For the last two weeks I have had the privilege of being maestro Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s conducting assistant with the Houston Symphony. The learning curve in this position has been dramatic, and the many friendships that have helped pave the way are truly remarkable.
After settling in the hotel and resting a little bit, we charged on with music. The program included Dvorak’s 7th symphony, and this piece was also chosen for the second concert on the Musically Speaking series in Rice University. The purpose of this programs is to involve the audience not only in the preparation of the piece but also in the mysteries of interpretation, for in all honesty I think the composer should be able to talk directly to his audience through (and not despite) our playing. We are already seeing the numbers of the audience growing, which is always a good thing to see! But perhaps more importantly, the chance to hear the comments of many good people attending the performance is priceless. It is precisely the kindness and generosity of this feedback my reward and motivation to have next program outdo everyone’s expectations.
Our only day off from rehearsal was Friday the 13th. Many of the patrons and Sponsors of the orchestra (and arts in general for the city) are also wine enthusiasts. I will venture and say even experts. Consistently with their passions, a wine dinner and wine auction in the form of a fundraiser took place that evening. The wine part was very successful, braking the record in funds raised to support the efforts and activities of the talented players in the ensemble. The dinner part was a delight, specially for the writer of this words! Since it is impossible to describe the beauty of well balanced flavors and adventurous combinations for the blessed palate I will simply say that the fame Wolfgang Puck has is well deserved. Specially knowing that this was a sort of catered adaptation, I can’t wait to go to L.A. and see what he created in Spago.
The weekend took its course (pardon the pun!) with two more performances, adding Charles Ives’ 1st Symphony and Copland’s Clarinet Concerto to the Dvorak. The soloist for Copland was the Swedish virtuoso Martin Fröst, truly a master of his instrument. Learnings from my interaction with the soloist? 1-) the piece is as hard for the orchestra as it looks for the soloist, and 2-) always take with the grain of salt when they tell you it could go a little faster! His technique is flawless and his sound full of expression, colors, drama, always in search for honesty.
With all the meetings, interviews, coffee conversations, and wonderful dinners, I almost forgot that these are the days of the world-famous Houston Rodeo, hence the title of this post! As soon as I realized that the traffic jams were due to the surge in visitors to the city it started to bug me to learn a little bit more about this cultural manifestation. Perhaps my findings will be summed up in a post on its own.
One of my roles during these weeks is also to present the Prelude pre-concert Talk. These conversations are a sort of guided introduction or live program notes to the program of the evening. Since it the time is limited, and evidently the reason everyone is there is to actually listen to the concert, many of the information I have been gathering for these talks will make its way eventually into the Blog and even the Podcast I Mean Music.
The second week of this Houston trip is dedicated to Giuseppe Verdi and his Requiem. I really need to do an special podcast on this work, for every single time I have to play it, sing it, conduct it, and eve listen to it I find new connections and relationships with hundreds of musics in history. Just to give you a glimpse, the 3rd measure of the piece outlines the lamento, the descending notes that shape passacaglias and airs since the Gregorian Chant a thousand years ego. This little scale is so important and used in history that Alex Ross dedicates a whole chapter in his book Listen to this. If you consider that the work goes for about 85 minutes, you will soon realize that there is a lot to be consider and learn from it. But beyond the quality of the craft, Verdi is a master of expression and moving beauty. There is no way I will ever grow weary of this piece, at least I hope I never will.
(note to self: the Requiem is an excellent episode for the Musical Borrowing Series)
In the last weekend in Texas I will need to squeeze many hours of preparation for upcoming concerts, a recording, and a tour. Fortunately I have already building good and nourishing friendships with musicians living here and their families, and far from distractions into a busy schedule, they provide me with their support and trust, henceforth propelling many more projects and a sharper idea of why I do what I do.
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Now, if you excuse me, the Metropolitan Opera’s Radio Broadcast is about to start featuring Jules Massenet’s Manon. How many settings of this remarkable novel by Abbé Prévost do you know?
Have a wonderful weekend!