Mailbag: Readers Blog
Two readers recently wrote in about Washington-related musical stories beyond the Beltway.
Rick Goodfellow, of KLEF FM in Anchorage, Alaska, wrote in about the conductor "Randy Fleischer, who was the NSO associate conductor back in the Rostropovich days.
"Today Randy is conductor and music director here in Anchorage...He composes a bit, does amazing young people's concerts, and attracts audiences which are large and, judging from what I read, much younger than the national average.
"When the NSO came touring in Alaska [in 1992, as part of its American Residencies program] I was involved and I noted during the planning stages that the NSO staff kept talking about Randy. "Randy says this. Randy does that." I was so sick of hearing about Randy, especially since the man who was arguably the world's greatest living musician was the conductor. Then I saw Randy do a young people's concert. It was the first time I ever laid eyes on him. I remember that I as I sat down I said to myself, "Okay wonder boy, amaze me." He soon did. By the end of the concert I was saying to myself, "Why can't the Anchorage Symphony hire a conductor like this?" A few years later they did.
"The point isn't that Randy walks on water. He doesn't. But he proves each season that symphonies can be lively and vital and popular. Furthermore, I know from the guest conductors he selects that he is not unique. It can be done. It is being done. And one of the people doing it is a, NSO alum."
And reader David Ehrlich, of Washington, wrote about his experience performing the John Williams piece that was performed at Barack Obama's inauguration, "Air and Simple Gifts," at a workshop in North Carolina.
"Knowing of your interest in the piece when it first went around, I thought you (and perhaps some other readers) might enjoy hearing something of what is involved in putting it together for performance....
(read more after the jump)
"I (a pianist) had obtained the parts perhaps a month ago, but hadn’t started to work on it, and everyone on the university music faculty was delighted to learn that someone else (i.e., not one of them) was willing to undertake it.
"I consider myself a pretty ordinary pianist, and I was paired with three other similarly ordinary players — no superstars among us. As is always true of these workshops, I’d never played with any of the others, so we were meeting for the first time to work under a non-American (Belgian, actually) coach whose main instrument was the clarinet. (Promising, only if you think the clarinet had the most challenging part, which it doesn’t!)
"As it happened, our problem child was not the clarinet, but rather the cello. It was he who had by far the toughest row to hoe --- jumping all over three clefs, frequently two octaves and more. “I’m not Yo-Yo Ma,” the poor guy plaintively squeaked. And Yo-Yo he wasn’t. As we had five days in which to prepare the work for performance, our coach dismissed the rest of us halfway through the first session and tried to work with the cellist.
"What happened after that -- behind closed doors -- proved not to be successful. Alas — it ended with the coach tearing his hair and wondering how the poor guy had managed to talk his way into the workshop. And the cellist was ultimately not the only casualty of the first day.
"When we arrived the next morning a brand-new coach -- a pretty young Peabody student cellist -- had been substituted for the clarinet, and she took us in hand. Over the course of the next four days, we took the whole piece apart, frequently playing two parts at a time, and by Friday morning we felt we might perform it for the rest of the workshop (an audience of maybe 100) without having them all laugh at us or accuse of us hubris.
"O.K., let’s consider what is involved here. As Yo-Yo Ma indicated in your excellent Post piece, ceremonial performances are just that -- far too risky to play live on worldwide television, even if the temperature is more than 20 degrees. (We decided that the cold weather provided a convenient fig leaf for the quartet.)
"But the result was that nobody had ever heard it performed live and, unlike most of the rest of what was played that day in Chapel Hill, nobody knew what to expect. The only way the world ever heard it was prerecorded. And remember that this is merely four minutes long.
"The four of us paraded out on stage and tuned. The first chords sunk in, and suddenly our cello coach was Yo-Yo, our violin was Itzhak, and the clarinet and I were in it. Both she and I had our turn at the melody, and fortunately, it sounded just as it should --- simple. Our coach made nearly every one of those multiple octave leaps (or convinced us that she had). Although the temperature was quite moderate, we played as if we were cold and anxious to finish. And before we knew it, the four minutes were over. The triumphant last three chords were “where they ought to be,” and we realized that we’d done it.
"Should we have pre-recorded it? Heck, no. The piece was written warts and all and that’s the way we chose to play it. And -- the audience went wild. Would we do it again? No, let’s wait until we inaugurate a new president and let him pick it. No one has ever accused the piece of being great, but I think we all agreed that we liked the simple gifts better without the air!"
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