Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Curtain Call and a Master's Degree!

After spending so much time on the road between June and October of this year, I have finally had some (relatively) free time the past few weeks.   I have enjoyed my break from traveling and 3-service days, albeit short-lived, which has allowed me to concentrate on more important things.   I have been spending lots of quality time with Kristi and Eli and I've tried to re-introduce myself to my friends and hang out with them at least once a week.

But that definitely doesn't mean nothing's been happening on the musical side of things.

I've really enjoyed preparing for my solo events in January/February.  My recital repertoire has been selected, and I'm trying to polish it up to share with everyone at UW-Whitewater and Southern Miss.   It looks like I'll be pulling out my alto trombone in a solo context for the first time in over 6 years!   I figure it's about time to unleash some Albinoni, and it has been a blast rediscovering his Concerto 9, No. 2.  Highly recommended.

At North Texas, I'll be performing a relatively new setting of James Kazik's Concerto for Trombone with the Symphonic Band under the direction of Dennis Fisher.   I'm trying to memorize it, which is something I used to be really good at, but have yet to attempt as a professional solo artist.

In early November, the Staatsoper did the Wagner Ring Cycle under the direction of Christian Thielemann.   Wow, was that fun!!   As some of you know, I'm not the biggest fan of the Ring, mostly because the folks 'round here take it so flippin' seriously, (Despite its ties to ancient Norse mythology, it's not worthy of the quasi-religious weight that it is so often given here... I mean, honestly folks...we're talking about dwarves, giants, and dragons chasing after a magic ring here...)  but the sheer quality of this particular cycle was enough to win me over.  

No matter what one thinks of his works or his personal life, it's no secret that Wagner was a master of musical composition.  Combine that with the fact that Thielemann simply conducted so well and with such spirit and clarity of musical intent that the orchestra and singers could not help but respond with world-class performances, and it's no wonder that the audience responded with some of the loudest and most enthusiastic ovations I've heard in my time here.

The pit during Götterdämmerung. I found the photo on an opera fan's blog.  
A very special moment for me came after we finished the last opera, Götterdämmerung.   Thielemann asked us all to join him on stage to take a bow and have a real curtain-call of our own.   This was something I've never seen done before, and it was very meaningful to many of us.   After all, the orchestra plays a significant role in Der Ring des Nibelungen, and Wagner in a way treats the orchestra as its own character much of the time.   In fact, one could say it's the only character (besides the ring itself) that appears in all four operas!  

I've often wondered what it's like for the singers to stand behind the gigantic velvet curtain, waiting to be thrust into the spotlight to the sound of cheers (or boos) from the waiting public.  It was a truly unique event as the entire orchestra huddled together behind the curtain; for me, it was my first time on the Staatsoper stage.   Thielemann made sure we were all there and signaled for the curtain to be opened.   We were simultaneously blinded by the bright spotlights and deafened by the roar of the approving crowd, and I must say I felt a slight lump in my throat.   It feels nice to be appreciated, and it was a quite satisfying reward to feel the gratitude of the audience after such a mammoth musical undertaking.   We all took several bows, and I couldn't help but smile.  :)   Below is a photo I found on the internets... It's quite blurry, but at least you get the idea.

I'm at center-stage.  You can make out my trombone behind the bald guy.
Speaking of the University of North Texas (like, 5 paragraphs ago), I just graduated from there!    As you may recall from a previous post, I decided early in 2011 to finish the final four courses required to complete the Master of Music degree that I began back in 2006 before coming to Vienna.    Over the past year I completed several special long-distance projects that I was able to substitute for the remaining credits, and on December 17th I officially became an alumnus of UNT!

It feels great to have finally finished what I started, and it gives me a great deal of pride to hold a degree from the university that played such a huge role in my journey to the VPO.   I owe a huge 'Thank You' to many people there, but I would like to especially express my gratitude to Prof. Vern Kagarice and Dean Warren Henry for their assistance in making this happen.   Also thanks to Dean Henry for sending me these photos of the commencement program.


Now you all know my middle name!
When I visited UNT back in June, I went by the bookstore and preemptively purchased a UNT Alumni t-shirt, but didn't wear it until last week!

Now it's true!
Also, in keeping with my flag-collecting dorkiness, I was able to find official (or quasi-official) university flags from both schools I've graduated from.

My alma... maters?... materi?...matero?...   My schools.

Back in November, just after the Ring Cycle, I played my 500th opera performance in the Wiener Staatsoper!!   It happened before I even had time to notice it was coming.   That means that I'm well over 700 total performances with opera and VPO combined.   That's a lot for 4-and-a-half seasons.

2011 is now almost finished, and I'll be performing on Sunday in our annual New Year's Concert under the baton of Mariss Jansons.    It will be broadcast live to over a billion people worldwide (so they tell us), and is by far the biggest concert of the year for us.   In America, it will most likely be broadcast in the afternoon/evening of January 1st on your local PBS station.   Check your local listings, make sure to tune in or 'DVR it', and ring in the new year with some lively Strauss waltzes and polkas!