Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Wizard of Oz

Symphony orchestras these days must explore new ways to attract audiences and stir public support.  Here in Columbus we've performed shows such as "Barbie," "Video Games Live." and "Lord of the Rings."  This week, our venture into the realm of the experimental continues with the original 1939 classic film "The Wizard of Oz."  The instrumental music has been removed from the sound track, and the Columbus Symphony will perform it live tonight while the movie is projected onto a large screen onstage above the orchestra.  Here's a brief description of the Symphonic Night at the Movies event from the Columbus Dispatch. I am amazed at conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos' ability to keep the orchestra coordinated with the film.  Read Columbus Symphony horn player Julia Rose's description of what it was like to play along with a movie.

I am equally amazed by the level of difficulty of the film score.  I have a newfound appreciation for the work of bassoonists such as Norman Herzberg and Don Christlieb who were famous for their movie studio recording in Los Angeles during past decades.  I have heard stories of the studio musicians being expected to sight-read the rehearsal (the one and only rehearsal!) just before recording began!  To add to the excitement, apparently the music was often re-written on the spot!  Clearly, those studio musicians were superb sight readers with outstandingly reliable technique. Norman Herzberg was famous for teaching his bassoon students how to develop that sort of technique.

Unlike the L.A. studio musicians who originally performed this music, I had the luxury of being able to obtain my Wizard of Oz part in advance of the two rehearsals.  Still, I ended up being surprised by the number of very exposed bassoon licks, many of which are very tricky.  On top of that, we have to be extremely nimble, following the conductor who is at the mercy of the twists and turns of the yellow brick road.

My part was full of challenges; I'll point out a few here.  One of the most challenging passages I've played in a long time accompanied Toto bringing good news (albeit bad news for the bassoonist):
It doesn't look terribly daunting at first glance, does it?  Hah.  It's in two, and the tempo is fast- so fast that I'm using the short F#3 fingering, which I rarely resort to:
Although the passage is tongued, the tonguing is not the problem- the fingerings are the problem.  Most of my early practice time on this was done without the tongue, slurring everything. I'm hoping that will pay off during tonight's performance.

In the above passage, you can see that I wrote in the 2 subsequent notes at the end of measure 32.  I often do that when a challenging passage is continued on the next line and the notes on the next line are not intuitive or not part of an obvious pattern.

Here's an example of one of the unusual solos which require the bassoonist to be on high alert for the conductor's sudden launch out of a fermata.  As you can see, I decided to employ my oft-used technique of writing the passage at the top of the page to increase my chances of being with the conductor (this passage actually appears in the worst possible location: the bottom of the page):

During yesterday morning's rehearsal I found myself accidentally repeating a line, which sometimes occurs when 2 or more lines look similar on the page.  Whenever that happens, I automatically employ the technique taught to me by Ryohei Nakagawa: I draw a geometric shape at the end of one line and repeat it at the beginning of the next line.  Then I use a different shape for the end of that line, corresponding to the same shape at the beginning of the next line.  It never fails to solve the problem:

Although the 1st bassoonist is sure to be wiped out by the time the end of the movie is on the horizon, this totally exposed solo appears on page 49 of the bassoon part:
There is a ritard printed, but it doesn't happen!  The bassoonist has to barrel down to low Bflat on a reed which just moments earlier had to pop out solos in the bassoon's stratosphere.  I think the title of this number has a typo; it should be called "Bassoon Ascension" or maybe "Bassoon Descension."

P.S.(next day)  Last night's Symphonic Night at the Movies was a huge success, with a packed hall and a very appreciative audience. Read the rave review from the Columbus Dispatch.


Bret said...

Love your score preparation techniques! Moving a line to the top of the page, and especially the trick with the shapes. Thanks for sharing these.

B.S. said...

Dear Bret,

Thanks for your kind words!


T.B. said...

Did he really write "dopey"?

I was just happy to be there! It was WONDERFUL to see you!!!!

There's no place like home... There's no place like home...

T.B. said...

P.S. I solved my own riddle - the window has been liberated from the confines of City Center cement block.

B.S. said...

Dear T.B.,

I was very glad to see you and your family too! I'm glad that you are implying that you consider Columbus "home" because it increases the likelihood that you'll move back here despite the infinite enticements of NYC.....


T.B. said...

Without a doubt. This morning I tried for 45 minutes to find a parking place at the post office to pick up my mail, and finally gave up. I'm asking my neighbors to pick up my mail next time, LOL.

I really do love Columbus. It is such a shame that they've created that eyesore behind the theater. But it was such a pleasure to hear the CSO this weekend, even if it was "just" the Oz soundtrack! I wish people in Columbus appreciated how special the CSO is. They just don't get it.

B.S. said...

If you have any ideas regarding how to inform the Columbus public about their orchestra, please let me know.

And you'll be pleased to hear that the eyesore behind the Ohio Theatre is going to be a park, with a concert shell!


T.B. said...

A concert shell, cool. I hadn't heard that. Wonder who will manage the concert schedule for that?

*sigh* I wish I had the answers. The size of the crowd Saturday night shows that things that appeal to people's sense of nostalgia, like Oz with Orchestra, are a great marketing strategy. People want to share that stuff with their kids. I bet they would have packed the house with a Sunday matinee. I imagine they needed to determine if there was interest to begin with.

In my opinion, a big problem is the deafening silence of the mayor, Chamber of Commerce, Franklin County Commissioners, etc., who should be ACTIVELY promoting the CSO to the residents of the city itself. I am not my any means advocating doing so to the detriment of other arts organizations, but a symphony orchestra is the cornerstone of any community's arts culture. But I am preaching to the choir...

T.B. said...

P.S. Could you imagine playing along to Fantasia? Oh my gosh, the collective groan... I first heard the soundtrack in high school, and when I later realized that considerable liberty had been taken in arranging the pieces for the Fantasia score, I felt a bit taken!

B.S. said...

I think Fantasia is a great idea! I wonder if the original score still exists. (Oz had to be reconstructed.) The matinee idea would have worked well also. Nostalgia does seem to sell, especially when it has a new twist like a live orchestra. All of your ideas and observations are right on the money.