Posts Tagged ‘orchestra’

A Constant Career Companion

Thursday, September 5th, 2013


There has been one concerto that has been there since the beginning – through the good and bad, the great and the ugly. In fact, we have had a relationship for fifteen years at this point. This piece tolerates eccentricities, different venues, extreme climates, particular conductors. Since its premiere in 1845, this stalwart has been a mainstay of the repertoire, and Arthur Grumiaux’s recording was my preferred to blast on my archaic CD player while I followed along with the score. What piece am I referring to?

In 1838, Felix Mendelssohn wrote to his violin virtuoso friend, Ferdinand David: “I should like to write for you a violin concerto this winter. The beginning of one in e minor runs constantly through my thoughts, leaving me no peace.” The beginning has certainly left me busy the last fifteen years. I auditioned for the concertmaster chair of my former youth orchestra with it – a seat I would have for four years (and had quite the learning experience in the process). I auditioned at 15 to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the ENCORE School – with the Mendelssohn. Around 17 or 18, I realized just how difficult Op. 64 is, and put it away until 2008. At that point, I had not intended to return to the Mendelssohn, but no less than 3 conductors had asked for it that season – non-negotiable – so I was out of luck. Following stints in California, Texas and Ohio, I decided – not a bad piece, nor a bad idea. Audiences seemed to enjoy it, and (naively) we never needed more than one rehearsal. I told my manager that the 09-10 season should feature the Mendelssohn, and we quickly arranged 15-20 different orchestras with it; the last Mendelssohn of the season was with my dear friend Robert Franz. At the first rehearsal of the season, my brain had a panic attack and started sending messages to my left hand fingers…messages like, “You don’t know how to play in e minor!” “This piece is much more nuanced than you thought!” “How dare you play the Beethoven concerto but abuse ole Felix like this?!” It was at that rehearsal when I began to comprehend the depth, sophistication and architecture of this legendary opus. Fast forward to 2013 – I’m at a more centered, mature place in my life (adulthood, perhaps), appearances with over 120 orchestras under my belt, and yet, when I begin on the second position ‘B’, my pulse raises and I experience tremors. I’m beginning to think that one never “conquers” the Mendelssohn, yet it can certainly reveal and expose flaws, inspiration, and extremes of the same artist at different points in their development. Earlier today, I experienced the same excitement that I felt twenty years ago when hearing the bariolage transition out of the cadenza. This season, I return to the Mendelssohn with a number of different orchestras and conductors, and I can’t wait! Delving into sonatas by Elgar and Ysaye in the same key certainly solidifies violinistic concepts, but it is now Schubert and Chopin that seem to be beckoning musically, whereas before, Mendelssohn seemed to immediately preface the Romantic blockbuster concerti of the 1880’s.

I may feel different in another decade, but for now – come to the concerts and decide for yourselves!

Off-stage Preparation – Unsung Heroes.

Monday, October 25th, 2010

The energy throughout the hall is tangible – we reach the exciting coda, and orchestra, conductor and soloist executed the accelerando with flair. Smiles flash, bow hairs break, and the rousing conclusion ignites an ovation. Heartbeats elevated, everyone leaves the hall happy. Yes, another thrilling concert concluded…and conductor and soloist thank friendly audience members for attending. Who else is responsible for ensuring these concerts are performed without a hitch? Well, let’s see…

In my dressing room this past weekend, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the fact that there truly are dozens behind the scenes who passionately and loyally tire to make sure that all the behind-the-scenes are in place…and are deserving of a standing ovation. One individual I see often during a concert weekend is the stage manager – in charge of operations backstage and calling the lights/places/timing for concerts, they also oversee the dressing room situation for the artists. At a certain hall I have often played is Patty. Quite simply, she makes the backstage experience much more charming. Surprises such as a candy, energy drinks (knowing my favorites!), and a welcoming smile greet me upon entering the backstage area. A good stage manager is unfailingly kind, yet also assertive in ensuring punctuality. Each stage manager will generally have 2-5 people working the backstage area with them with jobs of their own – likely unnoticed by those in the audience. Once a capacity crowd appears (in a perfect world), the House Manager will delegate different tasks to ushers, patron services, and ticket-takers to ensure the audience has a pleasant listening experience.

Artistic management. Anywhere between 12 and 36 months prior to said concert, the artist’s manager and orchestra administration will start to nail down dates, travel, and other pertinent details. Once the concerto and date are decided, the publicity department will hammer out materials (bio, photos, press feeds, etc) to prompt ticket sales, handled by the crew in the box office. The publicity materials involve the photographer(s), make-up artists, stylists, any assistants, editors, and opinions from friends and family on which photos should or shouldn’t be used.

Said artist’s manager – talk about a full-time job. For a season with 40-60 concerts, this involves calendar planning, travel, contractual agreements, fee management, overseeing publicity, website, social media, and ensuring the artist is represented and treated well. No easy task, for sure! Appearing on tour with the Artist to meet with the staff of the orchestra, overseeing the preparation backstage, and generally de-stressing the process is part and parcel of the job description. In my case, this often entails bringing bananas, a lint-roller, and sugar-free Red Bull. I can also recall last minute emergencies – concert dates moved, airline voucher errors, and other such minor tragedies. Additionally, the management will usually have their own “inner circle” of lawyers, photographers, and assistants to help with managing a touring schedule.

Prior to a successful performance, the violin teachers, rehearsal pianists, significant others, family members, and friends who lend an ear and helping hand easily nudge the number of those involved in the preparation of a single concert well into the dozens. I am eternally grateful for everyone dedicated to the non-visible elements of this career. Of course, the congenial orchestra members and Maestro are essential as well, but at your next concert, do thank a stagehand or usher for their assistance. :)