Monday, October 25, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
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!!
Friday, October 8, 2010
I started out the day with a surprisingly good breakfast in the hotel, which included a wonderful sausage & biscuit (something I hadn’t had in many months, maybe years). I got my first big laugh of the day when one of our horn players came down for breakfast, saw the wonderful Southern delicacy on my plate and asked me, “What is that, a mini-hamburger?!” No, Wolfgang, it is not a hamburger. We Americans are not THAT unhealthy. It’s a fried, greasy sausage patty on a breakfast pastry... with mustard. And it is DELICIOUS.
I was picked up from the hotel by Vince DiMartino, a legendary trumpet player who happens to be on the music faculty at Centre College, and he took me over to campus to give a small masterclass for some students and other area brass players. I thought it went well even though I was still a bit jet-lagged. I talked for a while and did a Q&A session, and I heard one of Vince’s fine trumpet students play part of the Hummel trumpet concerto. I think the students got a kick out of it when I told them that the Esterhazy court (under whose patronage the concerto was written) was located in Eisenstadt, just over the hill from my house.
Then it was time for the day’s Philharmonic rehearsal, which was open to Centre College students and faculty. We took the stage to play through a few things, and the place was packed! We had been told for the past several days that the whole town was abuzz about our concert, and this was definite proof of that. Every seat was occupied, most of them by students dressed up in suits, dresses, and even one guy in a tux. They listened intently as we ran through our concert order and rehearsed a few spots, and I couldn’t help but watch their faces light up as we played Dvorak’s 9th symphony, and later Bolero.
Beautiful! This makes three... count 'em, THREE... horse farms for the VPO in a 24 hour period.
That's gotta be a record.
After lunch at the beautiful old manor house you see above, I got a call that Don & Louise had arrived in Danville. Let the party begin! For those who aren’t fortunate enough to know him, Don Hough (pronounced Huff... not Hue, and definitely not Hoe) was my trombone professor at UT-Knoxville, where he taught for over 40 years. He’s one of several people I’ll mention in this blog post without whom I would not have the life I have today. Don pushed me, encouraged me, believed in me, and kicked my butt for 5 years during my undergraduate studies, and in doing so taught me darn near everything I know about music and the trombone. I was so glad to get to spend some time just relaxing and catching up with him and his wife Louise during the afternoon break.
I had a total of about 20 guests that came in for the concert, and I invited all that could make it up a little early to meet up for dinner beforehand. Luckily, many of them were able to make it, and it was absolutely one the highlights of my entire trip. In the photo below, you’ll see Don & Louise, but also several other folks that were very influential on my music career and my life. Most of them had never heard me play with the VPO, and many of them I hadn’t seen in years. Ever since I found out we were doing a concert so close to my home state, I dreamed of sharing it with people just like this.
I want to mention someone in particular. Included on the far right is Tom Lundberg, who was my first real trombone teacher. My band director told me Tom was the best teacher around (an understatement), and so my dear Mom drove me to Nashville once a week from late 7th grade through 10th grade to take lessons from him. He was (and is) a master teacher, and without his early influence and guidance I would not be a professional trombonist today. In my first lesson with him, he told me and my parents “The sky is the limit”. I’ll never forget that. Thanks, Tom.
In the photo, but also not pictured are other former teachers, close friends (Vienna Wilsons readers will recognize Joe & Megan), some new friends, and even a former student of mine. I was so touched that so many came so far to hear me play, and I want to publicly thank you all for making the evening unforgettable.
Up next... the main event!
Thursday, October 7, 2010
About 18 months ago, as I was perusing the orchestra’s calendar for the upcoming season, I saw the entry “Kzt. Dudamel – Lexington”. My first thought was, “hmmmmm… Naw, it can’t be”. So I went to the Philharmonic office one day and asked about it, and I found out that the orchestra was indeed planning a concert in…are you ready for this… Ken-dadgum-tucky!!!!!! I know what you’re all thinking; it is the exact same thing I was thinking. Why exactly is the Vienna Philharmonic traveling to a town with 15,000 residents to play a concert in the auditorium of a small liberal arts college? Well, the LA Times article about the concert answers that question better than I can: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/09/gustavo-dudamel-and-vienna-philharmonic-go-to-kentucky-but-why.html
Last week the time finally came to head towards Danville, Kentucky, and I was so excited and even a bit nervous to see how the colleagues would react to the South and to such a small town. I have told them all about the beauty and hospitality of my neck-of-the-woods, and I hoped that they would enjoy their short time in the Bluegrass. Well, my expectations were met and exceeded during our visit, and I think some of the orchestra members wanted to stay another few days.
As soon as we hit the ground at the Lexington airport, the crew from Centre College whisked us all away for two days of amazing events. The first stop was the site of the 2010 World Equestrian Games. We were welcomed by Pearse Lyons, whose company Alltech is the title sponsor of the Games, and then we were serenaded by a group of kids from Haiti. Ronan Tynan, the famous Irish tenor, had performed the night before at the opening ceremonies of the Games and was somehow coaxed into singing “The Impossible Dream” for us.
Ronan Tynan sings
The busses then wound their way through the Kentucky countryside to Gainesway Farm, a prominent horse farm and arboretum on the outskirts of Lexington. The narrow oak-lined roads, the afternoon sun, and the miles of black wooden fences and stone walls made for a very pleasant ride. So many colleagues said with great astonishment, “It’s really beautiful here!” That’s what I’ve been telling you!!
We were greeted in front of a beautiful red and white stable by the owner of the farm, and then were allowed to just walk around the grounds and taste some South African wines. We were supposed to have been able to watch some of the competitive events at the Equestrian Games, but were unable because of time restrictions. The folks at Gainesway Farm provided us with an impressive alternative when they trotted out one of their prize thoroughbred stallions. He was an amazing animal, and I believe they said he was the father of at least one Kentucky Derby winner.
It was also at Gainesway Farm that I was able to meet an old friend. Ben Polk, a classmate and friend from my time at North Texas, now lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He and his wife Kristin are on the music faculty at Western Kentucky University, and he drove up to Lexington to hang out with the orchestra and me.
Mark, Ben, and I at Taylor Made Farm
The final stop on our “Tour of the Bluegrass” was Taylor Made Farm, where we were treated to a delicious steak dinner complete with cornbread muffins and pecan pie! There was also a fantastic bluegrass band there from Shelbyville, Kentucky; they played all the down-home favorites before and after the meal, and I was very curious to see how the colleagues would react to it all.To my surprise and delight, the orchestra members were absolutely enthralled by the bluegrass music! I watched and smiled as they all gathered ‘round the band and in many cases spent the entire evening glued to the elbows of the musicians. They were particularly pleased with the lightning-fast banjo picking (it was the first live banjo most of them had ever heard) and the singers’ great three-part harmonies. They were really curious about the oddity of the dobro, which I did my best to describe in German. At one point, one of our violinists borrowed the fiddle and played along to “Oh, Suzanna”. Gustavo Dudamel, our conductor for the Kentucky concert, had to be pulled away from the band at the end of the evening; he just wanted them to keep on playing!
Ben and I with Maestro Dudamel
I did finally succumb to the temptation that every Tennessee native experiences when in the presence of a bluegrass band.
“PLAY ROCKY TOP!!!!”
The leader of the group looked over his shoulder and asked, “May I ask why?” I explained to him that I was a member of the orchestra and a UT graduate, and could he please, please, please play it just once? They laughed and obliged me my one redneck impulse (other than devouring cornbread). Here’s a short video clip:
“Well, sir, I’m a trombonist with the orchestra.”
“You’re not Austrian! How did that happen?”
And ... commence audition story.
Tuba player Christoph Gigler pets a real Kentucky thoroughbred
As the evening was winding down and we were all sitting around in a pecan pie afterglow, someone yelled out, “Everyone into the barn!” For some reason, we all listened and herded into a very dark and creepy-looking barn. I commented at one point that it felt like we were all in store for a hazing ritual of some kind. When we arrived, we were treated instead to a horse training demonstration. Of course!
There was an Australian cowboy in attendance at the dinner; he had flown in a couple days before specifically to work with a certain horse on Taylor Made Farm. We found out in the demonstration that the horse had been completely fresh the previous day. It had never been ridden and had very little training. In one day, this cowboy was able to lead the horse around, get it to respond to his whip, and even ride bareback. He spent about twenty minutes showing us some of the skills they had worked on, and it was amazing to see him work. His hands were always moving and he was always in control of the situation, even when the horse got freaked out now and again.
Inside the horse training demonstration
It was a day I’ll never forget. We were made to feel so welcome in the Bluegrass, and we hadn’t even played a note yet!