The last time Nicholas McGegan guest conducted the Columbus Symphony, there were no bassoon parts. I knew I had really missed out, judging from the buzz amongst the musicians following that experience.
Well, this time around I was lucky. Each piece on the program called for 2 bassoons:
Rameau: Selections from DardanausMcGegan, an advocate of early music and longtime Music Director of San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque, has been called the sunniest conductor in classical music. Indeed, he was absolutely beaming throughout his week in Columbus. I'd go so far as to say that he's one of the sunniest human beings I've ever encountered.
J.C. Bach: Sinfonia Concertante in C Major for Flute, Oboe, Violin, and Cello, W C 343
Mozart: Chaconne from Idomeneo, K. 367
Haydn: Symphony No. 103 in E-Flat Major, Drumroll
The McGegan effect pervaded the orchestra. Even the most glum among us began to lighten up and crack a smile now and then. His humor was irresistible, as demonstrated by this McGegan quote about dining with composers from WOSU's Christopher Purdy's blog post:
“Were I to invite composers to dinner at the same time, there are certain composers you really wouldn’t want at the table. Wagner would have been absolutely awful, he’d have only talked about himself. Bruckner probably would have prayed all the time, nothing wrong with that but you wouldn’t want it for dinner. Mozart would have been nice, he would have probably thrown bread rolls at the pretty girls, but that would have been okay. Mendelssohn would have been wonderful, and he could have answered your questions in any language. But Haydn would be the ultimate dinner guest. Handel of course would have just eaten your food as well as his, and Bach would have wanted more beer.”Imagine those words spoken with a British accent, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the sort of entertainment the musicians enjoyed this past week. One memorable story he told was of Haydn's wife - apparently the irreverent woman tore off pages from Haydn's scores to use as hair curlers!
You can hear his accent for yourself in this impromptu interview by Columbus Symphony principal clarinetist David Thomas:
The orchestral parts had been carefully marked in advance by Maestro McGegan, which helped immensely in our efforts to summon the Baroque style using modern instruments. None of the repertoire had been previously performed by the Columbus Symphony as far as I know, so we lacked the benefit of familiarity. But McGegan's ultra expressive conducting left no doubt in our minds regarding what effect or nuance he was seeking at any given moment. Sometimes, for example, he just shrugged his shoulders and waved us off with his hands, and we knew exactly what he wanted. He even used appropriate facial expressions to help us keep track of confusing repeats and DCs, as if willing us to succeed!
Standards were high, and we were challenged, but we immensely enjoyed our Baroque adventure. I definitely hope for bassoon parts the next time Nicholas McGegan comes to town.