Sunday, February 20, 2005

Lefse 'n' Lutefisk

Well, it was exhausting to get there; the blizzard-weary streets delayed my car by 40 minutes, but when I got to the airport I discovered that my plane had left, for once, PUNCTUALLY on time -- and I MISSED IT!! The Northwest folks had to reroute me through Detroit... I don't know about this gigs-in-January business.

But what an amazing week I wound up having. After two student orchestras in a row, I was STUNNED to hear the Minnesota Orchestra. They're one of the great ensembles, no question. The Albany kids had four rehearsals; the Charlottesvile High School musicians rehearsed for six weeks. In less than an hour and a half, the Minnesota Orchestra had rehearsed all the music for the concert, and it sounded great -- even the Jeremiah excerpt, which is so difficult that both student orchestras had cut it from their programs. And Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis is one of the most resonant spaces I've ever heard -- a study in contrast with Avery Fisher Hall, which was designed by the same architect! Not only did this architect favor the Minneapolis hall with good acoustics; he also gave them these cool gigantic boxlikethings emerging from the back wall of the stage -- like sugar cubes on steroids.

The conductor, Mischa Santora, a distractingly good-looking young Swiss guy by way of Hungarian parents, ran an efficient rehearsal and drew a gorgeous sound out of the musicians. Like Helen Cha-Pyo, he's worth keeping an eye on.

We played six concerts over the course of the week. The first four, two on Wednesday morning and two on Thursday morning, were for school groups. They have a fantastic committee there that raises money for buses to bring the school groups to concerts several times a year. They filled that enormous hall to the rafters, four times! The students were lively, attentive, polite and engaged: model citizens. And when I asked them to yell "MAMBO!", I never heard such a roar. Some of the violinists were covering their ears. The hall acoustics helped, I think, to make the sound absolutely enormous.

After one of the concerts, there was a reception for the committee that bused in the students. I told them they were doing the Lord's work. One of the ladies on the committee told me that when she was 12, she was a huge Bernstein fan. She said she'd recently discovered, in her attic, a drawing she'd made at that age, of ladies in fancy outfits -- the sorts of drawings 12-year-old girls love to make. At the top of the drawing she'd written: "Spring Wardrobe for Mrs. Bernstein." I was enchanted!

Toward the end of my script, I talk about how connected all world beats are; all complex rhythms can be broken down into 2- and 3-beat bundles: call them hot dogs and hamburgers -- or sushi and sashimi, or mangos and platanos... and a violinist in the orchestra, David Wright, offered the addition of "lefse and lutefisk," some Minnesota specialities of questionable deliciousness. I got a big laugh every time I said it. I plan to send Mr. Wright a "royalty" check of 5 bucks.

The sound guys supplied me with one of those modern, tiny wireless microphones that fit around the ear and rest against one's cheek just to the side of the mouth. Very Madonna. In order for the earpiece not to slide around, the sound guy has to tape down the wire that leads down to the battery pack. The most secure place for the tape is at the back of the neck, that very vulnerable area where the hairline ends. Inevitably a few hairs get stuck under the tape and it's not fun pulling the tape off after the concert. Before the third concert, the sound guys arrived in my dressing room to attach the microphone. "So, are you ready for your mic?" they asked cheerfully -- and then I noticed they were brandishing a giant roll of gaffer's tape and a staple gun! Funny guys.

The Minnesota Orchestra members were particularly friendly, and highly engaged in the concert. They really loved playing it -- even six times. I was very touched by their involvement. So many of them came up to tell of their Bernstein-related experiences. One violinist told me that she'd been playing in the St. Luke's Orchestra when Michael Barrett and I did "Bernstein Beat" at Carnegie Hall two years ago. She said she'd been terribly distracted during the concert, because all she could think about was her audition the very next day -- for the Minnesota Orchestra.

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