Category Archives: Work


I just put up a post that I wrote last week and only just got out. In the meanwhile, life went on, and in the due course of things, we took the Symphony to its annual appearance at Stern Grove last Sunday. At the end of the concert I was busily packing up the various bits and pieces when suddenly our concertmaster, Sasha Barantschik, was standing next to me.

As with Esa-Pekka, my relationship with Sasha has been cordial and professional. Unlike Esa-Pekka, Sasha is not an international star. He has been concertmaster for the SF Symphony for more than 25 years, a not insignificant accomplishment. Not being a jet setter, Sasha goes out into the trenches every week, playing whatever and for whoever, happens to be on the program that week. Given that, I have a more relaxed relationship with him. We can make little jokes with each other when it’s time for him to go out and tune the orchestra. Or, at Stern Grove, where we don’t have our usual methods of signaling, I had to walk out to where he was sitting on stage to tell him it was time to start. We always get a little chuckle out of that.

Sasha’s wife, Alena, plays occasionally with the orchestra as a sub. She was with him on Sunday.

He came up to me and said, ‘This is goodbye.’

I was taken aback until I realized that Sasha always takes off for the summer pops season. This had been our last concert together with me as Stage Manager. Flashing on my picture with Esa-Pekka, I said, ‘Can we get a picture?’ He said, of course, and Alena took this lovely photo.

Sasha has the same birth year as me. I made a little joke about him joining me in retirement. He didn’t bite.


I don’t usually think about having my picture taken with anyone, much less famous people. I’ve spent my whole career working with more or less famous people and, for the most part, they’re there to do a job just like I am.

With the end of my time with the Symphony approaching, I thought about my relationship with Esa-Pekka Salonen. His time with the Symphony is not coming to an end like mine but his status has changed profoundly in the last six months. Like mine.

Our relationship has been cordial but businesslike. I like to think I’ve earned his respect as a stage manager. Any social contact I’ve had with him has been in the context of a party with lots of other people around competing for his time.

Anyway, with the orchestra retirement party last week, I thought it would be cool to have a picture taken of just the two of us. It turned out he wasn’t at the party very long so I missed that opportunity.

Yesterday was his last concert and I was sure he’d be jetting off somewhere right away. I asked Shoko, his secretary, if she could identify a moment when I could get a picture with him. Her first question was, what about tomorrow? He was staying for the Principal Bassoon audition.

But we already had plans to go to Mom’s after Sepi’s PT appointment. I resigned myself to not getting one.

The concert was Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, a six movement, 100 minute behemoth performed without intermission. Afterwards, we were busy clearing the stage for the auditions so I was running around, not thinking about it, when suddenly there he was in the hallway with Shoko!

She said, do you want to take that photo?  I said yes and it was done!

Retirement party

Trying to write after a long layoff . . .

I get ideas – usually in the small hours of the morning – but translating them to written text has been extremely difficult. Is it writers’ block? I don’t really consider myself a writer. I would like to write more. I think I write well. I don’t think I am a ‘writer’.

I spend a lot of time at work on a computer. At home, I actually have a decent setup but there always seems to be something else I should do. I keep thinking I will use that early morning good energy time to write. Someday . . .

And someday may be approaching. After Sepi and I made the decision last January that I could retire, the actual date has crept closer and closer. Jon at work got me a countdown display that shows days and hours (and minutes and seconds!). I keep it on the Stage Manager’s desk for anyone to see. I believe it’s on 41 days today.

Yesterday at work was an annual event honoring the members of the orchestra who are retiring. Surprisingly to me, I was included in the celebration. Esa-Pekka made a little speech during the concert in which I was called out on stage for applause from the orchestra and the audience.

After the show there was a gathering with food and drink in one of the backstage rooms. Michele got up and said some nice things about me. I then spoke briefly, thanking my crew, Michele and Tim but forgetting Sepi. I found that I got rather emotional doing it. I really love the orchestra. They all appreciate what we do.

I really do consider it the pinnacle of my career. It’s a hard job but being part of the team that helps a great orchestra make great music is very satisfying.

After many years of hiding it, I let the cat out of the bag to certain members of the orchestra that I like to play music. I was reluctant to do that because I know how good these musicians really are. I’m not even close to their level. To a person, though, they have been supportive of my music making.

Lately, a common question I get is what am I going to do in my retirement. I say play more music. Then I say write more.

His Last Bow?

It’s always a zoo when Michael Tilson Thomas comes back to the Symphony to conduct but this week has been extraordinary. Michael was diagnosed with an agressive form of brain cancer a couple of years ago and his cognitive abilities are slipping. He was last here in February and the difference is painfully obvious.

The usual entourage has been supplemented with a male nurse and an extra assistant conductor. He needs to be shepherded carefully on and off stage. Teddy, the extra assistant conductor, has a seat in the front row and we have special stairs installed so he can get up the the podium quickly if necessary. In my role as Stage Manager, I have been the one to send him out there many times so I know his quirks. He’s not the same person.

What’s really interesting, though, is what he can do. Despite his limitations, he was still an engaged presence on the podium.

In rehearsal is when his difficulties were more evident. He lost his train of thought sometimes. He got confused about what rehearsal or measure number he wanted. He had problems articulating his desires.

The orchestra has enormous respect and love for Michael and went out of their way to be attentive and helpful. It’s an enormous strain on them, though. I had several people comment to me that, as a player, you can’t just let the music flow when his cues and tempi cannot be depended on.

But Teddy said to me early in the week that audiences aren’t coming to see the definitive performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  They are coming to see Michael. They want to pay what might be their final respects to a giant of the classical music world who was also an outsized presence in San Francisco for 25 years. Joshua Kosman, who has written classical music reviews in San Francisco for many years, wrote a lovely review of opening night.

As I write this, we’ve done two performances with a third scheduled for this afternoon. The auditorium has been packed to the rafters and there are no tickets available for today.

One of the things I do as Stage Manager is keep timings of the shows. Opening night, the applause at the end of the show went on for 8 1/2 minutes. Most shows have 3 or 4 minutes of applause.

Last night, the rhythm of the bows were interrupted by the Mayor, who made an announcement that one block of the street in front of Davies Hall would be renamed MTT Way. Michael then got the microphone and, after thanking her, asked her if that meant he didn’t have to worry about getting parking tickets any more. Classic!

Early in the week, many people were saying that Michael would not make it to the Sunday performance. I believe he will answer the bell today. He has shown us that his performing instincts are extraordinarily strong.

MTT is scheduled to conduct here again in February but no one believes that will happen. Sadly, this week is likely to be Michael Tilson Thomas’ last bow.

the lean-to

The humble lean-to. In many ways it’s the backbone of our operation at Davies Hall. No one really knows who made the first one. The name is goofy but apt. A platform just narrow enough to fit through doorways has about a 5′ high leaning structure on one side made out of 1X3s.

I believe the lean-tos were originally made to hold folding tables which they do very well. A bit of rubber matting on the base of the platform stabilizes the edge of the table so it can lean against the slats without sliding anywhere. 5 tables can be stacked side by side and 2 or, in a pinch 3, more can go on top of them. The lean-to is about 6′ long so they can hold 8′ tables easily.

There are no handles so moving them is a matter of grabbing the end of the top-most slat and pushing or pulling it in the direction desired. It’s usually a two person move, but, depending on the load, a single person can move them safely.

Because they’re so versatile, they get used for all kinds of things: medium sized percussion instruments, microphone stands, pipe and drape hardware. Pretty much anything that is larger than a hand carry is plopped on a lean-to and rolled to wherever it has to go. Lately a couple have been co-opted by the audio and video people for cable storage. They can be rolled out to near the action so as to reduce the total number of steps required.

‘I don’t know how you do it’

‘I don’t know how you do it.’

It’s a statement I’ve heard many times since returning to work after Zach’s death. I mention it now because of something Jeremy talked about in his post.

He talked about having to go to the scene of an accident where someone was killed and noticing the similarities to the scene of Zach’s, yet not giving in to grief because he had a job to do.

(a draft from September 2016. Jeremy was still working for the Atlanta Fire Department at this time.)

social distance

. . .  and self isolation.

Phrases that I didn’t expect to be using to describe myself until very recently. Two weeks ago I was buying travel supplies at the drugstore, getting a haircut, and getting serious about what clothes to take on the tour.

Then, just before the show on Friday the 6th came word that the SF Performing Arts complex was going to be closed to the public starting the next day. The Ballet had a show scheduled at the Opera House. Cancelled. The Symphony was scheduled to perform at UC Davis. That went on but our performances for the next week were not going to happen.

The original announcement only – now I say ‘only’! – was for a closure of two weeks, until the 20th. Tuesday morning the announcement was made to the orchestra that we weren’t going to Europe because several venues there had closed due to the virus. New York’s Carnegie Hall was still open, though, so we continued rehearsals. The ban on public assemblies in San Francisco was extended first one more week, then two more still.

Thursday morning’s rehearsal became an orchestra meeting. Everyone put away their instruments. The official word came: New York was closing too. We weren’t going anywhere. The entire Symphony administration was being told to work from home. Orchestra committees had hurried meetings with management about what to do. It was decided that we would all go on vacation for 4 weeks, until April 11. That’s when we would have come back from Europe. Rehearsals and performances were in the pipeline.

Vacation is not the right word for what we are doing now: social distancing, and self isolating. At first, I thought that Sepi and I could use the time to get in our car and drive to LA, or Colorado, or Washington where we could visit friends and family. After some reflection we realized what self isolation really meant: stay home!

I was all set (in my mind) to go down to Mom’s and hang with her for a couple of days but that was nixed. Mom’s in the most vulnerable group! We don’t know if we’ve been exposed!

In Seattle, the orchestra there is performing for an empty hall and streaming the music to the public. In San Francisco we can’t even do that because the ban is for assemblies of 100 or more. Maybe we could do Mozart . . .

And the ban is now extended to April 30th. We have no more ‘vacation’ left. Will we still get paid? Big conventions, which are the bread and butter for many of my Local 16 brothers and sisters, have disappeared. Those people have nothing. A few hundred dollars a week from unemployment.

I will try to write about more uplifting things in the days to come but that is the environment.

2 months

I hate to write about how long it’s been since I’ve written, but that’s what coming out of my head right now. Life has been moving pretty fast the last few months. I got through the December madness: all the Holiday shows. I had a week off. Jeremy came to visit with Ashley and Rosalie. They stayed at my house. We did some nice things. We had Christmas at Mom’s with most of the California Woods.

When I got back to work, I promulgated a couple of new rules that has made my life a little easier. Not so much for the rules per se, but for the fact that I could feel ok about making rules. There are still some things in the works that I can’t talk about but developments there have been encouraging.

The last two weeks featured MTT conducting. One week included a new work by him. He can be amazing and annoying all in the same moment, it seems. He’s remarkable, there’s no doubt about that.

Starting today, we have three weeks of really simple orchestra setups which means I can look ahead without worrying too much about something immediate biting my ass.

The first thing to look ahead to is the Chinese New Year celebration. It seems to get bigger each year. There are lots of special events that need staffing and other planning.

After that is the tour. We’re leaving March 15th (or thereabouts) for just under a month in Europe. I’ve seen some itineraries but there are still many details to resolve. I did get approval to stay over for a few days and it turns out that Wilfried and Elisabeth will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary right after our last concert. I need to figure out how to get from Paris to some little town in the Schwarzwald that I’ve never heard of, then turn around and get to a major airport to fly home.

That’s enough for now.


It feels like months since I’ve posted here. It turns out it’s only – only! – about 5 weeks. But it was 5 or 6 weeks since the one before that so in nearly three months only one post. Lame.

Yes, there has been a lot going on in my life. It’s mostly work related. My new job has been rather all consuming.

For reasons too complicated to go into today, I think I turned a corner this week. Running shows the last couple of days, I finally am feeling confident that I am not forgetting things. There are so many details and so many distractions.

The big push at the start of the season with MTT is now almost a month in the past. I had a week long vacation in which Sepi and I and Mom! drove up to Washington to visit Jeremy’s family. We also swung through Spokane for a quick visit with Dan and Nettie and Peter and Nanci. All went well. The shows after we got back were generally easy to stage. Last week the production team had a long meeting looking at the December shows and came up with some plans.

So, I’m breathing easier.

Meanwhile, the 4th anniversary of Zach’s death has been looming. For a long time, that number was more significant because it was the end of the statute of limitations for criminal charges. I held out hope for a long time, despite clear statements from the Baton Rouge DA’s office, that I could marshal enough evidence to revisit the actions of the drivers who killed Zach.

I say drivers because I believe that both drivers were negligent in that they were racing to be first out of the merge and did not watch the road as they should have. Zach was in the road and was hit by one of them.

The world moves on. Those of us who loved Zach have mostly come to terms with life without him. I haven’t had a big crying jag in a while but I think I may let go sometime this week. Especially in the last three months I’ve often wished I could consult with Zach over my work difficulties. He had the ability to step back emotionally that I envied.

Now I just muddle through.

end of the MTT run

Saturday was the last night of MTT’s fall time with the Symphony. He conducted the season opening gala, the Metallica concerts, a Mahler 6th, a new John Adams piece, and a bunch of other pieces that I can’ t think of right now. It’s been a blur of rehearsals and concerts for just over 4 weeks. Seemingly everything we did had massive percussion or huge orchestras – or both – so packing the musicians into the stage at Davies was a constant challenge.

There were a couple of hiccups but on the whole, the orchestra and MTT was forgiving of my foibles. There is a massive amount of detail to remember when putting the orchestra on stage. At one time I had it all under my fingers but working the house electric job for the past three years has overwritten some of it. My crew has been helpful in keeping me off the worst off the rocks.

One story. When performing programs of unusual music, MTT will often talk to the audience at the top of the show to give some personal insight into the music. Last week, we had three Stravinsky pieces on the program so MTT set the stage with some stories of his time as a teenager playing piano at Stravinsky’s house in LA. Of course, he uses a wireless microphone which I set on his stand ahead of time.

Except the last night, Saturday. I just forgot, plain and simple. Some things happened and I dealt with them and they pushed the microphone task out of my head.

Until about two seconds after I sent MTT and the two soloists out onto the stage to start the show. Then I remembered!

I tore off my headset and ran to the office where the microphone was stored, switched it on, and came back to the door to the stage and looked out. MTT was standing out there on the podium waiting for me! Gulp!

So, I went on out there with the microphone. MTT was smiling at me when I handed it to him. I apologized. He may have said something but I don’t remember. I do remember that he reached out to shake my hand before I turned and fled offstage. All I could think about was that I had to make sure that the sound system was properly turned on.

It was.

At the end of the evening, many people came backstage to talk to MTT. I waited a half hour or so for the crush to subside and went into his office. Mostly I wanted to thank him for putting up with me for the month but I also wanted to apologize again for forgetting the microphone. He smiled again when he saw me. He said, ‘Some people will do anything for a curtain call!’

He’ll be back in January.