmatic standpoint, I would have enjoyed hearing Mozart's Jupiter symphony played against Holst's The Planets.

My first 8 Days experience was Day 2, the Changing Earth. Music by John Glass and fabulous photography of wildlife and landscapes. This also featured fruit bats from the Detroit zoo, a popular attraction for children and parents.

Day 3, the Technological Mind, unfolded in the chaos of circuit. Computers composing in the style of Bach, keyboards that played 12 notes in addition to the 8 being struck and people learning to compose using colored teardrops.

Day 4, Structures and Patterns, I had to skip due to my body just making me stop.

Day 5, Being and Becoming was, for me, the highlight of the week. Messian's Turangalila Symphony was an amazing work and it was sad that only a few hundred people shared in the experience. I had never heard this work depicting love from the divine before, but I have been learning more about Messian this year through my listening guide and will definitely be circling back to examine the piece in more detail soon.

Day 6, Civil Disobedience, was akin to a horrible car accident on the highway. It was so bad to be close to, yet so intriguing you just had to keep looking. Titled A Lecture on the Weather, he piece was for 12 actors to read essays by Thoreau concurrently. They each decided where to stop and start, but had to complete their entire reading within 30 minutes. I observed over 10 people get up and leave in the first 10 minutes, citing the piece was crap and not music at all. I enjoyed this, because the work would not be a success unless someone left made and was forced to question what they considered music.

Day 7, Spontaneous Creation I could not get to, since my body had shut down to the cold that turned from mild into disabling.

Day 8, Chaos and Order, was a fine way to the end the festival. I say fine because three of the four pieces were standard classical repertoire, nothing to challenge the mind with. The Firebird was a lovely, energetic way to end, but Schnittke's Not a Midsummer Night's Dream demanded the audience to really listen to how the instruments interact and play with each other, sometimes only a note or two apart. And how can one be faulted when the audience actually laughs out loud and points when they hear something they enjoy. Now that is a good time, and the mark of success.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

National Performing Arts Conference

What happens with nearly 4,000 arts managers from 30+ service organizations representing all forms of arts disciplines from orchestras, dance companies and operas to theaters, chamber groups and artist managers gather in Denver? Well, other than just a mad cacophony of sound and ideas, it is an opportunity to break down silos and open dialogue between the disparate groups.

One major undercurrent to the entire festival was the culmination of my year as a LAO Fellow. After a few sessions on leadership, all five of us spent time reflecting, on the past year, on how much we learned and grew. And while all of us has come so far in our personal and professional learning, we have aged so much more than what we would like to believe. Looking at the before and after pictures, there is huge difference. Just as the U.S. presidency ages an individual, so we all have grown older. I have even begun to go gray, at 27!

The conference itself was just a whirlwind of activity. I spent most of the time catching up with old friends from Pittsburgh and LACO, who wanted to hear about my time in Detroit and the new, exciting things yet to come. I was also doing a lot of drive-by meet and greets, handshaking and introducing myself to everyone I have ever wanted to meet, but never could had the opportunity to before. From 8 am to midnight every night, something was going on somewhere with someone and I had to be there. When I returned to Detroit, I just had to crash. I had accomplished getting through the 6 day presentation and I just wanted be away from all large crowds.

One of the best things to emerge from conference was the America Speaks lead discussion about how all arts groups can work together to promote the arts nationally, regionally and locally. One of the worst ideas to emerge was the idea of a cabinet level position for arts advocacy. I feel like any form of government control with arts could lead to an undue amount of censorship or creation of an arts campaign tied with political viewpoints. Too nationalistic for my taste. I did, however, enjoy the concept of a national advertising campaign for the arts. A campaign similar to "Got Milk" would involve artists on every level (national, regional and locally) and allow the nation to be reintroduced to why they should be proud of and get involved with their local organizations. This could be promoted into a national arts day, similar to Earth Day, where all organization open there doors, nationally, for free and involve their communities in a greater level than ever possible.

And did I mention Denver is beautiful? If I did not have to any responsibilities, I would just move there and consider learning how to ski better to become a ski bum.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 9

When you theme an entire musical season around ninth symphonies, there is only one way to finish. Beethoven's massive opus, combining large orchestra, four soloists and chorus broke the final barrier between the Classical and Romantic ages and influenced many composers in the following years. Today was actually the first day I heard the piece in live performance.

Yes, I know, I have lead a sheltered life.

Before the Beethoven, Detroit premiered a work by contemporary female composer Stacy Garrop. Garrop won the first Lebenbom award from the Detroit Symphony, as part of a contest to inspire women composers. Her work Becoming Medusa was based upon the ancient legends and myths of the Gordon whose gaze turned men to stone. The programmic worked wove one main them (Medusa) through various iterations, from beauty through a transformation and ending with hideous. The piece had a Samuel Barber-like quality, with an intenstiy and orchestra reminicent of the Capricorn Concerto. The audience was highly receptive to the piece; I hope they simply were not applauding to just get through to the Beethoven.

I had an entire review of the symphony to put here, but on the drive home it all fell out of my head. All that was left was the feeling of proud triumph and myself humming the "Ode to Joy" theme. It was a fine performance, the audience was on it's feet roaring and clapping just as the first echoes began dying away in the hall. People were happy, and so I was happy as well.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 8

Have you ever gone out to dinner, to a restaurant you have been to many times, and ordered something different off the menu, instead of your typical appetizer? If you have, and were surprised about how much you enjoyed it, this was how I felt listening to Sergi Prokofiev's Autumnal. This light-hearted sketch for symphony orchestra fluttered like leaves under Maestro Ashkenazy's hands, bringing at once something familiar yet unfamiliar to the beginning of the concert.

Following the overture, one of the juggernaut works of the piano repertoire was laid before me. Often compare to a finely cooked filet mignon, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 is the pinnacle of an audience's experience, and often prepared to be both fiery and buttery smooth at the same time. The interpretation this evening, however, was a little dry for my personal tastes: the replacement soloist banging away with his left hand to a point where I was concerned for the safety of the lowest keys.

For a finale to the evening, Maestro Ashkenazy offered up his take on Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. He re-orchestrated the work from the original piano score. The result was something both familiar and unfamiliar; I heard all the themes, but they were in the wrong timbres and with different instrument families. I would need to hear it again to decide if I liked it, I was too busy the first time comparing it back to the more familiar Ravel vision.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 7

During last evening's concert of Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony, I did one of the geekiest things any music lover is prone to do at a concert. Instead of enjoying the concert in a standard fashion, I followed along using a complete score.

Now, I have to reveal a second little secret: I did not know how to read music until I was in college. This is really a fault of both myself and my situation. I never had any formal instrumental training and only minimal vocal lessons. When I was required to learn parts for a musical or choir piece, I relied on my ears. I listen to the piano line or a recording of the part until it was ingrained in my mind. Looking back, it was a horrible way to learn, but it was the only way afforded to me at the time.

Following through the 182 page score was an amazing journey that made the entire hour and a half long symphony fly along. I had become so familiar with the themes and orchestrations it was unsettling to see them in the graphical notation. I was themes build and die away, move in conjunction and relate to other parts of the piece in a new structure like never before. And I only got lost once, in the Rondo section, when I was actually more enthralled with listening than reading. It was an extremely technical process, one that while heightening my distinction of all the various moving parts, I did not get emotional brought into the work. I felt like I was just an observer, not moved by the experience. It was a great experiment, though I think next time I will just go back to listening sans notational assistance.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 6

In the classical musical world, an orchestra can rarely get more press than having Yo-Yo Ma as soloist. Unless you happen to be a four foot tall robot from Honda, whose name stands for Advanced Step In MObility. ASIMO was just one component of the DSO's program last night, stirring international press circles that often do not take much stock in orchestral performances. It was extremely interesting to have reports from Wired.com and other Tech sites discuss the relationship between a classical art form and advance technology, but more on that in a coming blog.

Yo-Yo Ma's energy and passionate is very apparent in his every body movement. His eyes are bright and always seem to catch your attention and then move your own eyes to his always present smile. It is an immensely comforting experience to be in his presence, and when he talks he makes the entire world collapse and puts the focus just on you. And when he puts bow to cello string, the tone immediately draws your ear right to the auburn collection of wood and metal between Yo-Yo's legs. I cannot begin to describe the sound of his performance, only that you know are hearing something special, that rings above anything else you have ever heard. Having dated a cellist in college, I was extremely familiar with the repertoire, especially the Hadyn cello concerto. My ex-girlfriend's playing notwithstanding, the first notes from cello and orchestra communicate a joy with such ease I totally forget I was standing for the entire work. I could do nothing but smile and clap and take the occasional breathe when I remembered it was required to keep on listening.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 5

When I was working with LACO, it was common place to have the Music Director Jeffery Kahane at the keyboard conducting and performing. For a chamber orchestra of 40 players, mimic the style prevalent in the time of Mozart and Hadyn is quite easy. But you would not expect to see a conductor direct a nearly 100 piece orchestra as they perform one of the most difficult and recognized pieces in 20th century literature.

Andrew Litton, Music Director Emeritus of the Dallas Symphony, was able to step into a set of two concerts after a week needed to be rearranged. Tackling Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" from the keyboard turned podium was a refreshing change to the work. I enjoyed listening to Andrew bring the delicate portions of the piece to life on the keys, allowing the orchestra to glide around and support the lusciously quotable solo lines.

The second half of the concert was, by contrast, very traditional and standard. Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony is on nearly everyone's 10 Ten list. It is well-composed, has great pace throughout, but it can suffer from being performed in an unoriginal or forced manner. Maestro Litton did a great job of conveying the energy and urgency that Fate is ever present in our lives.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 4

Completing the cycle of John Corigliano symphonies, the DSO squeezed in the 2nd Symphony in between two classical juggernauts. Peter Oundjian was masterful, guiding the overture to Mozart's opera The Magic Flute with wonderful deftness and care. The work helped set the tone of the concert, cheering up everyone in the hall.

And then, like a good mix tape, we were brought down by the string symphony of John C. The sonorities fell off the strings and rolled down across the floor and into the ears of the audience. John's music has a unique quality to assault your ears and tear down your perception of sound. It sounds like depression on the ears.

The concert concluded with the impressive Hilary Hahn performing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. Though it was once deemed unplayable, Hilary's performance made each line sound so easy and natural. I really cannot say much else than I am a huge fan of the double H.

On a sperate note, it is always facinating to listen to a concert conducted by violinist. Before conducting, Peter was known for his career as first violin of the Tokyo Quartet. He knows the instruments inimately, so watching is movements as guided Hilary and the orchestra throught the concert was breathtaking. It was just like watching two violinist talk about the solo work on scale both intimate and magnanimous at the same time.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 3

My first introduction to Anton Bruckner was the summer after my senior year in college. One of the box office workers was a tuba player from IU. He brought in a box set of Bruckner's symphonies and set upon listening to them at work, in order, once a week. Everyone in the office groaned. I grinned through it, being to naive to realize what was going on. I am ashamed to admit this, but while Dr. Jordan will always by my Phone-a-Friend lifeline, he neglected to touch on Bruckner during my two years of music history.

My second introduction to Anton Bruckner was this past summer. Living with a former player in the Berlin Philharmonic and fellow Fellow, Martin was constantly questioning my musical knowledge. When I falter on Bruckner, he nearly fell out of his seat. He quickly went to his computer and made me download five of his nine symphonies, outline the brilliance and power contained within the notes. I nodded quietly, swearing I would listen to the collection on my long drives.

It was recommend I listen to the symphonies in the order of 8, 7, 4, 9, 5, and 6. On the drive from Indiana to LA I digested them in over the course of the 11-hour second day. It was staggering and all I really took away was the habit of ending each movement with a final cadence, toying with the audience into believing the work was over after only twenty minutes. But, once I completed the listening cycle, I occasionally found my fingers rounding my iPod's clickwheel back to the Ninth Symphony. It was dark, brooding, alluring and I liked it. And when Hans Graf drew up the opening theme from the strings tremolos and building to the wash of the horns, I actually had chills.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 2

This year I have been haunted by two pieces, that no matter where I go I can always count on hear Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 or John Corigliano's Circus Maximus being performed. In Detroit, I was asked to be the point person to coordinate all the operational efforts for the concert.

Six surround trumpets, which we asked to be placed in the archways behind audience boxes, were moved the during the dress rehearsal. This was a movement I dreaded, for now we displaced two chairs per box, belonging to the most affluent and influential members of Detroit society and the DSO.

And now, since we were two weeks behind when this could have been done with care for the patrons, we had to deal with every person as they entered the boxes. Armed with an army of ushers, I lead the charge to deliver the message of musicians entering the box on the second half, give out earplugs like hard change and shift those who did not wish to be disturbed.

The piece is assaulted everyones eardrums and right before the climax a few people made a collective gasp. But I was pleased since of the thousands of people who came to the performance, only a dozen left the hall.

I could talk more about the actual performance, but John C's piece is really a spectacle to be experienced and viewed, not discussed. That and I am just tired from being at the hall every night this week.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Pops Concert

Just a word about the pops show "The Beat Goes On - The Music of the 60s.":

It was shocking to see the audience react to six singers and an orchestra recreate familiar tunes. The full house of people were swaying, singing and mouthing along and remembering the first time they heard the music.

I am fearful of the future when it will be the music of the 80s and 90s that are made into orchestrated medleys.. While I spend my days working toward the weekend productions of orchestral music, I often retreat to my love of popular forms, mostly alternative rock. Never could I imagine the day when the twain shall me. Will the proverbial "crossing of the streams" disrupt the rotation of the earth?

Can you imagine "Whip it" using the wooden orchestral whip blocks? With the inclusion of the Moog synthesizer, 80s bands carried music to a new level of sonic confusion. The purist rockers were still in force, putting out monster ballads to "come sail away" with your loved one. The first pop stars emerged, from the virginal Madonna to the king Michael Jackson and the odd but lovable Prince.

And how about the strains of Nirvana set into cellos and bases? The 1990s can be compared to the 20th century of Classical music. There was no one styles that dominated, but all were welcome to compete. From the mega pop stars to the birth (and death) of grunge, the coast division of hip hop (later becoming gansta rap), boy bands, teen divas and rebirth of r&b. There were power-pop bands, funk metal, industrial metal, ska, new-age punk, rock-rap and Hanson. (Side note: There was also a resurgence in Country. See ACHY BREAKY HEART).

If someone manages to create a show combining all of these elements I will be scared.... very scared.

But if it does happen, here are my top 5 80s hits to orchestrate:

5.) Madonna - Like a Prayer
4.) Michael Jackson - Billy Jean
3.) Prince - Raspberry Beret
2.) Guns 'N Roses - Welcome to the Jungle
1.) Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody

And my top 5 90s hits to orchestrate:

5.) TuPac - California
4.) Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
3.) Soundgarden - Blackholesun
2. ) Snoop Dogg - Gin 'n Juice
1.) Hootie and the Blowfish - Let Her Cry

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 1

When I hear the name Jarvi, my mind first drifts to Paavo and the Cincinnati Symphony. They have been such a staple in my life for the past four years, it is hard to shake myself of that free association. But when I found out my first concert with the DSO would be under the direction of Paavo's father Neeme, I was excited to see where the skill and drive came from.

The program utilized half of the orchestra to perform great works of the Classical canon. Opening with Haydn's Symphony No. 88, the reduced orchestra sung under baton of Maestro Jarvi. And while I am sure it was a great performance, the work bored me nearly to sleep. No matter how well played, it is rare to find a composition by Hadyn that engages me.

The next work featured Canadian piano phenom Martin Stadfelt in his U.S. debut with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23. He also reappeared on the second half of the program with J. S. Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 4. Of the two pieces, the Bach was better the better work performed. Stadfelt is a young pianist and his age betrayed him in his hands. The Mozart was technically okay, but what was missing was the emotion behind the work. One of the DSO co-workers agreed with me, citing "he needs to get his heart broken a few times before re-attempting the piece."

The final work was Schubert's Fifth Symphony. This would have been a great piece to hear, but when set at the end of three very classical works, my ears had just too much of one style of music. I lost interest somewhere during the first movement, which was sad for this being my first connection with the DSO.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

During my 27 years, I have traveled to 29 states and 10 European countries but I have never visited our neighbor to the North. During my first week at the DSO, I managed to cross into Canada twice, get harassed by Homeland Security transporting several artists and bring back a questionable bit of food from a dim sum restaurant.

Tonight the Toronto Symphony made the trip to Detroit for a performance. Peter Oundjian leads the orchestra and his relationship as Principal Guest Conductor of Detroit has afforded this cultural exchange. I think it is great to have both communities experience the continuity of conductor with the difference of an orchestra. It is an idea to be expanded upon, which could blossom to having national and international sister cities exchange musicians or entire orchestras.

The performance of Mahler 4 had me stunned. When Peter lead my Sinfonia in Aspen, it was an amazing experience because the orchestra was close to me. Now, with a world-class set of musicians, the sound was moving, powerful and stimulating. I think I actually teared up. I was there at Peter's first rehearsal of Mahler 4 and to now see it come full circle was fulfilling.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Welcome to the Motor City

Here I am, less than 200 miles from where I originally grew up, to complete my final assignment as part of the Fellowship. It could be fate that returns me to my humble beginnings or perhaps a bit of luck, but mostly it just reminds me of just why I left in the first place: to pursue my dream or working in the music industry.

For my final assignment, I knew to have no expectations. The entire nation casts Detroit in an downtrodden economic shadow, but I have heard so many positive things about the symphony. And people tell the truth. The staff of the DSO immediately welcomed me with open arms. I have gotten use to being thrown into a new work environment and immediately being expected to swim. The staff was quite inviting and allowed me to test the waters, get comfortable and orient myself... before plunging into a stack of meetings about marketing and operations.

It should be a good 13 weeks.

New York Week No. 2

3 days in the car, then 4 hours on 2 planes to reach one bus to take me to Manhattan.

An intense three days of discussions on leadership, mock interviews and horrible theme bars.

I missed my Fellows.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Los Angeles: Final Thoughts

As I prepare to once again cross the country in three days, I thought about my experiences in this strange place once known as Hollywoodland.

The LA Chamber Orchestra is a wonderful organization most people have never heard of. I certainly did not know of it before I applied to the Fellowship Program. I was not prepared for what awaited me in the form of chamber music.

The staff of LACO works hard to live by their motto "make music personal." The staff is referred to on publications by their first names and everyone can pick up the phone to answer a ticketing question. They move with so much passion, which is mirrored by the dedicated Board who works with them and talented players who are onstage. I really cannot say enough about the LACO musicians. No matter what genre, be it Bach, Shostakovich or a new film score by Howard Shore, they can make some amazing music.

I was amazed at LACO's ability to thrive in the culturally packed metropolitan area of Los Angeles county. They were not the leading arts organization in town, the orchestra was able to develop a dedicated audience on both sides of town, who are willing to brave the horrible traffic to attend concerts.

I am going to miss working with the amazing staff, and enjoying 80 degree February days.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Los Angeles Philharmonic

During my last week at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, I was extremely fortunate to witness two very different events at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The first was part of their educational series, a program titled "The Composer is Dead." As I was walking down to the hall, I saw the entire street in front block off and dozen of buses parked side by side. It was as if a pod of bright yellow salmon were preparing to force their way uptown through the LA Financial district.

The actual program was intriguing. Theatre in the round (due to the stage) meet Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra as the Investigator moved through the different sections of the orchestra, explaining how they work and demonstrating them to the nearly 2,000 children in attendance. While very adorable, the work did propagate several stereotypes. The violas were pictured as being slow and a bit dim, trumpets as always loud and boisterous and the percussion as being Latino (rhythm addicts).

I was also invited to the 0809 Season announcement. Local and national press where there to witness the video montage celebrating Esa-Pekka Salonen in his last year at the help of the LA Phil before Gustavo takes over. The event was extremely professional, with great care given to explaining the thought behind the programming of each series.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Audience of the future

Today I saw great hope in the future of classical music. Children from elementary schools in the Los Angeles area were invited to the Colburn School to listen to the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra bid the city farewell. Monday they will depart on their first European tour in thirty years, and have invited these kids to accompany them (virtually) as they tour through five countries.

The hour long program consisted of Mozart overtures and Stravinsky's Pulcinella, big repertoire for any audience, let alone young children. Yet the entire hall was filled to the brim. 400+ young bodies squirmed in seats at the pauses, clapped during movements and even gasped during the loud sections. Under "conventional" audience etiquette, this behavior would have elicited boos and stares from people who want to focus on the music. I viewed their reactions as a sign of life, that music is moving people, big or small.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Horrible Secret No. 1

For a musician, I am going to say 5 little words that may sound surprising:

I do not prefer Mozart.

It is not for lack of respect. Wolfgang Amadeus was a master in his own time. Composer of 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos and world famous operas Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte and The Magic Flute, he was the rock star of 18th century Vienna. There was no need to have an American Idol competition... WAM was the original Austrian Idol.

My lack of preference for Mozart comes not from a deep, innate hatred of his orchestration style or the libretto of his operas. Rather, it is just a lack of knowledge about his catalog. Having grown up in a non-musical household, I was not exposed to the beauty of Mozart. Add to the my studies as a vocalist focus mainly on German and American art song, I just never had anyone to introduce me to the music. I am still tripping my way through his works, with Kochel as my sole guide. For me personally, my musical taste is straddles Mozart, beginning with Bach and picking up again with Brahms. I still have yet to pick up a solid affinity for the linkage between Baroque and Romanticism.

This was all until earlier this week when I sat in on the first rehearsal with LACO and Jeff. He opened the dark and brooding Concerto No. 20. I had heard this piece before, but only in the radio, in an extremely passive mood of listening. But now I heard every distinct note, and a melody that played right to my heart. Jeff worked magic at the keyboard, moving up and down in a dance very similar to how I imagine it was premiered in 1785.

Sunday's concert left me and an entire audience full of people, in awe of Jeff's talents. But that is little surprise to those who have seen him perform before and know his gifts. For me, I took away a greater appreciation for Mozart... and a set of recordings recommended by Jeff.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra - Concert No. 1

I jumped into the middle of LACO's concert season, about 6 weeks before they leave on their first European Tour in 30 years. LACO performs in two different venues. The Alex Theatre in Glendale, renovated movie theatre and city landmark serves audiences on the East side of Downtown Los Angeles. Royce Hall on the UCLA campus serves as the West side home for the orchestra and provides a purer concert experience.

This concert was extremely unique from the programming aspects. Opened with a Divertimento by Strings by Einojuhani Rautavaara, a contemporary Finish composer who's works are extremely reminiscent of a tonal Shostakovich. Following this work was the expanded orchestration of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 4. A stirring rendition of the chamber piece, accented now by the colors and texture of the wind and brass instruments, and muted timpani and drums. The entire audience was on the edge of their seats and while I knew the original piece well, it was fascinating to hear this new interpretation.

Two short Intermezzos for Strings by Enesco cleansed the aural palate before the evening ended with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2. Soloist Chee-Yun displayed dazzling virtuosity while the orchestra bounded from chord to chord, creating an amazing texture that I hate never been accustomed to hearing from a late Romantic concerto.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra - A definition

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
- from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

A chamber orchestra is oddly named. At the organization's artistic core is the beginning of the symphonic repertoire. Late Bach, Hadyn, Mozart and Beethoven all composed pieces for an orchestral ensemble no larger than fifty players. As composers explored the possibilities of sound, the size of the orchestra increased. In the 20th Century, a standard orchestra consists of approximately 100 musicians and audiences have grown accustomed to that vision on stage. Of course, pre-20th Century there was no delimitation between a Mahler-orchestra and a chamber orchestra. An orchestra was simply an ensemble of musicians, coming together to perform.

Now, anyone who knows me knows of my great love for Mahler. He wrote some of the most powerful and moving works in Western Civilization, and he used an orchestra far greater than the ones available to Hadyn.

And here lies the crux of the problem: A chamber orchestra is really just an orchestra, which performs works written for the ensemble, numbering in the area of 40 players or less. To everyone else, a chamber orchestra is an oxymoron. Most newcomers to classical music know a string quartet performance is classified as chamber music, intimate music in an intimate setting. These same people then believe a chamber orchestra concert will be similar music: quartets, quintets, septets, etc.

This is the perception that must be challenged everyday. These issues need to be tackled every time a marketing postcard or slogan is developed. Education of the audience is the first priority of the organization, second is differentiation from the other local symphony. But, I have always embraced a good challenged.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Burnt Sennia or Brick Red

During my first day with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), I did not develop a new strategic plan, nor find a new source or funding or even create new efficiencies in production. Instead, I colored.

Okay, perhaps it is too crude a descriptor, so let me elaborate. In my first few hours with the organization, I was charged with taking lists of subscriber zip code data and compile them into a meaningful description of overlap between two principal venues. They also wanted a map, a visual representation of the numbers to reconcile which venues draw what areas of Los Angeles.

And so, after spending hours on the computer developing Excel models and percentages of subscriber share throughout zip code area, I arrived at columns of numbers and descriptors. The story it told was not very entertaining, even if read aloud by an accountant. To bring a sense of joy and amusement to the project, I procured a zip code map for the Greater Los Angeles. After mapping out the locations of the LACO venues, I began the half day task of coloring in the zip codes. The color codes ranged from Green to Orange, these opposites being over a 75% preference for one venue or the other. Moving in on the color well, the primary colors of blue and red described preferences that ranged between 50 and 75%. Finally, the secondary color purple marked indecision between either venue.

The map revealed nothing surprising. People tended to attend concerts in the venue nearest to them. Only a few would cross Los Angeles County in an odd manner, which could be explained with the placement of the freeways and the timings of the concerts.

But that was not really what I enjoyed about the exercise.

The activity was extremely reminiscent of grade school activities, where one learns to color in BETWEEN the lines, instead of creating organic shapes of colored wax. One would think a post-graduate schooled, work experienced, future leader of an orchestra would not enjoy a task such as this, but it was quite freeing. People are constantly judging me, watching me, measuring me up and sizing up my potential. Yet, for one afternoon, I forgot all about those outside judges and enjoyed not using a computer but a box of Crayolas.