The support for our beleaguered orchestra may yet carry us to safety. You know how a Tsunami starts with a huge VOID? The water drops away from the shore before the wave rises. Well, the water has been pulling away from the shore of the Symphony for awhile, but now it’s rising into a huge wave of support for the orchestra.
The May 15 concert, with the amazing Yo Yo Ma leading us to ever higher levels of music making, and our beloved Junichi picking up where Ma left off, was a surge even higher than last week, which was already substantial music making (and appreciation of it) from us all.
The crowd tonight filled the house to the brim, and even Buzz Trafford, the board president determined to shut us down, felt he deserved to bask in it a bit, announcing that if we were playing in Severance Hall (Cleveland’s concert hall, smaller than the Ohio Theater), 500 people would be without seats. Keep basking Buzz, but don’t forget to zip up your wet suit. The water may be a bit colder than you like it.
The delightful Rosamunde Overture by Schubert allowed us all to settle in and enjoy the anticipation of excitement ahead. Schubert’s airy melodies floated from the orchestra like feathers in a tropical breeze. The world of music knows no budget limits or recession. And the orchestra played like a million bucks. If only we knew how to translate that wealth into greenbacks.
I didn’t have a part to play in the Haydn cello concerto, so I heard it from back stage. Ma may earn a chunk of change for one performance, but he puts out the goods. I doubt Haydn could have ever imagined his perfect concerto played MORE than perfectly. Not only was the performance flawless, at least from back stage, but it had drama, delight, intimacy, excitement and joy among its colorful moods. I watched some of the rehearsal with Ma and found myself rapt not only with his playing, but the effortlessness of his body language as he played.
Needless to say, the crowd went wild. For Haydn? As I think about this a drone plays in my ear, like some kind of repetitive torture, telling me classical music is outdated, a dying art, insupportable by the market. The market seems to be changing its tune, and those who really should be listening are tone deaf.
After intermission, Ma played the Saint-Saëns cello concerto, one of my favorite pieces by a favorite composer. Perhaps it’s because I had a crush on someone who played it for me in High School. The main melody of the first movement exudes the wavy passion of a slightly tipsy man deeply in love. He loves everyone! Ma laid it out, easy to follow, especially for a tipsy theme. Junichi was right there with him. We all enjoyed the ride. The second and third movements alternate between moods of domestic childhood bliss and a wistful theme which conjures the sweet pathos of life in a way only Saint-Saëns can.
As we rollicked to the very end, we let lose (according to plan) in a way Junichi rarely lets us do. We are just beginning to understand the control with which we are capable of “letting lose”. After nearly two years of working with him, we are just beginning to tap into our potential for controlled passion and power, the energy tapped by the greatest orchestras, from Cleveland to Berlin.
For an encore, Ma joined members of Carpé Diem string quartet, sans orchestra, to play the slow and dramatically rich second movement of Schubert’s Cello Quintet. The quartet was buoyed by Ma’s powerful presence and outdid themselves. Though the piece was a bit long for an encore, the hall was stark silent with focus during the quietest moments of the music.
It was time for the final work of the night, Ravel’s Bolero. Ma pulled up a chair and sat in the back of the cellos. He wanted to join us, and we were honored. He had briefly lauded, in no uncertain terms, our quality as an orchestra and the greatness of our city of Columbus. Junichi also offered some words to our audience. His charm and appeal grow each time he speaks. Without a microphone it was hard to hear him, but the gist was clear; he loves us, he loves the city, and believes deeply in both.
I, along with my woodwind colleagues, was a bit nervous, having to play the ultra soft beginnings of Bolero “cold” after sitting there silent for more than ten minutes. Phil Shipley, who was placed right in front of Junichi, began playing the famous bolero rhythm: tum-tupata tum-tupata tup-tup, tum-tupata tum-tupata tupata-tupata tum.
Randy Hester, principal flute, began the famous theme, which Junichi had coached us to play sensuously, without inhibition. The tempo Junichi chose seemed slow to us at first, perhaps because it’s more difficult to perform the solos effectively and control them at that tempo. Randy held perfect rhythm and added just enough enticement to invite the next soloist, myself.
I had worked on this for a few hours last night, playing it with the metronome over and over to get the control and stability I wanted, from which I could then evoke just a touch of playful flirting. Not too much, however, because I knew there was a long way to go. I was happy with how it went, passing the theme on to my friend Betsy Sturdevant, bassoon.
The bassoon states the second of the two themes the whole piece is built on. It is far more provocative and alluring. Betsy added just the right amount of heat to boost it up a notch and pass it on to Robert (Woody) Jones, my section colleague, playing the highly temperamental Eb clarinet. He repeated the theme presented by Betsy, and notched it up a bit, adding his own style and just the right amount of freedom to the undulating line.
Next up was the Oboe D’amoré, another unusual instrument between an oboe and an English Horn, played by Steve Secan. His melody went back to the first one which Randy and I had played. He laid it down superbly, rhythmic and clean, with just a hint of sensuality, just like his teacher and mentor John Mack would have done.
Junichi knew exactly how to help each person play their best. He coaxed those who needed it, and left others alone, sensing which would work best. The melody, though repeated endlessly, built in volume and color with each statement.
Ravel’s purpose in writing the piece was to experiment with unique tonal color combinations, like Monet did in his paintings, where three painting of the same scene were rendered in completely different colors and moods.
As the piece built, the tempo remained a powerful reality, the clock ticking as we all played our souls out to lure the audience into joining us in our passion. Phil Shipley and Bill Lutz held the hypnotic rhythm in perfect balance between stability and tension, wanting to move but restricted by time. Here lies the key to this piece; picking the right tempo. Junichi had set it perfectly from the first note.
The various solos, all played gloriously, built on each other as bodies heat up each other and feed off that heat to heat up more. The passion rose and rose.
The tempo never budged. The drums were pounding now, with the timpani joining in on three, one…. three, one…. three, one…. three, one. The orchestra played as one large organism. I lost myself completely and just basked in the rich aura of sound.
At the orgasmic end, our audience JUMPED to their feet.
It doesn’t get any better than that!
Are you ready to ride the wave with us?
(Addendum: the music critic who reviewed this concert, Barbara Zuck, didn’t stay to hear our incredible performance of Bolero, in what may end up being the Columbus Symphony’s LAST classical concert. Players, whom she’s heard for 30 years give their lives to the music, may now be forced to fall silent. She barely mentioned the orchestra in what she did write. Deadline or not, I find the gesture irresponsible and uncaring. Yet, if Zuck is behaving against her best interests in supporting fellow artists in the orchestra, it begs the question, who is pulling her strings?)