Dear Reader:As noted in an earlier post, I fell off the blogen and, as you may have noticed, I haven’t posted in quite some time. No excuses! (But please don’t report me to the Better Blogging Bureau.) In any case, if anyone is still interested, these are some notes from my recent trip to Israel.
As you all are well aware, this has been an extraordinarily hot period, not only in Chicago, but all over the country and even the world. Grant Park Music Festival Principal Conductor Carlos Kalmar tells me that even in temperate Vienna the temperatures have been soaring.Working under these conditions may seem almost impossible, but our Grant Park Orchestra musicians have been rising to the occasion and have performed heroically. Last week’s concerts featuring Bruckner’s monumental Symphony No. 7 with French Conductor Emmanuel Villaume were revelatory, especially in light of how difficult they were to play.So, you might ask, what happens when it’s hot? How does it affect the musicians on stage?First and foremost, add about 10 degrees onto whatever you are feeling in the audience and that’s what the musicians are feeling onstage. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage does have an air conditioning system, but when it’s 97 degrees outside, there’s only so much the onstage system can accomplish. Add to that the heat generated by the stage lights and the proximity to many other people and you can image how uncomfortable it can be.Then we have just the sheer inability to breathe well in hot weather. You may argue that strings and percussion players don’t need to worry as much about breathing as the winds and brass, but believe me, playing any instrument onstage in any type of weather is hard work.There’s also the issue of sweating. When hot, it’s just plain hard to keep your mouthpiece from sliding all over your face. I noticed our brass players wiping excess sweat from their mouths during the Bruckner performances. They sailed through many heroic passages, never missing a beat.Lastly, intonation can suffer when it’s hot. It’s always the case that in cold weather, instrumentalists’ pitch goes flat and in hot weather, the tendency is to play sharp. In super hot weather, you can bet your bottom dollar the players are constantly adjusting to keep the pitch in line. So, my hat’s off to our players for holding up so well during this difficult time. The irony is that now that the weather has improved, we’ve moved inside for concerts and recording sessions at Orchestra Hall. Speaking of our Orchestra Hall concerts, don’t miss the rare opportunity to hear Jennie Larmore sing Barber and Berlioz with the Grant Park Orchestra for free tonight and tomorrow night in Orchestra Hall.
Since the CSO’s resident blogger Charles Grode is on vacation, he asked me to write an entry for this Web site. Let me start by briefly introducing myself: I am Marc van Bree and I am public relations coordinator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position I started about nine months ago.On one of the first occasions that I saw the CSO perform at Ravinia, I joined some friends for one of those lovely summer night picnics on the lawn. Last year, right before I got the good news of a job at the CSO and before traveling to my wedding in my home country, the Netherlands, I saw (or rather heard!) the Texan piano legend Van Cliburn with the Orchestra in Grieg’s Piano Concerto.This year, to celebrate my one year wedding anniversary, I am heading to Ravinia again, and this time for two days of world renowned artists who have come to town to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This Saturday, I will be listening intently to Renée Fleming, who will be singing selected arias and songs with the CSO. I faxed my order in as soon as tickets were available!On Sunday, I will settle on the lawn for cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Azul for cello and orchestra, written by the CSO’s new Mead Composer-in-Residence Osvaldo Golijov. This composition, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for its 125th anniversary, will have its world premiere with Yo-Yo Ma at the BSO’s summer home, Tanglewood, this Friday; in other words, it’s hot off the presses! It will be exciting to be among the first people in the world to hear what’s sure to be a fascinating new work.Talking about hot, I am glad that it will be a bit cooler this weekend. I was wondering what the musicians do when it’s close to 100 degrees outside. Stage manager Kelly Kerins told me that even though the Orchestra plays outdoors, the stage is air-conditioned; on really hot days, they add fans around the stage, but they have to be on low, since the orchestra is amplified for listeners on the lawn. You want to avoid that buzzing sound in the speakers!If you haven’t made your own trip to Highland Park this year, I would encourage you to check it out. The following weekend, August 11, 12 and 13, will be your last chance to hear the CSO, when they join Patti LuPone for a performance of the musical Gypsy. And I just heard that legendary composer Stephen Sondheim will join Ravinia Festival president Welz Kauffman for a pre-concert discussion on August 11!Ravinia may be close to wrapping up for the CSO, but the Orchestra’s downtown season is certainly right around the corner. We invite you to tune into WFMT98.7 from 8:00 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturday August 12 to hear a preview of the coming season and all the great music in store for us in the coming year. You can expect to hear lots of music featured in the 2006-2007 season and interviews including Yo-Yo Ma, CSO trombonist Charles Vernon, CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Mark Anthony Turnage, CSO Chorus Director Duain Wolfe, and Gerard McBurney, creative director and host of the CSO’s new Sunday afternoon Beyond the Score series, plus much more.
While our colleagues at Ravinia and the Grant Park Music Festival are busy working eighteen-hour days, those of us with September – June seasons are in the throes of subscription sales, sponsorship and fundraising work, and a host of other activities. Our opening nights will be here before we know it, and yes, the temperature may even dip below ninety again as fall approaches. This is the time of year when we are getting a good sense of how our season is faring with subscribers and new ticket buyers. It’s also a time when many orchestras roll out their season marketing campaigns. I read about an especially fun campaign that the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted last year. Their opening weekend featured Beethoven's Ninth, Beethoven bobbleheads, and a 'Get Your Beethoven On' marketing campaign. It was their best-attended opening weekend in recent history and is indicative of how things continue to change in the orchestral world. Single ticket sales are increasingly important as a way of generating income, and more importantly, providing an entrée to becoming a subscriber. On-line ticket sales are also increasing despite the belief that older concertgoers aren’t “net-savvy”. They are. I love the idea of a Beethoven bobblehead. I want one for my desk. Do any of you have some creative orchestral campaigns that you have run across that you could share? Or how about some fun ideas that we could bat around? What would catch your attention? I reserve the right to steal any good ideas that are generated by this blog and use them immediately.
You may have heard WFMT’s broadcasts last week of The Chicago Chamber Musicians’ newest recording, Chamber Music for Winds and Strings by Mozart on the Summit Records label. WFMT has been airing the music in advance of the recording’s official release on August 8.The disc contains exquisite versions of Mozart’s Horn Quintet, Oboe Quartet and Clarinet Quintet. As one person remarked to me, the performances display beautiful interplay in a true chamber music nature of the music, rather than simply featuring a wind instrument with strings in the background. Believe it or not, the disc has been in the works for several years. What’s involved? After the artists come up with a concept, the program for the disc needs to be shopped around to different labels before settling on one. We work back and forth with the label to develop a timetable and budget, then we go about raising funds to cover the studio and equipment usage, the engineer, tonmeister, producer, artist and production fees. The CCM artists are dedicated to putting their best work on a recording, and it’s their strong preference to record after having a live performance experience, during which they learn about the sections of the music that need more attention before going into the recording studio. So first the work must be scheduled into a performance, then, optimally, the artists go into the recording session the next day (after more rehearsal), sometimes for an entire day, sometimes longer. One of our challenges is finding times to accommodate our very busy artists, the engineer and the studio availability, all adjacent to the performance date.After that comes the post-production reviewing and editing between the artists and the engineer. In the case of this Mozart CD, multiple all of this times three pieces! Then the cover and booklet need to be designed and approved, and the label must fit the disc in with their entire schedule of releases. The simplest part is the actual pressing of the CDs!In this case, the end product is certainly worth the work and the wait.