Janaceking in the Big Apple

Saturday again offers only a short window of rehearsal, shortened by New York traffic to less than two hours. We try to work quickly though the problem spots we’d been unable to touch the day before in Philly, but we’re racing the clock- Yonah has another engagement later that afternoon. With time running out, we decide to run the piece. We run the first movement, which mostly goes well but which triggers a brief discussion, killing priceless minutes. After the 2nd movement, Yonah asks me the time- I look at my phone. He has to leave at four PM. The phone shows 4 PM exactly. I do a terrible thing, but one I hope he’ll forgive me for later- “three fifty-six,” I say “we should hurry up.”  Bless him, we finish the last two movements- evening I was telling the truth, he’d be leaving five minutes late, as it is, it’s ten.  However, in spite of the mad rush, we’re starting to sound like a string quartet- not a “real” quartet, but a quartet.

Our hours in New York fly by all too fast, and soon it is time to make our way to our first performance, at a house concert near Columbia University. Our audience is mostly neuro-scientists.David Yang and I make our way there on the hottest subway train I’ve every boarded, and meet Yonah and David Ehrlich. Happily, Yonah has made it to and from his gig. Our hosts are legends for their hospitality and love of music, and the house is welcoming and cluttered with the happy reminders of a vibrant life of the mind- books, programs and music are everywhere. In the chaotic moments before the friends and neighbors arrive, we’re trying to fix as many intonation issues as we can.

Tonight we’re just doing the Janacek, with some narration and introduction written by David Yang. The narration feels a little stilted in a living room- none of us can quite transition into a stage voice with the audience only a few feet away, but I feel like the structure of what David has written is very strong in spite of our inability to bring it off.

The performance, however, is pretty good- Janecek’s four movements and 80 tempos are starting to feel like a single utterance, and our audience seems blown away by the piece over wine and nibbles afterwards.

After letting Janacek kick our collective butts for a few days, we’re all feeling pretty good. Sunday, we’ll meet for a 2 hour dress rehearsal at the hall, have a leisurely lunch then perform. With a nice chunk of rehearsal time awaiting us, we’re feeling confident and excited- after all, what can go wrong?

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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

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