Tag Archives: MTT

update

Lots to say, but little of it organized. I got my monthly email from The Compassionate Friends today. Their monthly meeting is tomorrow night. This week is SoundBox so it is not practical to fight rush hour traffic to go down to Santa Clara then come back to work the next morning. I went and looked back at what I’ve written about The Compassionate Friends before and I think it’s pretty good. While my need for grief support has lessened in the last year, I haven’t yet achieved the strength to attend with the rationale of supporting others.

I have a phone consultation this morning with a person from TIAA. Mom and Dad’s retirement funds are with TIAA and I’ve been trying to understand how they all work. With my own retirement looming, I’ve been more motivated to do this.

I spent some time last week looking over my own funds. My broker says they should be balanced in a certain way, different from how they’re balanced now. Should I make changes? Precisely how and when get very confusing very quickly. Is the stock market a bubble that will pop soon? Aiee!

Speaking of SoundBox and retirement, I’ve found myself thinking in the last couple of weeks about giving up SoundBox. I never thought I’d feel that way. Being involved in the SoundBox shows in the last 3+ years has been a thrilling experience. I’ve been stretched physically and intellectually in ways that are really good for a man in his 60s, but I find that my interest is turning to other things. My friend Denise has – at my request – taken on the lead position for this months’ show and has shown that SoundBox audio is in good hands.

Having said all that, I’m not walking away. Denise and I will talk later in the week about who will do what for the April set. Funding for SoundBox is rather precarious so no one knows if there will be shows again starting in December. (Remember that the space is in use by the Opera from May through November so there is only the five month window every year anyway.) Symphony management has a lot on their plate, not least of which is the upcoming retirement of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. Planning for SoundBox is a bit further down the list.

Sarah’s quartet had a concert last Saturday night. The Symphony generously allowed me to borrow a few items from their sound inventory to support their performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains. I found myself worrying about technical things during the performance so I couldn’t relax into the music. The first half of the program, though, I found very moving, with narration about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s visit to Dresden after World War II.

The venue was The Hillside Club in Berkeley. I had been there before but hadn’t had the reason to work with the staff. Bruce and Araceli turned out to be very nice folks. I’m going to try to go back for some different concerts.

Tonight is jazz band. The confusion that bothered me last semester has been resolved and I’m having fun again. I’m still sharing bass duties with Steve M. who is good people. It’s a completely different head space compared to playing guitar. Guitar can be looser in big band so that’s a little more fun, but bass drives the bus and there’s nothing else like it. I have to concentrate more but that’s ok.

Next week Mom and Dad will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Mom was talking the other day about doing something special but I haven’t heard any details. I’m planning to be down there.

voices of my children

After posting twice already today with posts that were largely written my children, I found myself thinking tonight about my third child, my only daughter, Sarah.

Sarah is a writer too but her writing is hidden from me. At one time I handled some diaries from her youth. I promised I would not read them and I have kept that promise. I do not know if she still writes like that. She is a very busy person although I will go out on a limb to say that her life has simplified in the last year or so.

When she first returned to California after earning her doctorate in music, she took jobs playing music wherever they presented themselves. Orchestra musicians in the Sf Bay Area sometimes refer to these jobs as ‘The Freeway Philharmonic.’ They are rather widely spread. A friend of hers from college had started a music academy and Sarah got some students there. It was nothing like a regular job, though. Her pay was directly dependent on the number of student she had. In fact, she was more like a contractor in both cases.

One reason for coming back to the Bay Are was that she wanted to continue her study of body mechanics called the Alexander Method. There was a particularly good teacher in San Francisco.

So, for two years she juggled all these things while getting more and more discouraged that she could not make a decent living without spending hours in Bay Area traffic. She even talked to me about going back to school to get a degree in something that she could make a living at.

There are really only three orchestras in the Bay Area that pay well enough for members to live decently without taking other work: San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Ballet. Sarah took auditions with all three of these organizations but did not play well enough to be hired. She did play well enough, however, to get put on the substitute list for all of them. Who would call first?

It was the Symphony. In October of 2015 I had the great joy of seeing my daughter’s name on the list of string players for that morning’s rehearsal at Davies Symphony Hall. I don’t think it was that first morning, but not long after, my colleague Nancy Foreman snapped this picture of the two of us in the hallway just offstage right:

I told everyone in sight how proud I was of her, and how amazing it was that she was working for the Symphony, but she always told me to be quiet. She said, ‘I’m just one mistake from never being called again!’

While perhaps not literally true, it was true in one respect: if you didn’t continue to play well, the Symphony would call someone else to sub. Sarah knew – knows! – that there are many good violinists out there who would love to play in the Symphony.

So she kept her head down and practiced like a mad person, tried to predict when the Symphony would need another violin and adjust her schedule accordingly. I don’t remember exactly how the early days went. She got a week in October, then I think it was a while before she was called again, then it was more weeks with nothing.

But by a year ago she was working almost every week for the Symphony and she had shed most of the other activities.that were discouraging her so much. Unlike the early times, she now knew sometimes as much as three weeks before the first rehearsal what music she would be playing. (At the beginning, they would often call on the morning of a rehearsal. Come in in two hours and sight read difficult music under the eyes and ears of the best musicians in the world. No pressure!)

I tried my best to allow her space at Davies. When I was there I had my own work to do and I didn’t want to add to the pressure. We see each other when it is needful and most people there know of our relationship. I’ve had the experience of tenured orchestra musicians coming up to me when she isn’t there and asking me why she’s not there, where is she, if she’s all right.They like her!

Best of all, I get to see her step out onto that stage and take her seat with that great orchestra and take care of business.

Back to my original point . . . I caught her backstage Saturday night to give her a birthday present. It was early and few other musicians were around. We chatted and I asked her how she liked the show she was doing. It was Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide with MTT conducting. No pressure.

I was actually surprised when she said she was really enjoying it. She said she could see the singers and hear the dialog. I said, ‘Isn’t the music difficult?’ She said yes but she practiced it.

You can see her name here in the middle of the second violins for her first week in 2015 but most of the last year she’s been playing in the firsts.

Prokofiev

The Symphony played Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet tonight. They didn’t play the whole thing – it was the second half of the program – but they played 45 minutes of it. I had forgotten how much I liked that piece. It took me back to my days of working American Ballet Theater (ABT) at the Opera House. They would come in every February for two weeks. It was promoted by the Opera so the Opera department heads would get the call to do the shows. That wasn’t a sure thing for me back in those days so it they were very welcome when they came.

MTT didn’t really do it like a ballet. His tempos were all over the place, but in a good way. It sounded very romantic to me tonight. Of course I’m just listening over a speaker in the lighting control room so it’s not close to the real experience. I suppose I should go out in the hall tomorrow and listen.

And Sarah is in the band! It never fails to give me enormous pride at seeing her up there.

I did have a rather strange trip down memory lane tonight, though. I saw that one of the sections being played was the death of Tybalt. It took me back to the night our cat, Tybalt, died. I was alone in the Suisun house. Nancy had moved out several months before. Tybalt had been very ill for some weeks and we all knew that the end was near. One day I went to work in the morning and didn’t come home until pretty late, 11 or so . He was right where I had left him, in the living room, cold.

All the emotions of the previous months came washing over me and I remember sitting by myself for at least an hour at the dining room table sobbing and telling Tybalt’s body ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’ over and over. But I texted the kids and Sarah responded. We had a kind of conversation in the midst of my tears. She comforted me.

And I knew I had saved the text so I looked in my (new) phone for a text that was 6 1/2 years ago. It wasn’t there, but upon scrolling back to look I did happen to see this picture of Jeremy, Sarah and Zach taken at the wedding of their cousin Sean in August 2015. They all look so happy and healthy . . .

. . . then I got all weepy again.

SoundBox

December SoundBox is over, except for the load out tomorrow morning. I plan on spending some time cleaning up my cue library and making some notes on good practices. I got caught with my pants down last night when I took a cue out of order and a few minutes later another one obliterated it. When Tim rolled the video cue, I got sound, but only out of two or three speakers in one corner of the room instead of all over. Oopsie!

Much of what I learned last year is still in my mental attic, so to speak. Seven months of essentially no time spent on CueStation has left me with cobwebs. I suppose I was over confident and didn’t check what I had carefully.

MTT noticed, and during the intermission the query came through channels to me: ‘What went wrong and is it fixed?’ ‘My bad, Maestro.’

It was an MTT program and, as such, it was tremendously interesting. What threw me, especially since I didn’t prepare properly, was the talking and video roll between every piece. Someone said to me early in the week that MTT was really doing a Lou Harrison seminar. All the music was Harrison’s. There was also an audio only roll (ten seconds of Schoenberg’s music) that I got at 5:30 Friday afternoon with sketchy instructions and no rehearsal. I played it live and at least it came out of the correct speakers . . .

The best part of the week was watching the percussionists playing literally everything including the kitchen sink. Well, there wasn’t a kitchen sink, but there were the ’50s era brake drums. Two of the pieces had no conductor and they had to find and agree on a (n unheard) pulse and maintain it while other instruments were playing something radically different.

I talked to them after the concert. They all were gathered at a table unwinding. They said it was very satisfying but mentally draining. I suppose that goes hand in hand. It was an interesting to contrast what they do with the drummers in the Skyline Band. I played a concert with them yesterday afternoon. Nathaniel and James are very good drummers but I happen to know that at least three of the Symphony percussionists are very good on kit and could probably have sat in and done the concert cold.

My favorite piece of the evening was the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan. Nadya played the violin and Jake, Raymond, Tom, Loren, Artie, and Stan filled out the gamelan. Stan had a thing that had an octave or so worth of metal bars about one foot by two mounted on huge tubes from two to six feet long. The sound just rolled out of them across the room with the violin swimming in it.

Sarah came last night which was nice but I was so twitchy about all my cues that she din’t stay up on the jump with me. She just went down on the floor and hung with her friends. I was able to chat and meet with them after the show which was nice.

MTT

My job tonight was running the house electrics at Davies Symphony Hall. I’m filling in for JJ who is on vacation. I’ve been doing this on and off for over a year now and I’m still not completely confident that I will remember all the little details.

Anyway, the Symphony is playing Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with a huge orchestra and chorus & I’m a little tense. MTT is conducting. I have a couple of internal cues so I have to hang in the light booth more than I might ordinarily. I can hear but only through speakers in the booth. About 30 minutes in I notice that the audience is unusually rapt and quiet during the very quiet parts. By the last 20 minutes – now over an hour into the piece –  when the chorus stands up to sing, I can see that the audience is hardly moving they’re so intent. A couple sitting right in front of the booth just look at each other briefly as if to say, ‘Can you believe this?’

MTT is a man possessed and yet not. He’s in complete control. Sometimes I look at the monitor that shows the face that the orchestra sees and he is seemingly relaxed. From the audience he is willowy yet taut. Once again I have to reflect on the treasure we have here in San Francisco. Now that I’ve been here with the Symphony for a while, I know more of his story. He’s a living link to great artists of the 20th Century like Gershwin and Bernstein. He often seems mercurial when shows are in development such as what I’ve witnessed in SoundBox but the results are almost always astounding. He is a treasure.

Edit after (sort of) seeing this show two more times. The band is pretty good too! It was hard to quantify my own take the second and third hearings. Actually none of them were true experiences of the music. I saw Lolly Lewis at the Friday show and I expect she will put a review up on her blog. It’s not there yet but check out her writing anyway: https://lollylewis.wordpress.com/