Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sound of Music in the Bluegrass - Part 3 (final)

As I stood backstage and warmed up just minutes before the concert, I began to worry a little bit. Everyone was very tired and still quite jet-lagged (we flew in just 48 hours before the concert), the hall and stage were quite different from what we are used to, everyone (including myself) had spent the past two days partying and having fun, and then add on top of this the pressure inherent in the massive build-up and publicity of the event. From a trombone perspective, our principal player, Ian Bousfield, had a severe cold (which is not good at all when you have to play the Bolero solo), and as I mentioned in my last post, my own chops were not feeling great. The circumstances were perfect for a group meltdown and a disappointing performance.

As we took the stage to thunderous applause from the capacity audience at the Norton Center for the Arts, I found myself hoping that all my guests in attendance would not end up regretting that they came. But thankfully, the orchestra showed it’s true colors the entire evening by rising to the occasion and playing beautifully!

The concert got off to a rousing start when John Roush, president of Centre College, came onstage to present Dudamel with an honorary doctorate from Centre. He also announced that Gustavo had been made a Kentucky Colonel! I guess he needs to open a franchise in Caracas.

We finally got underway with Dvorak’s Symphony 9 “From the New World”. This is one of those pieces that makes the VPO come alive. It’s got great melodies, wonderfully varied characters, and drama. From the very first phrases all the way to the final chord, I felt that the orchestra really dug in and gave a fantastic performance. And of course Dudamel played a huge part. I really like his interpretation because he knows when to inject energy and when to get out of the way, and he let especially the lyrical melodies become a bit “Wiener-ized”. He wasn’t afraid to let the characteristic VPO sound and style influence the final musical product, and in the end it turned out great. It’s great when a conductor trusts the musicians in front of him/her to take ownership of the music and make decisions. Apparently, the audience appreciated it as well, because they applauded heartily for every movement... including after the tender conclusion of the Largo.

As we approached the conclusion of the 4th movement and prepared to “play real loud” to close the symphony, I found myself becoming a bit emotional. It was hard not to, considering I was getting to help bring home a work like that with an orchestra of that caliber in front of so many friends that mean so much to me. Definitely a special moment. Apparently it had a similar effect on some of my guests. I saw a couple of them at intermission that had red and watery eyes (I won’t mention names, ‘cause it could’ve been horse allergies, I guess). :) As soon as the final chord ended, the audience jumped their feet and delivered the first first-half standing ovation I’ve ever seen.

The second half included three works and three standing ovations. I’ve never seen anything like it. I think some of them wanted to jump onstage, and I half expected to be hit in the head with roses or a first-born child or something. Something I’ll never forget (although maybe I should) is glancing at the TV monitor on my way to the stage for the second half and seeing a great close-up of none other than a Colonel Sanders impersonator. Only in Danville, right? I also heard there were 5 present and former governors of Kentucky in attendance. I got to meet current governor Steve Beshear after the concert, who had wanted to meet “the American in the orchestra”. That’s me! He was very nice, but I was upset I never got a chance in our conversation to impress him by calling Kentucky a commonwealth. Oh, well.

So, back to the concert. We had a blast with the Bernstein Divertimento (which I’ll go more in depth about in a later post), then chilled out with Ravel’s Pavane, and finally it was time for Bolero. The thing about Bolero for a principal trombonist is that you have to sit a wait for several minutes before you play anything, and then you play something that does NOT feel good. I was concerned for Ian, only because he was so sick. The whole day he had been coughing, sneezing, and just generally feeling like crud. Plus, he had to know that I wanted him to play well for all my guests. But, wouldn’t you know it, he proved why he’s one of the best in the world when he casually lifted his horn and played one of the most beautiful, well-executed, and musical Bolero solos I’ve ever heard. It’s always a privilege to sit next to Ian. That night it was an honor.

After the concert, most of my guests split and headed back to Knoxville. I hated I didn’t get to say bye to them all, but I totally understood because it was so late. I would’ve done the same thing.

Some folks did hang around, though, and we decided we’d try to find someplace for a quick dessert. I had heard that there was a local restaurant that had agreed to stay open late especially for the VPO, so we all headed over the Reno’s Steakhouse. It was yet another collision of worlds for me when I walked in and saw two dozen Philharmoniker colleagues sitting there in this honky-tonk type steakhouse, with deer heads on the wall, peanut buckets on the tables, and the greatest hits of Travis Tritt blaring on the jukebox.

I had just ordered my delicious peanut butter pie and sweet tea when Maestro Colonel Doctor Dudamel walked in with his ‘entourage’ and sat at the table with us. We spent the next hour just talking to him (what a great guy) about all sorts of things, from his favorite American food (hot dogs) to funny conducting stories. I think my friends got a huge kick out of just chillin’ at Reno’s steakhouse with the conductor of the LA Philharmonic. And after Chris Sharpe finally gave up on trying to finish his giant chocolate cake called the Texas Tornado, we had a nice photo op with “the Dude”.

Notice the Outhouse sign in the background... nice.

Just after that photo was taken, the travel organizer for the orchestra came into the restaurant and loudly announced that Governor Beshear had declared the ENTIRE ORCHESTRA officially Kentucky Colonels!!! That's right... you can call me Colonel Wilson now. After jumping around like giddy little schoolgirls and yelling "We're colonels! We're colonels!", we decided to call it a night. As we were heading out the door, I couldn’t help but do what any normal person does when he sees a saddle on a pole... he straddles it and yells “Yee-Haw!!”.

I swear I only drank sweet tea

It was truly a great day and a great weekend. I still can’t believe that a lot of that stuff even happened. Now I just have to try and get the Philharmonic to go play in McMinnville!!


  1. You came to UT after the Mr. Schallert's "They'll be throwing babies" days.

  2. This is awesome! Hope you guys are doing well!