The Final Program- Gotterdammerung

Every concert has its drama.

Not long ago, the drama was a plague of flies, which, last I heard, were still annoying the citizens of swish Altrincham.

As I drove into Pendleton yesterday, I was struck by the vast devastation of the outer reaches of the city. The whole network of main roads connecting the interstate to the heart of town were torn up. It looks like a war is on. Huge diggers ripped loose giant slabs of asphalt to be carried away in waiting dump trucks, to be piled on a mountain of rubbish behind the local Wal-Mart.

Redneck Gotterdammerung

On arrival at the orchestra’s home, the Vert Auditorium, I was further struck by the precariousness of life in Pendleton. Should I have been surprised? I think not- in years past, our offices have been razed, our libraries reduced to ashes. No random destruction is too great, no pointless injustice to extreme to happen within this cozy burgh.

Now, our Hall was little more than a construction site- some wise engineer had condemned the fly system in the theatre. Our acoustic ceiling above the stage, at best a barely-effective death trap, had been condemned and removed, but the promised reinforcements and repairs had yet to appear, and won’t do so until after my tenure here reaches its grizzly end on Saturday. How much of Bobby Schumann’s genius will be lost when all those timbres are heard only by the timbers of the roof when the sound floats up rather than pours out on Saturday?

Then, there is the plumbing.

It is a time honored tradition, now reaching its end, to save any and all bad news for after Ken’s arrival.

With that in mind, I listened somewhat wearily as I was told of pipes blocked and pipes leaking, of corrosion, leakage (what a vile word!) and collapse. As the waters of the local aquifer threatened to drown our modest concert hall, a fateful decision was made- the City would re-plumb the entire building in time for our final concert. When I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, a team was working feverishly, replacing fixtures, pipes and insulation around sinks, johns and water fountains alike. The steam heating in the office was working for the first time in many weeks.

But, on Wednesday, dark clouds gathered. Nary a hairy man-cleavage was in sight. Hours, and then a day went by without any sign of progress, or, of effort. I finally implored Lisa-Marie to call the City and remind them that destiny awaits us all- there is a concert in this building in 72 hours, and one thing classical fans demand at every concert in every venue is plumbing. Peeing in a field is for rockers. Classical fans don’t do port-a-potties.

Will we have running water? Will those toilets and sinks be re-connected again to the walls that have housed them for so many years? Will the floorboards rot from seepage, or our ceiling collapse? Will our more elderly patrons have a place to answer Nature’s most urgent call?

Oct 09 019

Anything is possible in Pendleton. Readers often comment on the ambition of our many Mahler concerts, but Carmen was in many ways the biggest project we ever did here- an army of soloists, children’s choirs and grown up singers joined the band that week. The day before the performance, a City engineer, without warning, condemned our stage extension, then in use for 11 years. He threatened to wrap our esteemed venue in yellow “condemned” tape- can you imagine Carnegie in such a predicament?

But Pendleton can rally- in all of fifteen minutes a team of men, none paid nor looking to be, arrived with saws, power drills and lumber. Within one hour, they had rebuilt the extension to code, not because they owed us a favor, nor because we could pay them for their time, but because this is Pendleton, and that’s what you do here. You answer the call. You fix what needs fixin’. Miracles can happen here.

Still, with destruction and delay all around today, I find myself fantasizing about a truly Wagnerian finale to my Pendleton adventure.

We are finishing Schumann 2 in a blaze of glory, when the ceiling finally collapses, the walls of the ancient auditorium crumble and the long-defective plumbing explodes with pent-up rage. Great geysers of tap water and raw sewage  explode from half-plastered walls in as-yet-un-re-opened bathrooms.

Meanwhile, the brass section is building a great, raging pyre of violins, pianos, contra-bassons, stage-flooring-saturated –in-the-blood-of-the-conductor and pops charts, and, shrieking the battle cry of the Valkyires, I slide the Ring onto my finger, wave to those sexy Rhinemaidens, don my brass brassiere, mount my noble steed Grane, and ride to my immolation on the shore of the raging river of who-knows-what, as the walls of Valhalla itself fall forever into the raging inferno.

Wouldn’t you want to see that?

7:30 PM this Saturday, Vert Auditorium.

Tickets on sale at Armchair Books and the OES office.

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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

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2 comments on “The Final Program- Gotterdammerung”

  1. Jane

    I have so enjoyed hearing about the perils and triumphs of Pendleton and the East Oregon Symphony, “the band.” I imagine they will miss you terribly. Good luck with the plumbing! And thanks for changing your blog back to a white background for us vision impaired folks. 🙂

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