Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Boston Massacre: The Gory Details.

Okay, I'm exaggerating because I like the sound of the title. Just like the real Boston Massacre, gauged against the unfortunate standards of our times, would hardly qualify as such, yesterday's audition was really more of a minor let down (thus are they all). What most certainly was massacred was the Schönberg Chamber Symphony excerpt, which was quickly followed by the dreaded disembodied utterance of the pseudo congenial platitude, "Thank You." What follows are the gory details.

Most of the experience felt remarkably comfortable and familiar. Right down to the dry, somewhat puffy lip feeling I get the morning after airplane travel and a hotel stay. I did mistime the downtown commute by about a 35 minutes but that still gave me about half an hour to get warmed up. (Really though! An hour and a half to go no more than 6 miles?! I could have walked there faster! That is insanity.) Scheduled for 10:16AM I was apparently the first candidate. This meant I didn't have to listen to too many people warming up or the tail end of the previous audition. I've always been told to avoid being first if you can. Everyone on the committee has perfection in their mind's ear and the first poor bastard to shatter that mindset is doomed. I don't know how true that is, not having sat on any real life audition committees but I don't think it amounts to much of an obstacle, especially when you consider the committee is completely fresh. I think that is a bigger plus. The BSO doesn't do hourly blocks of candidates. They give everyone one hearing and call-backs are literally that; they call you sometime that evening if they have advanced you to the semis a day or two later. Sort of like having your car in the shop and waiting for the estimate. ("Hello. Yeah Mr. Kamp? Yer two driver-side C-sharps were low, yer Siegfried Idle was high, and yer gonna need a new mid-low range setting. We can't do anything with this one.") Except that in this case if the estimate is really bad you don't get a call at all... and they won't tell you their estimate over the phone, just that you've advanced... so I guess it really isn't anything like having your car in the shop afterall. But I digress.

Like I said, most of the experience felt remarkably comfortable and familiar. I even had the same warmup module as last January. Since my warmup was somewhat truncated I still hadn't completely rid my dry lips of that slightly unresponsive morning feeling and decided to be cautious and initiate an official ban on pianissimos. ("By power of the instituting player, and under penalty of severe self-beration, no extreme soft dynamic will be attempted at any time over the duration of excerpts unless circumstances during the act of performing are deemed, by said player, to be highly inducive to a successful outcome. Under no circumstances are extreme soft dynamics to be attempted at the beginnings of aforementioned excerpts (see Das Rheingold clause).")

Cutting to the chase, the Bach cello suite movement again started the round. I had last played it through before a QCSO rehearsal for AG the previous afternoon and it went really well but much faster than I felt comfortable doing in the actual audition. Too risky to play it that fast. The wheels could come off. Never-the-less, when it came time to start I found my tempo still on the quick side. I was able to hang on until the end of the first section and then reined it in at the beginning of the second (no repeats), which I always start a little more subdued and legato than the first half anyway. It went pretty well, all in all. (Much better than last time when my bottom lip slipped off the mouthpiece during a "double stop" and I had to finish with only one lip!) The excerpts started out okay - Shosti 5, a bit from Don Quixote, some Mahler 3, a chunk of Daphnis and Chloe- but none were really good, just okay... until Das Rheingold, which is, at times, the bane of my existence. It can go very well (it's just a warmup arpeggio after all!) but also horribly wrong (yes, but a slow, soft warmup arpeggio right through the break!). My first low B-flat didn't speak immediately as didn't the penultimate descending dotted half-note. And in between was less than stellar playing (Das Rheingold clause: This excerpt is technically not covered under the pianissimo ban due to the dynamic marking being piano. Ergo, the aforementioned dumb-ass should play it louder! Dumb-ass.) Still I was allowed to go on to a fast Schönberg excerpt (rehearsal 28 to 30 in case you're curious) which I've done well a hundred times only to step all over it this time. That was the straw, or log as the case may be, that broke the committee's back after which I was summarily dismissed.

I can't complain. My goals included playing the cello suite well, which I think I did, and getting to play more excerpts than last time, which I definitely did. I'm glad I got to play that particular Mahler 3 excerpt (the first movement one at the recap which then goes down to the low E-naturals) in front of a committee. I've never done that before and have always somewhat dreaded it, even though that one is a fun "practice room excerpt." Of course I wish I had played most things a bit better and a couple things much better but I'm a stronger player now than I was even just 6 months ago due to working up this audition. I'll just keep at it.

Now it is back to the grindstone. A couple tapes for here and here and lists for this group and this group (maybe I'll get to meet you, LR!) to start work on. Of course, I'm in Beantown for another day and a half yet. I hope the hotel guests next door aren't planning on napping this afternoon.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yes Dad. Fourth horn is a move up from assistant principal.

Finally! I'm the section slut no longer. After winning the fourth horn audition for the DMS last Tuesday evening I no longer have to obey the principal. Well okay, I still may have to obey him, but not love and honor. And I'm no longer within fist's reach of him. I'll have a couple chair lengths head start should he come after me for dissonant octaves!

In truth, our principal, BS, could not have been kinder during my two plus years of servitude. He gave me lots of big, fat brackets to play, he held his tongue when I'd go on frack* binges, and he would cheerfully pimp me out to fill any vacant chairs in the section. Plus his house is the horn hostel on concert weekends. Thanks for everything BS!
Now I only hope I can fill MW's shoes. He was a scary good low horn player and is one hell of a guy. I will miss your 16 va basso impromptu transpositions and your great sense of humor, MW. Enjoy your new life and say hello for me to your ex-wife CB when you see her next.

Let me tell you this: I am not going to miss playing assistant one bit and will try my best to avoid playing it ever again... after this weekend with the CRSO... and again two weeks from now with the DSO... oh, who am I kidding. If you'll pay me I'll play assistant kazoo if you want.

It did feel good to win a fourth horn audition one week before the BSO audition. I played pretty well in rather harsh acoustical conditions (a boomy old hotel room, circa 1920). Both rounds were screened so I feel confident that no one on the committee was playing favorites (I'm not even sure I would be the played favorite of everyone behind that screen anyhow). There weren't any Chicago players in attendance however, which hurt the depth of talent, but there were a few good players. Any one of us could have won on any given day. That day it was my turn.

Now on to Boston for a shot at The Show!

*I got the idea from AH of the CRSO that 'frack' might be short for 'fracture'. Any thoughts on this possibility? Sounds like a ripe discussion topic for one of the hornlists to me. A useless triviality with the potential for much lengthy, heated debate between non-peers.

Friday, October 20, 2006

T - 10 days

One metric week before the BSO audition and all systems are go. I'm not delusional. Horn players don't go from playing with the DSO to playing with the BSO in one fell swoop. But the way I see it, any audition for The Show is a worthwhile experience. I don't understand players who say they aren't ready to play at that level yet so why bother auditioning for that level. You bother with it so that when you finally get to that level you have all this experience in the bank. You bother with it to eliminate uncertainties so the audition process becomes old hat. I know what train takes me to Symphony Hall, what the fare costs and how long the ride is. I know there will only be ten to twenty players total as opposed to the usual cattle call. I've been in the practice rooms (modules, really) in the basement already. I know what it feels like to play in them. I know I'll have to climb a flight of stairs to get to the hall. (That may not sound like much but it is enough to get the heart pumping a little extra hard right before you go on and play.) I know I'll be able to hear the candidate playing before me as I wait in the green room to go on. I know the committee will be on stage with me with a screen separating us, as opposed to way out in the dark hall somewhere. I know the hall will sound absolutely amazing; distractingly so (though it did just get a new stage floor). Any one of these things can shake your mind off task enough so that you do something stupid during the few minutes you have on stage. And all of them can combine to reduce you to a jello mold of a real horn player...and not even the kind with bananas! There most certainly will be new things this time which pop up to distract me, as there are at every audition. I'll just put those in the bank too.

I'll try to play the list for as many people as will hear it during the next two concert sets (DMS this weekend & CRSO next weekend), especially the Bach cello suite movement, which was the first thing asked for in the last BSO audition in January. It is much stronger now but I've not performed it at all since then. Maybe I'll try and play it for a cellist and see what they say. I got in touch with my friend, DC, whose a horn player and Boston resident so hopefully we'll be able to meet up for a visit while I'm there. She was kind enough to put me up for the last audition but this time I'm going to hotel it.

This week we have LL as a guest conductor/soloist. He is very French and very animated and it is a nice change of pace. He's been much more overtly focused on musicality (phrasing, color, style, character,etc.) in rehearsals than we're used to. It gave me the feeling of being at a summer festival back in college for some reason.

As I mentioned in the last post, we are doing the same Schumann symphony (No. 4) as CWSO did last week. The horn parts are ho-hum but it is growing on me. Oh, and as a addendum to the last post, I'll be playing Shostakovich 10 again with the DSO in November. So it'll be 14 years between my first two performances of this piece and about 14 days before my third performance. And yet again, I'll be on assistant!

Friday, October 13, 2006

An army of one...just not this one.

I received word from the Army Band on Wednesday. After reviewing my submitted recording they are "unfortunately not able to invite me to the final round of auditions." The news (to which my sister responded, "The army is rejecting you?! But they'll take anybody these days!") is disappointing but will take some pressure off this month. Having to prepare two auditions simultaneously is not ideal. Now I can focus solely on the BSO audition which is set for 10:16 am, Monday, Oct. 30. I've still got to Priceline a hotel room. I low-balled my first offer a bit too low and had to wait 24 hours to make another offer. I'll notch it up 20% and try again today.

Another round of resumes here and here (plus another Army position with this group) went out yesterday. There is actually an audition for 4th horn in the DMS, too. Since that audition is one week before Boston's 4th horn audition it'll be a good run-through for me. This weekend it is Schumann 4 with the CWSO in Stevens Point, WI. Then next week we begin DMS rehearsals on the very same symphony and perform it next weekend. I get to play principal on it and then fourth. I've never had that happen with Schumann before! Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky yes, but Schumann? I mean, c'mon.

And we also begin rehearsing Shostakovich 10 in the CRS. I played assistant on this symphony 14 years ago at the NOI. I'll be playing assistant on it again in Cedar Rapids. How's that for variety; the same ho-hum symphony performed twice in two weeks, once at each end of the section while performing a monster like Shosti 10 only twice in nearly a decade-and-a-half and I'm stuck on the same lousy, thank-less part. Actually AH, the principal in the CRS, will probably let me play almost everything with him in that ball-breaker face-baker* of a piece!

Going back to NOI for a moment, this orchestra now counts two players from that summer's horn section among its own (and another has made the finals with them several times)! I guess I haven't lived up to expectations yet. I better get the lead out. Well gotta go teach!

*Boy was I wrong about this piece. It is great fun to play and there is plenty of rest. It isn't taxing at all. I guess I was just looking at the last page.

Monday, October 09, 2006

How do you cover your "ass" with your "assistant"?

I had another season opener last weekend, this time the QCS with CY. We played Hindemith's Mathis der Maler but, as so often happens on regional orchestra programs, we ended the first half with this dramatic work and ended the concert with the soloist on Saint-Saens 3rd Violin Concerto. Don't get me wrong, she played great. A huge, fantastic sound. But anything after that Hindemith is anti-climactic.

I played second horn on these concerts and the principal, MF, let the assistant, AG, play the concerto. I wonder how many of you horn players out there would use an assistant in this manner. From my experience it seems to be about fifty-fifty. Half use their assistant to cover the lesser work on the concert (in addition to being "assisted" on the heavier works) while the other half play everything themselves but are assisted on the heavier works. I think this is different in upper level orchestras where the associate principal covers the lesser work(s) on a concert and the utility or assistant fills in on third. I think letting the assistant play an entire work gets their chops nice and warm and lets them feel more like a contributing member. One thing is certain. Playing assistant sucks the bag no matter what kind of principal your playing for. I never play worse than when I'm assisting. It is tough to stay warm physically and mentally when you're watching most of the music go by. I try to stay in the game by fingering and breathing along with the part (though not distractingly so) and of course we mustn't forget the main roll of the assistant...counting rests! What do you all think?

On the audition front I was glad to hear back from the BSO about my CD. They accepted it again so I'll be flying to Boston at the end of the month. This time I'll be much more prepared (same list as last January) and I look forward to playing well on stage at Symphony Hall. I'm still waiting to hear about my CD from the Army. If they invite me to audition I'll fly to Fort Myers, VA two days after Boston. Plus I'll be squeezing in rehearsals for a QCS set that week. I hope the weather is good in and out of O'hare, Logan, and Moline!

One more season to kick-off here and then I'll be firing on all cylinders (well almost). The bad thing about having sets scheduled every week for months is when you get calls to play more lucrative gigs and have to turn them down. That has happened twice so far. I guess it is much better to be too busy and have to say no occasionally than to hope the phone rings every week!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A few things this traveling musician loves when on the road...

1) Gas for $1.89 a gallon! (Indianola, IA)

2) Driving three and a half hours and getting to a rehearsal twenty minutes early.

3) Engaging, interesting, attractive travel companions of the opposite sex.

4) Belting it out along with Ella Fitzgerald at 1 am.
4b) Belting it out along with Sinatra at 2 am.

5) Bucket o' pretzels and tub o' peanuts.

6) A rest stop right when you need one most.

7) Travel reimbursement.

8) Just missing driving through nasty weather.

9) NPR

10) Making it all the way home that night.

And a few things he hates.

1) Running out of gas ten miles outside of Indianola, IA.

2) Driving three and a half hours and getting to a rehearsal twenty minutes early without music.

3) Engaged, interesting, attractive travel companions of the opposite sex.

4) Dead iPod battery at 1 am.
4b) Dead car battery at 2 am.

5) Tic-tacs and water for dinner ("just one calorie").

6) A rest stop right after you needed it most.

7) Travel deimbursement.

8) Just missing other drivers through nasty weather.

9) NPR pledge drive week.

10) Hitching it all the way home that night.