December 13, 2012
a clarinet swab
Ok so there really wasn’t any blood, I just thought it was a cool sounding title. Anyways, on Saturday I attended the Rhapsody in Blue concert at the Alex Theater and thought it was one of the strongest nights I’ve seen so far from LACO. But it was not without it’s drama (that I probably projected).
The night began with Antoine Dvořák’s Serenade for Winds, Op. 44. I liked the piece and thought it might be a good soundtrack for a very regular road trip. A road trip where you’re just driving to get somewhere, perhaps San Diego. You see some nice sights or towns, nothing too crazy happens and you arrive on time. Like zero on the danger scale but a seven on the pleasant scale. I noticed early on that the clarinet guys had a tough job in this performance because they had to constantly clean out their instruments. I assume this is because they are full of spit. So much spit that whenever the clarinet was not required the clarinetists would feverishly deconstruct their instrument and run what I can only describe as a “scrag” (fancier than a rag, not as wearable as a scarf) through the disconnected parts to clean them. Then they would quickly reassemble the clarinet and continue to play. I was stressed out just watching it. This semi disgusting but obviously necessary practice came to an awkward head when principal clarinet Joshua Ranz was caught in the middle of a “scrag” job right when the second part of the piece ended (during one of the no clap pauses discussed in previous blog). Ranz scrambled to clear the spit out before the next part began but since the clarinet was apparently crucial to the next part, Jeffery Kahane gave him a look that I interpreted as “Yo Ranz, we’re waiting on you pal.” And Ranz gave a look back like “Come on bro, you know I’ve got to clean out all this spit or this movement ain’t happening!” To his credit, Ranz “scrag’d” well under pressure and the Serenade quickly continued as planned.
Next up was Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite which I really liked. It felt very grand, American and oddly familiar. It was the kind of music that made me feel that I should probably go see Lincoln. In fact it seems to me like John Williams was likely influenced by Copland’s music. In my research I was also excited to learn it had been featured in the epic cat and dog team up film The Adventures of Milo and Otis. Jeffrey Kahane impressively pulled double duty by conducting and playing on piano. My curiosity was peaked when I noticed that a woman in a black dress was sitting next to Kahane with no discernible instrument. What was she up to just sitting there? Was she going to throw down some vocals? Perhaps some sort of dance accompanies this piece? The program did say it was originally made for a ballet. A few minutes passed and still no moves from this mysterious chair lady. Suddenly as Kahane began to play on the piano she moved towards him. I thought to myself, “of course, they’re going to do some chopsticks style duet piano action. But I was wrong as usual. The mystery woman didn’t touch the piano but instead flipped Kahane’s sheet music! This turn of events left me impressed that Kahane had a page-turner but at the same time I felt concern for this turnstress. One wrong turn of the page and the whole piece comes crashing down. Also she has to avoid disrupting or injuring Kahane’s golden paws. He needs those for conducting and piano playing and there were still another two pieces of music after this. Thankfully the page turning was completed without incident and the Suite was a success. However, I was slightly outraged when at the completion of the piece the whole orchestra got up and took multiple bows EXCEPT for the page-turner. She just sat there and watched as the unsung hero of the chamber.
Next up was my least favorite performance but favorite title: John Adams’ Son of Chamber Orchestra. I found the piece to be a bit too chaotic and random. Speaking of chaos, I felt that this piece had some added tension due to the proximity of the violinists to each other. Perhaps it was the location of my seat but it looked like they were going to collide bows several times during the performance. These close calls were likely due to the numerous amounts of strange violin sounds called for in this piece, which caused bows to fly in several directions. Luckily, or unluckily if you like bow collisions, the pros in the chamber orchestra managed to keep their instruments from hitting the others. Also of note, the thankless page-turner from the previous piece reappeared but this times actually played what I thought was a miniature piano (real name: celesta) in Son of Chamber Orchestra .
The night ended with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue which of course everyone knows from United Airlines commercials and seat belt demonstration videos. Despite this pre-existing association I thought the piece really soars above and beyond any corporate ties (like a United air craft in flight). Rhapsody is just such a fun piece of music to listen to that I would even go as far as to say it was splendid (like a first class seat on United). I was really impressed when Jeffery Kahane played the piano parts sans sheet music (with the precision of a United pilot flying into a major airport). Joshua Ranz returned to give a flawless clarinet performance of arguably the most iconic part of the Rhapsody earning him recognition from Kahane who likely finally forgave him for his earlier “scraging” debacle (like a successful United customer service experience).