Last of the Flakes

Late start after long night at the Rainbow on Thurs. Suzanne and I make the trip down to the local coffee shop for much needed caffeine and bagels, before I head into the office.  It is the last weekday of our concert preparation, which means I am greeted by the final update on our flake count for the concert. We have had one young oboist from a nearby college, who fortunately only plays on the last movement, who emailed the office this week to tell us she couldn’t (read that as “wouldn’t”) play because she was too busy with the end of her school year. I would say that any college student with half a brain would be able to predict that they would be busy at the end of the year. We’ve also had one violinist inform us this morning that, while she is sorry to have missed last night, she will be unable to be at the rehearsal tonight or the sectional tomorrow because of religious reasons, but that she is “practicing hard.” Finally, we have had a message passed on to us from another young violinist that he had never, in fact, said that he would play this concert. Funny that- he played the last one and I remember our last conversation. “Thanks for playing- will I see you for Mahler,” I said.  “Of course, wouldn’t miss it for anything,” he answered. Apparently, while he wouldn’t miss it for anything he is able to miss it for nothing, and on 48 hours notice…. 

The common thread of all our flakes is that they are under the age of 25 years old. I can’t help but think that they must not yet realize what a rare, rare privilege it is to play this piece, and that even full-time players in big cities don’t play Mahler every day. I also think they must not have been on the other side of this equation often enough to fully realize how their behavior affects other people. The last thing that either Tiffany or Phyllis need is the stress of looking for replacement players in the waning hours of our concert preparation. Fortunately, we’ve already replaced the oboist, but the violin situation is stickier.  From the office, it’s down to Radio Shack to get some gadgets to repair our video setup for the offstage orchestra. From there to the hall and some trial and error on the system. While working on it, I’m joined by a number of musicians from the brass section who are prowling downtown. We all chat a bit while I finally figure out the last of the configuration problems with the video- finally, we have a working monitor offstage. 

From there, it’s back to the house where most of this group is staying while in town. James has brought the DVD of Bernstein doing the piece with the LSO and Janet Baker. It seems like a good way to gear up for the rehearsal- say what you will about the tempo of the first movement, he had charisma coming out of his charisma and Baker’s Urlicht is beyond wonderful (I must quote James, who said there are two kinds of voices who can sing Urlicht- Janet Baker and not Janet Baker). Suzanne joins us and we watch a condensed version of the piece so I can see a few bits I’m curious about before I head back to the hall for a few last preparations before rehearsal. Walking back, I’m haunted by Baker’s stillness- sometimes the less someone moves, the more there is to see. 

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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