Thursday, March 03, 2005

OK, I'm already expanding the definition of my blog. The next concert was neither "Bernstein Beat," nor was it on the road; it was "Extreme Orchestra," right here in NYC, in beautiful, sonorous Carnegie Hall.

In 2001, Mikey Barrett and I came up with "X-treme Ork" for the San Antonio Symphony, which had liked "Beat" so much that they wanted us to come back a year later with another one. Mike and I LOVE "X-treme Ork!" It began as an attempt to collect all the loudest, fastest music in the classical repertoire -- the stuff that made us jump up and down in our seats as kids -- so theoretically it would make a new batch of kids jump up and down too. But talking about loud and fast leads inevitably to talk of soft and slow, and gradually our script morphed into an exploration of tempo and dynamics -- all in the service of showing off the orchestra as a kind of collective super-athlete -- performing the athletics of beauty.

It worked GREAT in San Antonio. Larry Fried, who was running the orchestra down there at the time, was the one who stuck his neck out and commissioned the concert. I hope he was happy with the results. Mikey and I sure were; with Larry's and the San Antonio Symphony's help, we now had a second family concert to offer around. Last summer Mike and I did it at Caramoor with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, who are a crackerjack band and really showed themselves off beautifully in the fortissimi and prestissimi of Tchaik 4; the pianissimi and larghissimi of the Mahler 5 Adagietto; the prestissimi and pianissimi of Bernstein's scherzo from "Serenade;" and the fortissimi but larghissimi of the finale from Stravinsky's "Firebird." Did you get all that?

And on Feb. 19th, we did it with the St. Luke's again, in big, beautiful Carnegie Hall.

But we had an extra layer of complication.

To reel back for a moment... Way back in 2000, Mike and I went to Beijing, China, to do "Bernstein Beat' at the Beijing Music Festival. What an adventure! My sister Nina came along and filmed the whole experience. Then, six months later, we did "Bernstein Beat" in the most exciting place of all: Havana, Cuba. (Gee, we would have taken it to Albania, but they're not Communist any more. Maybe North Korea's interested...? ) Nina came along on that trip, too -- and between Beijing and Havana, she had some truly amazing footage. Ever since then, she's been trying to get the rest of her film made. Finally, four years later, she got the money from a German broadcaster to make the rest of her movie. But the one big thing missing from her film was any footage of "Bernstein Beat" in English, or in the U.S. She'd missed her chance to film us doing "Beat" in Carnegie Hall two years ago; she didn't have the money together yet, and filming in Carnegie Hall is a soberingly expensive undertaking. (Those STAGEHANDS!)

But hey: now she does have the money, and there we were going to Carnegie! True, we were doing a whole other concert, but she could shoot backstage footage at the rehearsal, and we could PRETEND we were rehearsing "Bernstein Beat" like we'd actually done in 2003...

And so that is what we did.

Time was short, and Mike was rehearsing as fast as he could on Saturday morning for our concert a couple of hours later. Meanwhile, every minute that I wasn't needed onstage, I'd run out to a corridor or a box or wherever Nina was setting up the shot -- and she'd hand me my "MAMBO!" sign and I'd follow instructions. It was all very exhausting, but I think she got what she needed.

As we were waiting in the wings to go onstage for the concert, the stage manager came up to me, touched my earrings and murmured, "Ted Muehling?"

A long, and I mean LONG way from my "Hah hah" Hah hah stage manager in Little Rock.


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