Waiting for the verdict, and not in New Hampshire…

When I first started this blog, my hope was that it would help bring in some new audiences to the orchestras I conduct, and while it does get read by some very devoted members of the general public (the true, hard-core fanatics!), I think it’s probably morphed into something a little intense for Joe Public. While that may count as a small disappointment, I’ve been really delighted (and occasionally intimidated) to find out just how many of my colleagues in the various orchestras I work with read these pages (hello Surrey Mozart Players, who I’ll be seeing tomorrow).

One thing I’ve learned from them is that players do tend to look and see what I’ve written about our concert together after the fact, and some are not shy about reminding me if I’ve not written something.

“Hey Ken- you didn’t write anything about our concert, so how am I supposed to know how you thought it went?” someone might say….

“Err, ah….. well, you were there, and we went out afterwards and talked about the show for about four hours.”

“Yes, but that’s just what you said to me, not what you really mean.”

“So the blog is a repository of what I really mean, as opposed to my conversations?”

”No. The blog is mostly entertaining BS,  but it’s what people think you really mean.”

“Who? Which people?”

“The ones who read it…””You mean like you?””No- the people who read it to find out what you thought of the concert. I was there, I don’t have to read it. I just thought you might have written something….”

Well take heart. The only reasons I don’t write about past concerts is because

1-       I’m too effing tired to think for several days afterwards, by which time I’ve completely forgotten the event.

2-       I feel self-conscious and silly trying to describe my own performances

3-       I’m saving it for the book (heh, heh, heh…..). This is probably the case if it went spectacularly badly!  

Still- I have to admit…. If I go to a concert, I’m much more likely to look for the review of it, so I can see why people who’ve played in one would want to read the post mortem of it here.

In fact, the last concert I went to led me to do more or less the same thing. Alban Gerhardt was in town last week playing with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Alban and I have never met or worked together, but we seem to keep tap dancing onto each others life paths. He was a student at CCM just before me, so we have many friends, chamber music colleagues and teachers in common (most importantly the Tokyo and La Salle quartets) and now he’s quite a regular in Cardiff. Anyway, I knew Alban had a blog, so- as you do- I checked it out to see what he thought of the concert. Sure enough, there’s an interesting and thoughtful write up here.

I loved his Dvorak, and everyone I talked to in the orchestra seemed to as well. The consensus was that he’d really made something very moving happen with the piece- several players confessed to watering up a bit on the last page- which is much more what it’s about than just the cello playing. The cello playing was pretty damn good, though- especially his chromatic octave scale in the first movement. In the moment before he started them, his endpin not only slipped, but the cello actually caught quite a bit of air, so Alban had to start them in mid-flight, and they were the best I’ve ever heard them live…  Alban’s blog points out the difficulty of keeping this most beloved of cello pieces fresh- Rostropovich’s strategy was to charge $80,000 for a Dvorak and $5,000 for any other concerto. You can guess which one he still got asked to play the most….

Anyway- I had intended to say hi afterwards (and to say hi from several Cincinnati friends who wanted me to pass on wishes), but apparently playing first violin on the  Bartok Concerto for Orchestra qualifies as tiring when you’re over 7 months pregnant, so my date and I made a swift exit.

I wonder how many friends at BBC NOW who saw me at the show will be checking in here to see if I had anything to say…..

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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.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

6 comments on “Waiting for the verdict, and not in New Hampshire…”

  1. steve

    I’m a little surprised that players think you would be more honest on the blog. It seems to me that you would have to gloss over a bit in the blog when you can afford to be more honest in private conversations.

  2. Kenneth Woods

    For some strange reason, people often think that whatever a conductor says, he or she must mean something else. I don’t understand why people don’t just take everything I say and write at face value. Don’t they realize that all conductors tell the truth all the time…. Actually, if some reads something here first then I see them, they’ll probable ask me me what I _really_ thought of that concert I wrote about.

    I can’t imagine why people great the words of conductors with such skepticism…..

    BTW- I don’t think I’ve ever really contradicted an opinion between blog and private conversation, but not everything is suitable for publishing on the internet, so there are always likely to be ommissions (ie- the soloist was drunk, I actually hate that piece, the conductor I was covering for was a tone-deaf moron, etc….)

  3. steve

    I not talking about contradiction per se. I think we are really close to agreeing. Not everything is for public consumption. I have just found your blog so let me ask you, have you ever posted something like “the brass player too loud?”

    I don’t mean to imply that only conductors do this because everyone does. It’s called PR. 🙂

  4. Alban Gerhardt

    Hi Kenneth,
    too bad you didn’t stay for the second half, you really missed a great Bartok – and I would have loved to meet up with a fellow CCM student! Whom did you study with? And how the hell did you manage to connect your blog with mine? Very interesting – thanks for the very flattering words, I am truly honored, especially since you are a cellist yourself. When did you become a conductor? Now I have the task trying to combine my blog with yours, let’s see if I manage… Will you be around in February in Cardiff? I will be back to record the Honegger Concerto with NOW. Maybe some coffee?lunch?dinner?
    All best from freezing Norway,

  5. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Alban!

    Great to hear from you. I did stay for the second half- my wife (date) was the very pregnant violinist on the second desk of the firsts- it was just after the Bartok that we had to make a run for it. What a piece!

    I’ll email you about February- the dates are very lucky. It’ll be nice to meet. Have fun with the Honnegger- great piece and nobody plays it (except, it appears, you!)

    Stay warm and talk soon


  6. Kenneth Woods

    Steve asks-

    “I have just found your blog so let me ask you, have you ever posted something like “the brass player is too loud?””

    Isn’t it just assumed…. 🙂

    Seriously, welcome Steve. Basically, I never want to say anything here that would make someone feel like I had betrayed our mutual trust- something that is vital to having a productive working relationship. All sides need to feel safe to take chances in rehearsals without having the bumps and bruises of the process held up for public ridicule.

    So, I would not write the “brass player is too loud,” because that comes off as me telling the world that one member of the orchestra was doing something wrong. It’s my job to address balance, not hers or his, so what I should say in that case is something like “the balance in that passage is a bit problematic, mostly because in this piece the composer uses uniform dynamics. That is to say, in a forte, everyone is marked forte. If a modern trumpet player plays forte at equal intensity through an entire passage in a Beethoven-sized orchestra, it will be too loud, so I had to take a moment to sort that out in the rehearsal.”

    Likewise, it’s not fair to say “the clarinet player was sharp,” but perfectly fine to say “we had to do some intonation work on the passage- in these cases, one often simply has to establish what is going on harmonically- who has the root, who has the third. Once everyone knew that, it became clear that the third in the clarinet (which is spelled enharmonically in this case, so he wouldn’t have neccessarily known it was the third) needed to come down a bit.”

    Thanks so much for your comment- I hope we hear more from you on future posts.


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