A busy and fateful day with the OES

Acknowledging the dichotomy between real time and blog time, I’ll begin by admitting I’m back in Cardiff after all the excitement and brouhaha of the week in Pendleton, but rather than starting with the end, or even cutting to the chase with thoughts about my resignation from the OES, I want to instead just talk through the week as if all were normal and I’d had the odd minute to blog while it was all going on.

Thursday is always the day that a Pendleton week gets up to speed, mainly because it is the day that all the out of town musicians descend on the city. Much as I love the town, I think it is a bit hard to overestimate the difference between “Pendleton the town,” and “Pendleton the town plus 50 professional musicians.” Suddenly, sleepy restaurants and bars spring to life all over the city, and you can hear people practicing Mahler or Tchaikowsky through random windows of hotels, houses and apartments all over town.

This, however, promises to be a Thursday like no other so far- in addition to awaiting the arrival of the better part of a symphony orchestra, I’m also awaiting the arrival of my chamber music colleagues, David Yang and Adam LaMotte, who are joining Suzanne, Parry Karp (who arrived the night before) and I for the great Schubert C major quintet on Sunday. David is flying in from Philly and driving over with Adam. Since we have only three days, and Parry has to play a huge concerto with the orchestra, we’re very keen to have a substantial rehearsal today to spread the workload out. However, there’s always uncertainty where airlines are concerned, and it wouldn’t take much of a delay for us to lose all our meager rehearsal time.

On top of all of this, hanging over the day like the proverbial sword of Damocles is the fact that, as only Christina (our ED), Suzanne and I know: that I intend to announce my resignation at the board meeting this afternoon.

What this day doesn’t seem to offer is much hope of time to prepare musically for two difficult concerts. Jet lag does help a bit, so I come in around 7AM, coffee in hand, and try to decide what is most desperately urgent- getting used to the new cello before our rehearsal this afternoon, or looking at the scores for the orchestra concert.Given that I’m meeting Parry at 9 to go through the Bloch, I decide that’s where I should spend my time. It’s a hugely difficult accompaniment for the conductor- as treacherous as the Elgar Violin Concerto we did last year, but with much less of a performance history.

Having spent 50 minutes on Bloch’s music of Java and my cup o java, at 8AM it’s off to the radio station for an interrview with Tommy on Coffee Hour. I like working with Tommy alot- he’s even had me on his sports show, where we spent an hour talking Packer trivia, before the current ownership pooed on everything the organization stood for. It feels a little funny getting through the whole interview without mentioning this is my last season, but it would be wildly inappropriate to announce my departure here before telling the board and players. After 20 minutes or so, we’re done and I’m back to the office.

Parry is right on time and in good humor- we get to work, with him playing and me singing, muttering, growling and beating along in the absence of a rehearsal pianist (who would probably just cause problems anyway). It’s a big piece, with a lot of material, and Bloch’s somewhat rhapsodic approach to form makes it just the tiniest bit more challenging for me to create a mental map of what Parry is doing and when. Although I’m usually happy to just skip the pre-rehearsal run-thru with soloists, even with a tricky and unknown piece like the Schumann Violin Concerto last, I’d be content to go through this piece 5 or 6 times with Parry before the rehearsal to really get it in my bones.

Instead, Christina has to interrupt us after the 2nd (of 4) movements. She’s had a call from a husband and wife couple who play 2nd oboe and 3rd horn- they’re sick and have cancelled on the concert (as a matter of fact, I’m not feeling so great once I hear their news, but I’m not canceling for sure). I suggest Christina call Pablo for oboe, but I’m too in Bloch world to think through horn player’s schedules. Christina says not to worry- she’s got a list and will get cracking, but she just had to tell someone else what had happened first. After she leaves, Parry smiles and says I was awfully cool given the prospect of missing two solo players less than 48 hours before a concert in the middle of nowhere.

“Don’t worry, I’m loosing it inside!” is my response. Soon enough, we’ve made it through the piece, and I’ve got to run back to my office. What I REALLY want to do is practice some cello and get acclimated to the new cello, but there is, believe it or not, a more pressing issue to deal with.

Given the tough financial times the orchestra has gone through during our long ED search, the fire and now the economic ups and downs, Christina has decided (wisely) that we need some kind of strategic plan for the board outlining where we are and what we need to do to get through the coming months in strong financial shape. She and I talked through it at length on Tuesday when I arrived- there are many good prescriptions in there, but not a lot of history (she’s only been in the job a few months), and I think more background on the evolution of our artistic management structure is needed. She’s agreed, so it’s up to me to fill in a few blanks, so that’s the rest of my morning spent editing and writing before emailing it across the hallway.

Lunch with Parry and our families is a delight- Como’s food has improved a lot over the years, and then it’s the agonizing wait for word of David and Adam’s progress. Back at the office, Christina has read my changes and we talk through it a bit, with her taking breaks to call horn players, and me taking breaks to call David and Adam.  At some point, it sounds like she’s found a horn player, who has the very, very promising name of Harry Bell. If I was a horn player, I would want to be called Harry Bell, and I would look like a refuge from a Harley rally, and would be the loudest damn horn player on earth. My playing would sound like I’d just eaten a raw yak.

Strategic report done and dusted, I finally get about 25 minutes on the cello before David gets through to tell us they’re about 35 minutes away. Time to grab a coffee.

Four PM, and we’re all in the hall and ready to play. I’ve got to join the board at 5:30, so the goal is to play as much of the program as we can before I have to leave. This is not a group that has ever played together before, but right away I am relieved that our sounds all seem to work together. Nevertheless, even though we sound okay, I’m not sure the experience of reading Schubert minutes before announcing a resignation is one I would ever want to repeat again- the word “distracted” is hardly adequate.

All too soon (with two movements of Beethoven still to go), Christina comes upstairs- they’ve made it through the rest of the agenda and it’s time for me to tell everyone my news and for us to take them through the strategic plan we’ve outlined.

I can’t imagine anything more boring to read than a detailed description of a board meeting, but suffice it to say, I never thought I would live to attend such a quiet board meeting in Pendleton.

All that done, and I still have 15 minutes to clear my head or look at Dvorak before the orchestra rehearsal starts….

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Spread the word. Share this post!

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.

2 comments on “A busy and fateful day with the OES”

  1. Harry Bell

    “At some point, it sounds like she’s found a horn player, who has the very, very promising name of Harry Bell. If I was a horn player, I would want to be called Harry Bell, and I would look like a refuge from a Harley rally, and would be the loudest damn horn player on earth. My playing would sound like I’d just eaten a raw yak.”

    I don’t know whether to be offended or curiously pleased.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *