Monday, February 14, 2005

Hah hah the moon

I used to play this game with my "Bernstein Beat" gigs, which I can hardly play any more: I'd pretend I was in one of those old movies with the montage sequence, as the trumpet player/vaudeville troupe/opera star travels across the States, and the names of the towns are superimposed, one after the other, on top of the wheels of the railroad train steaming along full-tilt... San Francisco... Washington D.C. ... San Antonio ... chugga chugga chugga ... Buffalo ... Denver... but by now I get confused. It's just been too many "Bernstein Beats!" I've frozen the montage sequence cursor.

So I will roll back only as far as Little Rock, last October. In addition to "Beat," 4 singers and I had gone down there together to premiere another concert Michael Barrett and I had come up with: "Bernstein on Broadway," an evening of songs and orchestra excerpts from the various shows. It worked nicely to have the two concerts on the same weekend, as there was a lot of repeat material in the orchestral sections (On the Town, West Side Story), which made for less rehearsal.

Thurs Oct 7: It's POURING here in Li'l Rock. Kind of disappointing... Lizzie [the mezzo] and I had planned to gete pedicures at the mall!

My Arkansas Moment #1: The scruffy, tattooed stage manager, who stank of chewing tobacco, was checking my sound at the rehearsal. "Hah hah," he said. What? What was so funny? "Hah hah," he said again. Oh: HOW HIGH did I want the microphone stand to be positioned.

Sat Oct 9: The show last night went just great: if only more people had been there. Between the weather and the Presidential debate and some baseball playoff, well... it was a sparse and somewhat comatose crowd.

Arkansas Moment #2: After the Saturday night concert (which went even better but was still woefully underattended), there was a small get-together for a few orchestra supporters and the artists over at the bar of our hotel. One lady was telling me how excited they all were about the big gala they were planning for the following month. "And we're gonna have a salad auction!" she said. "Really?" I said, very interested. "You auction off salad?" "No, no -- a SAH-LENT auction!"

Sun Oct 10: "LB Beat" was not fun. I felt like I was working very hard in that cavernous auditorium, and my mic wire kept getting caught around my knee every time I sat down duting the musical interludes. I didn't like the way the clunky music stand they gave me obstructed the sight lines between me and parts of the audience up front. I kept worrying about it, but the stand was marked for lighting and the wire to its lamp (which is what made it clunky) was taped to the floor.

But things really fell apart toward the end. The conductor panicked; we were running too long. One SECOND over 50 minutes, and the whole orchestra tumbles into overtime. He bailed out of the Mambo before the Cha-cha. After "Cool," he told me to wrap it up quick, so I left out the whole end of the script and just did the last paragraph so there'd be time for "America." We ended two minutes before the orchestra turned into a pumpkin. I must have given everyone FITS.

Anyway I left Li'l Rock with the feeling that everyone had had quite enough of Bernstein, thank you very much. What they really wanted to think about was the opening of the Clinton Library -- the very next week.

Sun Oct 17 -- Today's concert was a study in contrast with a week ago. The Milwaukee Symphony was alert, engaged and cheerful; the Li'l Rockers seemed rather a dour bunch by comparison. The hall was bright and spiffy. My dressing room had its own bathroom. The backstage area was well-lit and pleasant. (Not like the dank, gray caverns underneath the stage in Li'l Rock. But that's the trade-off in those gigantic old-time halls.) Biggest contrast of all: the stage manager. As opposed to my "hah hah" redneck feller, she was an attractive, lean woman with a bright smile and an impeccable way of speaking. Toto, I have a feeling we're not in the Deep South any more.

Before the concert there was a fantastic bunch of activities for the kids out in the foyer. A guy was teaching conducting -- with brightly colored chiffon scarves instead of batons -- and there was a long table for drawing, another table with books for sale about music and dance, and best of all, some kids doing dancing demos: cha-cha, ballroom and salsa. They were enchanting, with their flashy costumes and perfect technique. They were really good, especially the boys. Where did they find them?! The younger one wore a spangled bolero jacket over a bare chest. The other boy -- neither of them could have been more than 10 or 11 -- was the hip-shakinest salsa dancer. After the concert, the salsa boy came up for an autograph. He was wearing a yarmulke. Gosh!!

In order to avoid the timing disaster of last week, we cut "Jeremiah" AND "Easily Assimilated." I like the concert at that length. It just FLIES.

The audience seemed to love it. Their "MAMBO!" was deafening.The musicians behind me were laughing. A lot of them came up to me with stories of LB, who conducted the Milwaukee Symphony in the late 80's -- must have been one of his last tours.

I HATE the news media. I got a big dose of CNN and MSNBC on these two weekends. The whole PABLUM of it... and the cookie cutter announcers with their careful hair and canned banter -- ugh. It's awfully hard to find the real meaning of what's going on amid all the claptrap. That's why Jon Stewart is so refreshing; he skewers the claptrap and reveals what's underneath. I want HIM for President.


At December 20, 2007 at 9:13 PM, Blogger henry raymont said...

This message for Jamie: Don't know if I need to repeat a previous message written perhaps before I 'signed in'. I wanted to connect with Jamie Bernstein. Wendy and I were friends of Lenny. I also knew Felicia from Chile and as Helena de Castro's room-mate. Lenny and Isaac Stern invited me to the inauguration of the Mann Auditorium which resulted in our living in Israel a year while I taught at Hebrew University while enjoying a Sabbatical from the New York Times. Now we live much of the year in Berlin where I teach and write books. Would love to hear from you. Cheers,
Henry Raymont


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