July 18, 2011


The AIMS Orchestra kicked off it's summer season yesterday evening at the lovely Stefaniensaal in the heart of old-town Graz.

The morning's dress rehearsal had gone splendidly. I caught our maestro Alexander Kalajdzic smiling spontaneously several times as difficult sections came together and we were all blissfully subsumed within the music. This is something a player doesn't often experience from a conductor and it was a wonderful sensation to feel that he was as swept away as the rest of us.

The Stefaniensaal was an improvement over our rehearsal "hall" by several hundred orders of magnitude. Backed by a magnificent organ, overhung by chandeliers, and surrounded on all sides by murals of the masters--Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Haydn, etc.--we almost couldn't help but play well. I was only able to take photos during our morning rehearsal (it would've been a bit tacky to snap pictures like a tourist while on stage in my concert black), but hopefully you can imagine what this place felt like with it's seats filled and the orchestra going all out onstage.

The event began with Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. I was playing principal for this 2 1/2 minute brass fest (and was thus quite nervous), but in truth all three trumpet parts are really just in unison for the first 2/3 of the piece. The real trick is to make those precarious intervals right at the beginning sound like one big fat horn.

Suddenly, the timpani, bass drum, and gong shook the walls with a primal:

BOOM!...Boom Boom.......

my heart began beating as though it were going to leap from my chest, and with each receding

BOOM!...Boom Boom........


I measured my breathing and honed my focus just in time to play...

The first few statements of the theme were breathlessly pristine. The three of us were perfectly in tune and our sounds blended together as one...it couldn't have been better. Last time I performed this piece was at Deer Valley with the Utah Symphony and unfortunately I can't say my chops were responding as well then as they did last night. I was relieved to have somewhat redeemed myself. As the fanfare progressed and we were joined by horns and trombones I got a little overzealous and scuffed a couple note beginnings, but on the whole we presented a decent rendition of the piece and I received a lot of compliments afterward.

After a few long speeches by the AIMS leadership and officials from Graz (made even longer by the necessity of giving them both in German and English) the choir sang the Styrian anthem and then America. Their voices resonated beautifully in the hall and I found myself feeling privileged to be taking part in such warm cultural exchange.

The orchestra was then joined on stage by soprano Linda Watson for the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. All week Ms. Watson was identified to us as "the Brünhilde of Byreuth," and she has sung that iconic roll from Wagner's Ring Cycle (if you've seen What's Opera Doc, Brünhilde is the beautiful Valkyrie ((Bugs Bunny in disguise)) that mesmerizes Elmer Fudd (("Seigfried")) as he goes about trying to "kill the wabbit") at the Byreuth Festival for the past five years. She has a big luscious voice and was absolutely a thrill to listen to, but I was almost more impressed by her stage presence and the confident aura she carried about her.

The label "Diva" is often applied derogatively to loud-mouthed drama queens who are utterly full of themselves and behave as though the world should be worshipping at their feet. Now, there is no better word to describe Ms. Watson than "Diva," but in her case she carries the title with a quiet assurance that does not beg attention, but instead commands it respectfully with a graceful self confidence that does not plead for reassurance from others, but rather says "I know who I am...I am beautiful...and I have a gift to share. When she walks into a room one can't help but be drawn into the natural electricity emanating from every fiber of her being. In my experience this sort of presence is rare and I was inspired simply by observing her unique demeanor in action...and you should have seen the gown she wore!

The theme of the night was precarious beginnings. First the Copland as described above, then Wagner's Prelude with it's equally sensitive and almost painfully soft string beginning, and finally Also Sprach Zarathustra! (yes, on the music the title carries an exclamation point). I'm sure you've all heard the opening of this piece (see the soundtrack to Kubrick's film: 2001). A pianissi-issi-issi-issimo low pedal C initiated in the basses, contrabasson, organ, and timpani is sustained until 4 trumpets enter in unison with...

Now, this figure is almost exactly what 90% of trumpet players around the world begin their daily warmup with and consequently should be easy...right? Well, yes, in theory. But for me it was always a struggle. There is so much pressure that can build up when the conductor begins that first low note and time slowly and inexorably moves toward the heart-pounding moment when you have to enter--flawlessly in tune, impeccably steady, 4 sounds blended as one--and before you know it, those 3 notes can turn into your worst nightmare. Plus, everyone has heard this tune--at least the opening--so if you're the dope who screws it up and wavers even a little bit you're going to be instantly judged for it: "Oh my gosh, did you hear that trumpet player (grimace, scowl, etc.)!!?! The trumpet section here (Jordan, Gabe, Rene from Graz sitting in on third, and me) has been great though, and we've pretty much nailed it every time...plodding forward with a vengeance into that iconic and screaming climax that occurs just a few measures later...

A! B! CCCCCCC!!!!!!!!

The rest of the piece went swimmingly (gosh I'm glad I didn't have to play first trumpet!) and we finished to great applause. Many people went out after the concert for drinks and general revelry, but I preferred to savor the moment at home with Rob on skype.

This morning while walking to the Elisabethschule just before 8:00 I ran into Gabe on the sidewalk. "Where are you coming from?" I asked--surprised to see him up and about so early after a wild night. He explained that he'd met some really fun Austrians, had spent the whole night out partying with them, and was only now on his way back to the dorm. "I finally made it up to the top of the Schlossberg," he said, "We watched the sunrise up there...it was awesome!" Though I'm not at all envious of his night without sleep I found myself wishing I'd been up at the Schloss to watch the sunrise as well. It's been a while since I've been awake to greet the dawn and I miss it terribly. Sunsets are fine, but somehow they're just not the same. Oh well, the days are getting shorter all the time and before you know it sunrise will be accessible (without having to suffer through any sleep deprivation) again soon. Three cheers for that!

1 comment:

  1. Oh what a relief it is!!!!! You brought me into the experience so much so that I'm out of breath and MY heart is pounding!!! I'm delighted that your first concert went as well as it did. I know they will only get better. I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!