listening to: r.e.m. – swan swan h
The most amazing concert I have ever played occurred this summer during the YOA tour while we were in Berlin. It must have been our seventh concert in the tour at that point, and the third time we played our regular “American Program” (Ravel Rhapsody Espagnole, Copland Billy the Kid Suite, Revueltas La Noche de Los Mayas and Ginastera Danzas de Estancia). The interesting thing about YOA was the myriad of conductors we had through the entire tour. Our primary conductor, Prieto, had gotten us through our first two American Program concerts. Everyone adored Prieto. He was young and energetic and very much likeable. So to learn that our third American Program concert, in a magnificent hall like the Berlin Konzerthaus, was to be conducted by the awkward oaf of a conductor that had conducted us during our initial reading rehearsals, many people were worried/concerned (or as I prefer, “bitchy”).
Just to give you an idea, this guy was the anti-Schleicher. It’s probably my own damn fault, having been here at school with a fabulous conductor for two years now and additionally playing in his conducting class. It’s made me super-critical and aware of how every tiny little action on the podium can effect what an orchestra thinks and how they play. I’ve learned so much about what makes a good conductor, both technically and common-courtesy-wise. It was unbearable to sit in those rehearsals at the beginning of YOA. To have our scheduled abused leaving wind players sitting around waiting to hear whether or not their pieces were actually going to be rehearsed, and leaving some pieces almost entirely untouched. Hearing someone yelling things like “with me!” and “watch!” Giving us verbal directions in dynamics, accents and character but then doing absolutely nothing with their gestures. In having someone sing along and breathe for instruments who need to breathe for themselves. Someone who when something goes wrong waves their hands and yells “No no no stop!” instead of calmly putting their hands down and addressing problems.
Um…whoa. Down, girl. Sorry. I’ve been holding that rant in since July for reasons of “not wanting to seem like a critical bitch.” But, there it is.
So yes. This was our conductor for the concert. The saddest part was that this guy didn’t know how to handle our traditional and completely rambunctious encores, Tico Tico and one other, which were seriously the best part of the concerts (IMO). People were displeased. Some were whiny. Others tried to spread a positive feeling. My approach was a little more of the classic Talia optimistic pessimism philosophy. “We have nothing to lose. We know the music like the backs of our hands, we’ve performed it twice. Let’s just go out there and do what we do best and not be bothered by a person on the podium.”
But miraculously enough, that’s exactly what we did.
The audience was huge. A sold-out house. Leon Spierer, former principal of the Berlin Phil –who had helped us with string sectionals and is basically the most wonderful man in the universe– was in the audience with his wife, as warm and happy as ever. And amazingly enough, the whole “our conductor sucks but we still rock” philosophy caught on. The conductor was just passive and boring enough that we could musically do everything we had been doing before and more. He did nothing to try to control with his own ideas. It was like he was just there for the ride. And because of that, it felt like we were more our own solid ensemble, rather than a group of musicians with a conductor-guy guiding us. I remember thinking to myself –and later using this to describe what made YOA so amazing– how we are quite an amazing bunch of people. To get on a stage as 110 individual and very different musicians from over 20 different countries and turn into this unified orchestral mass? Amazing.
The crowd loved it. Everything about it. They seemed not to mind our awkward conductor. They just loved the youth, and our energy, and they showed us that with their applause and their standing ovations. There was some sort of energy burning off the audience. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.
It probably helps that Berlin is an amazing city. It also probably helps that the hall was amazing. The reception/party in the Konzerthaus afterwards probably helped prolong the euphoric feelings. It was one of the most amazing nights of my entire life.
Thus how I played the best concert of my entire life with a completely crap conductor. Life never ceased to amaze.
But you know something? Last night came awfully close. It is perhaps a #2. A lot of UISO concerts have come close to being that awesome, in fact. Last May’s Brahms concert was fairly amazing. It was unbelievably cool to be sitting principal and playing ridiculous chamber solos with Tzushan and Jan (really. I am so lucky and happy to have had any experience sitting principal at all). But last night somehow takes the cake. The program, for one. Beethoven 7 is certainly my favorite Beethoven symphony, if not one of my favorite orchestral works in existence. And the Rite of Spring? Is Stravinsky. That’s all that needs saying. I can’t remember a better audience turn-out here at school, or a better audience for that matter.
It’s concerts like this that make me rethink my recent not-great opinions on being an orchestral player professionally, how I might want to do that for a living, and how myself and others can try to improve the concert-going experience for the audience-member and help attendance out.
But for now, I’m just glad it’s Saturday.