Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And.. we're back!

Today I'm in Hamburg on a short little Philharmonic tour, and it's the first time I've had in weeks to actually sit down and blog. When I started the blog, I was afraid that there would be times where I would get ultra-busy and go a couple weeks without blogging, but I never imagined more than a month! But lo and behold, my last post was on December 15th. But... I've dealt with my blogger guilt, and I guess blog goes on, as they say.

The main reason for my dry spell was the three wonderful weeks we spent in America during Christmas and New Year's. I must admit the last thing on my mind during all that fun, food, and fellowship was blogging. We had a truly memorable trip, which Kristi has done a great job of chronicling over at The Vienna Wilsons. There were a couple fun music-related things that happened during our visit, which I'll share in later posts. But I will note that I was very proud of myself for one very important reason: this was the first extended trip home since we've been in Vienna where I regularly practiced my trombone!

Normally my practice time just goes by the wayside, which ends up putting me in survival mode when we get back to Austria and I have to start being a professional again. Naturally, I don't like doing it that way, so I was determined to keep some sort of practice regimen going. I didn't get the amount of time each day I normally get, and I didn't play absolutely every day, but I nevertheless kept my chops in working order, and didn't have a ton of catching up to do when we returned. It feels nice, both literally and figuratively, to have accomplished that feat, especially given the limited amount of time we always have with our family and friends (and favorite foods).

Now we've been back in Austria for almost two weeks, and it's been quite busy at work. My colleague Mark played all during December and into January while I was away, so he now gets some much-deserved free time while I play every night in the opera. I've also been playing a Philharmonic block with Mariss Jansons (chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) since last week. We're performing Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6, and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.

It's been a great experience, especially getting to know such a landmark work as the Berlioz. I've had some quite surreal moments when I remember studying the piece in my music history classes just a few years ago. It really is a 'fantastic' work, even though it's another of those pieces where the trombones sit with nothing to play for the majority of the work. I prefer to think Berlioz was reserving the trombones for just the right moment, which happens to be the "March to the Scaffold". My only reservation about the piece is the third movement, which depicts a "Scene in the Country". It's very slow, very long, and very pretty. Let me introduce you to a tried and true orchestral equation, where A = (slow, long, and pretty), B = (haven't played any notes since the intermission), and C= (warm concert hall).
A + B + C = Z³

Yes, I had trouble staying awake, even at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It's the equation... there's no helping it!

Jansons puzzles me. He's one of the most famous and in-demand conductors in the world, and yet I can't put my finger on exactly what sets him apart from the rest. He has impeccable conducting technique, but so do several others. Musically, he has (in my opinion) some great ideas and some not so great ideas, but that's every conductor. And yet, he received an ovation this past weekend from our subscription audience the likes of which I've never seen (this was echoed by Ian, who has been a principal trombonist for 25 years).

I think it has to do with his understanding of the music and understanding how an audience hears the music. Or maybe it's more correct to say he understands how an audience ought to hear the music. I watched him closely over the weekend (I had lots of rests, remember) and I noticed that he may be the best I've ever seen at showing an audience what to listen to. With his gestures he shows the listener not only what to hear, but HOW to hear it. It's astonishing to watch! To see what I'm talking about, you almost just have to look for a video of him somewhere. If you do, see if you agree with me that he shows you with his body how you should interpret the music he's conducting.

In short, he is a great salesman! Someone in the orchestra commented that the Shostakovich 6th Symphony has all but been banned in most major orchestras because it's perceived as unbelievably miserable and boring. Yet Jansons made it a great success, both for the orchestra members and the public. I think it's because you just have to watch him conduct, and you immediately begin to understand the complicated turmoil of Shostakovich.

Well, that's enough for today. We've got one final Mahler/Berlioz concert tonight in Hamburg (which is a BEAUTIFUL city, by the way) and we head back to Vienna in the morning. Since this is my first post of 2011, hope you all have a wonderful year. Prosit Neujahr!! It's good to be back on BRP!


  1. BRP = Back Row Perspectives

    AYGLE! = Acronyms, You Gotta Love 'em!