Sunday, March 18, 2012

Symphonic Metamorphosis, movement three

Pre-Opera Projection
Earlier this afternoon was the final performance of the "Nixon in China" run.  To keep all the different concerts and series straight, the symphony identifies everything by a simple code in ascending order.  This was called Opera 3 and the fancy concert this coming weekend with newly-minted Grammy-winner Joyce DiDonato is called Classical Series 9.  In a few weeks, they'll have Opera 4, and so forth.

This is a critical method for keeping people from getting confused, especially in a season where there can be rehearsals and performances for two or three things simultaneously.  It is vital to not be confused.

But what it tends to do is take a little bit of the romance out of it.  When I get called by the personnel manager to play for Opera 3, that just doesn't have the same oomph as "Nixon in China".

Here are some other thoughts:

* It's bad to have a world-class production going on around you, because none of the recordings available quite measure up.  I was able to find two recordings in a brief search, but neither one captures the energy and atmosphere of our performance.  It really bums me out that they don't make recordings available (warts and all) for local performances.  It annoyed me when the university didn't have an accessible archive, and it annoys me that the symphony -- even though it was running all the sound through a board ANYWAY -- makes no recordings available.

* One never knows what will happen.  Today, the principal trumpet was ill and did not attend.  So the other two trumpets moved one part up and left the third chair empty.  There a certain amount of transferable knowledge that moves along: it's not as difficult as playing an entirely new part would seem.  But all agreed that there was no point to bring in a new person to read the now-vacant third trumpet book.  While this complicated music would be the sight-reading exam of a lifetime, there's so little chance of even passable competency that it is better to leave the seat open and deal with a few hollow chords.  And the audience probably never noticed because they did a superb job.  That's what makes professional musicians.

* It was difficult work.  From the first downbeat to the last cutoff, my involvement almost reached three weeks.  Three weeks for seven rehearsals and 4 performances.  I snuck in practice time when I could, mostly in the mornings by stealing time from my "day" job.  It's a tricky balance, because time I don't spend working is lost money, but regardless of how much I practice, the symphony pay remains the same.  The trick is that if I don't practice, the symphony work will end precipitously. 

* Thank heavens for friends who came to watch.  It's very difficult to get a true sense of how the opera is received based on length of applause and number of chuckles per night.  I had friends at three of four performances who provided unsolicited positive feedback.  That's a great ego boost...

* ...Which is good, because the "serious" gigs don't really provide feedback.  It was all I could do to not tap the shoulder of the guy next to me and say, "How'm I doing?"  In saying that, I don't want you to get the impression that the rehearsals and performances were oppressive.  People went out of their way to welcome me, introduce themselves, talk about my playing, and generally make me feel like I was part of the team.  But there's no letter grade or comment sheet that's filled out at the end.  The only real performance evaluation is one that is done completely out of my knowledge: will I get called the next time they need a substitute?

It would be fun if they handed out little chits or markers to let you know how you did.  "You got a green chip?  Awesome, we'll see you again!"  "Oh no, black chip.  You might want to move cities, before they circulate your black-listed resume."

So, I just hold on and keep being awesome.  If they call me again, that means this particular opera wasn't a god-awful mess on my part.  Score!  If they don't call again, it means I sucked on a cosmic scale.  Or it means they just don't need substitutes for that series.  Watch me try to sweat out the difference!

* To get past the security desk, one needs a badge.  The ones for the extra musicians just say "extra/substitute".  This was my fifth one, I think.  I get them at the first rehearsal and turn them in at the end, so I can't just hold on to one and place it on the mantelpiece until they call again.  "They have to call me for one more; I've still got the card!"

* The conductor is amazing.  As hard as this was to play, he's got to keep the entire orchestra on track.  Plus he's got to contend with the singers.  And the choir.  He never lost his good cheer and boundless energy.  While I think this atypical opera was not a universally-admired choice in the pit, his enthusiasm and craft turned more than a few hearts.  I found a note online that says he was involved with the original production, but he certainly kept this ship on course -- I'm sure this production was a million ways different than any other.

Truly a pleasure and an honor to be involved.  I may have a final entry on this matter later, after I get a little distance and get some of the more insidious patterns out of my head.  I've already gone into public singing "whip her to death, whip her to death, whip her to death".  I have to cut back on that if I want to avoid being taken into custody by the police.

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