musings of a professional bassoonist

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ice Cream Inspired by The Rite of Spring



photo of absinthe + meringues from Jenis.com


One of the distinct advantages of living in Columbus, Ohio is that it happens to be the home of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a very successful nationally-renowned company dedicated to making the best ice creams possible using grass-grazed cream and an amazing array of flavoring ingredients.  No matter where you are in Columbus, you may rest assured that there is a Jeni's within a 5-mile radius.  (Luckily for me, there are two within walking distance of my house!)

How fortunate for the Columbus Symphony that Jeni's founder Jeni Britton Bauer, after speaking with our principal tympanist Ben Ramirez, decided to honor the symphony's upcoming performance of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with a special flavor inspired by the event! 

The flavor is called Absinthe + Meringues, and this is the review of someone who has tasted it:: "Absinthe + Meringue... my first bite triggered Proustian memories of fin de sicle Paris, of flaneurs and a belle epoque. C'est magnifique!! It's just that good...."

An excerpt from Aaron Beck's blog (from Jeni's website) explains more about the fascinating flavor:
"Absinthe + Meringues will send you right back to the debut of The Rite of Spring on May 29, 1913, in Paris. Its foundation is grass-grazed Snowville cream and milk softly scented with absinthe, the once-outlawed libation and anise-based botanical spirit known as the Green Fairy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Throughout the clean, crisp, and refreshing ice cream are tiny little crisp, sweet, and airy meringues.

The absinthe-laced cream—green like spring foliage and grass—represents the wild side, the artists, the bohemians—enthusiastic imbibers of the Green Fairy at the time. Matcha—finely powdered green tea—gives the ice cream its lovely pale green, spring-like hue, and crisp finish.

The precisely-made meringues represent the traditions of the prim and proper and intolerant-to-change upper class audience of 1913 Paris. The meringues are hand-piped sugared egg whites dried in the oven until they are crispy and cloud-like white, and under the weight of the absinthe ice cream they are crushed and morphed into new forms.

In 1913, The Rite of Spring was a story of life as never told before through music and dance. The work—with envelope-pushing choreography by dancer Vaslav Nijinsky—dealt not with the usual “swans and tutus and elevation,” but “ugly earthbound lurching and stomping.“ The result: fist fights and jeers in the hall, a dent in Stravinsky’s reputation, and the world of traditional music and dance turned on its head.

Absinthe + Meringues won’t likely inspire near riots in the halls and streets, but it definitely will take you back to an exciting era when seismic cultural shifts were afoot."

Jeni's team even created a video heralding the new linited edition flavor:

 
Absinthe + Meringues from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams on Vimeo.


WOW!   Jeni's Rite of Spring project is a fine example of creativity in the combination of art forms, don't you think?  The Columbus Symphony musicians are eagerly awaiting our first sampling of the flavor.............how about you?  If  you are out of range of Jeni's stores, you can order some on Jeni's website!

Thank you, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, for this incredible display of support for your local arts organizations, specifically the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and BalletMet! 

photo of absinthe + meringues from Jenis.com


Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring will be performed on March 22, 23 and 24 in the Ohio Theatre conducted by our Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni:

Masterworks 10:

The Rite of Spring

2012-13 Masterworks Series
The Columbus Symphony and BalletMet perform on the same stage to welcome spring with Igor Stravinsky's earth-shaking, riot-inducing recreation of prehistoric pagan rituals, The Rite of Spring. The work celebrates its 100th anniversary of the premiere in Paris on May 29, 2013. One hundred years later, this masterpiece still thrills and captures our imagination with its revolutionary sounds.
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
BalletMet
Program:
DEBUSSY Syrinx
DEBUSSY Prélude à "l'Après-midi d'un faune" (Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun")
RAVEL Rapsodie espagnole
STRAVINSKY Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)
Rite of Spring
Venue: Ohio Theatre
Friday
Mar. 22, 2013 - 8 pm


Saturday
Mar. 23, 2013 - 8 pm


Sunday
Mar. 24, 2013 - 3 pm


Masterworks Series Sponsor:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde


Gustav Mahler

When he began writing Das Lied von der Erde in 1908, Mahler had recently experienced the 3 blows of fate which had been foretold in his Symphony No. 6:  he had lost his post as director of the Vienna Opera, his 5 year old daughter had died of scarlet fever, and he had been diagnosed with a fatal heart condition.  In July 1908 as he worked on Das Lied, he wrote to his confidant Bruno Walter:

If I am to find my way back to myself, I have got to accept the horrors of loneliness, since you do not know what has gone on and is going on within me. It is, assuredly, no hypochondriac fear of death, as you suppose. I have long known that I have got to die. . . . Without trying to explain or describe something for which there probably are no words, I simply say that with a single fell stroke I have lost any calm and peace of mind I ever achieved. I stand vis-à-vie de rien , and now, at the end of my life, have to begin to learn to walk and stand.
Each of the 6 movements is an independent song, beginning with Drinking Song of Earth's Misery and ending with Farewell. Chinese poems (loosely translated into German by Hans Bethge) were the source of the text for this symphony/song cycle with 2 vocal soloists: mezzo (or baritone) and tenor.  Mahler called this work a symphony, although he did not number it, perhaps due to superstition about composers not living past their 9th symphonies.  (Das Lied was written after Symphony No.8.)  Bruno Walter called Das Lied  "the most personal utterance among Mahler's creations, and perhaps in all music."

Although Mahler's score calls for a large orchestra, much of the writing in Das Lied is transparent.  Only the first, fourth and sixth songs call for the entire orchestra to play at once.  Some passages in Das Lied are more like chamber music, with only a few instruments playing at a time.

Additionally, Das Lied has been successfully arranged for smaller ensembles, most notably by Glen Cortese (2006) and Arnold Schoenberg (begun in 1920 and completed by Rainer Riehn in 1983).

Mahler is one of those composers who had a tendency to extend the limits of his musicians and their instruments.  He wrote for the bassoon as though it's an easy instrument to control in low-pitched ppp passages and to play in tune during section unisons on both ends of the instrument.  He's famous among bassoonists for writing outlandish trills, some of which are downright impossible. He called upon the bassoons for many different purposes, from mournful to mocking.  Mahler probably made each of us better bassoonists by pushing us thus.

Many Das Lied bassoon passages are rather exposed, even in the original full orchestra version. One example may be found at 15 in the 2nd movement (Der Einsame im Herbst - The Lonely One in Autumn) where the bassoon plays with only the violins at first. before the oboe enters:


But the main bassoon solo of Das Lied occurs in the 6th movement:


I think it's a good idea to attempt to really understand who Mahler was in order to prepare for performing his works.  Last Sunday the Columbus Symphony presented a private showing of a film about Mahler (Mahler auf der Couch) for the musicians and ticket-holders for this coming weekend's Columbus Symphony performance of Das Lied von der Erde.

mahler_poster


This fascinating film explored Mahler's marital drama which resulted in his 1910 session with psychoanalysist Sigmund Freud. Of course, the sound track was to die for (from his 4th, 5th and 10th symphonies).  I learned a few things about Mahler from this film.  For example, I guess I should be embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize that during his lifetime, Mahler was better known for his conducting than for his composing! 

As soon as I returned home from the movie I began researching Mahler's wife Alma and Mahler's famous meeting with Freud.  There's really not much known about the details of that meeting, aside from a few clues from Alma.  We do know that Mahler's childhood was quite tragic, and it's safe to assume that this was discussed.  Mahler's parents bore 12 children, yet only 6 survived beyond infancy, and Mahler's favorite sibling, a younger brother, died in Mahler's arms at age 13.  His parents fought bitterly and brutally.  During one of their fights, young Gustav Mahler ran out into the street where he came upon an organ grinder playing merrily.  This juxtaposition of emotions is key to understanding Mahler's music.

If you live anywhere near Columbus, Ohio, by all means come and hear this weekend's performances of the incomparable Das Lied von der Erde conducted by our Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni and featuring two out-of-this-world soloists: Sasha Cooke, mezzo and Anthony Dean Griffey, tenor.  (We rehearsed with the soloists this morning and were absolutely blown away by them!)


Masterworks 8:

Song of the Earth

2012-13 Masterworks Series
Lead by CSO Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni and featuring guest vocalists Sasha Cooke and Anthony Dean Griffey, this rapturous program includes one of the Romantic era's most definitive compositions, Tchaikovsky's moving String Serenade, written as an homage to Mozart, and concludes with Cortese's orchestration of Mahler's infinitely ingenious combination of song cycle and symphony, The Song of the Earth.
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
Sasha Cooke, mezzo
Anthony Dean Griffey, tenor
Program:
TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade in C Major for Strings
MAHLER/CORTESE Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth")
Song of the Earth
Venue: Ohio Theatre
Friday
Feb. 22, 2013 - 8 pm


Saturday
Feb. 23, 2013 - 8 pm
Masterworks Series Sponsor:

Get tickets to this weekend's concerts for just $15! Just use the code EARTH when you order through Ticketmaster.com or the CAPA Ticket Center (39 E. State Street/ 614.228.8600).




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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Minute to Win It (bassoon-specific audition tips)

About imageA couple of years ago there was a TV show entitled Minute to Win It in which contestants were given 60 seconds to perform ridiculous, outrageous feats for the chance to win a million dollars.  Maybe the concept is not all that different from what we bassoonists go through to win auditions......certainly most audition candidates are given a bit more than one minute to prove themselves, but not much more.  Most candidates do not advance beyond the preliminary round, which often lasts just a few short minutes for each candidate (after countless hours of preparation!).

My former teacher K. David Van Hoesen told me recently that "back in the day", orchestral auditions were very different from the way they are now.  Bassoonists were invited to play for the conductor and maybe a couple of orchestra members.  In stark contrast to today's staggeringly lengthy audition repertoire lists, there was NO list of required repertoire.  There was no official announcement of job openings - auditions were held by invitation only, so anyone who wanted a job had to be already known.  The candidate would show up in a hotel room or at a hall and play whatever the conductor asked for from memory.  That's right - there was no printed music.  And there were no restrictions on what the conductor might ask to hear.

These days, orchestras must figure out ways to handle very large numbers of audition candidates. It's not unusual for auditionees to be sent to a large mass warm-up room upon arrival at the audition site.  It can be baffling, especially for stressed-out auditionees, to figure out the best possible use of time in that situation.  It might be difficult to hear oneself because of the number of bassoonists playing, yet it can also be daunting to expose oneself in front of competitors if there happens to be a moment in which the others stop playing.  Unless you have a very clear mission to accomplish in the mass warm-up room (such as running through your usual warm-up routine, or testing reeds) then it might be best to just sit calmly in (or outside of) the room.

Next, each candidate may be offered 10 minutes in a private room, at which time the excerpts to be performed will be identified.  At this point there is a fork in the road.  If you plan to use your own music, then you must spend/waste valuable minutes frantically sorting through pages and pages of repertoire to get to the required material, and you may even have to mark the specific measures in your part.  If, on the other hand, you have chosen to use the orchestra's provided parts which will be set up on stage, then all you have to do is briefly and efficiently prepare yourself for each excerpt to be performed.  For example, if the Marriage of Figaro Overture is one of the excerpts to be heard, maybe you'd calmly, quietly and slowly play the first few measures.  The real preparation has been completed by now, so you are just offering yourself brief reminders.

Chances are, you have memorized each excerpt, and it's possible that you typically play those excerpts with your eyes closed.  Why, then, do so many of us insist upon using our own parts during auditions?  For those who are particularly visually oriented, it may be disconcerting to see a different edition on the stand at an audition.  If you are that way, then it makes sense to use your own music.  The fact of the matter is that during the audition, most of us probably do look at the music, even for memorized excerpts.  Try to figure out in advance if  you will come undone at the sight of a part which is laid out differently from the one you are accustomed to.  Have you ever practiced at home using your own part and then used a visually different part during rehearsals?  Did that faze you?  Make your decision for auditions based upon your tendency.

When you are summoned to go onstage, if you have elected to use your own parts, you must juggle your music along with your reeds, water, bassoon and seat strap.  If you are nervous enough, there is a chance of dropping/dumping at least one of those items, and hopefully it won't be the bassoon.

One you have arrived at your chair onstage, each second matters.  Speaking from the perspective of an audition committee member, I can say that the committees are sometimes bored and tired.  It's not easy to remain alert for hours on end to fairly evaluate potential new orchestra members.  Because of that, it's advisable to move at a reasonable pace rather than taking too much time.  But don't rush yourself through your excerpts!  It can be challenging to find the right pacing, and that's where experience (auditioning experience) can prove to be valuable.  It's not unusual to hear about musicians who took 50 or 60 auditions before finally winning.  (Imagine the cost of taking that many auditions!)

Should you play a few warm up notes or not?  The answer is that you must decide well in advance.  Some audition winners do not play any warm-up notes before beginning their excepts, and some do.  If  you decide that you will, then by all means PLAN your warm up, make sure it sounds good, and do not stray from that plan.  

If you are planning to switch reeds at any point, have the reeds ready (soaked and wrapped in damp paper towel, for example).  Of course, it's ideal to use the same reed for each excerpt, but here's one example of how playing an audition is very different from actually doing the job.  On the job, for example, I would definitely have a special reed (one with a 100% reliable low E) for the opening of Tchaikowsky Symphony No. 6.  And I'd have a high reed for the Rite of Spring.  Reed needs vary from player to player depending upon reed style and the characteristics of the specific bassoon, but for me, specialized reeds for high or low solos are best.  Yet I will be the first to admit that for an audition, it's somewhat preferable NOT to switch reeds, since switching is risky and time-consuming.

And what about the perennial question of  whether or not to take a beta blocker such as Inderal?  Many musicians believe that usage of Inderal in small dosages can reduce the anxiety associated with taking an audition.  Nervousness will still be present, but anxiety will potentially be reduced.  Some musicians report a decline in the emotional aspect of their playing while on Inderal - that may be a stiff price to pay for the reduction of anxiety, and that's why each individual must decide for him/herself.

I do believe that anyone taking an audition would benefit from some sort of stress reduction technique.   Deep breathing is particularly beneficial to wind players because our breathing is constricted by nervousness.  There are many deep breathing exercises which may benefit us, such as the one presented in this video:



As bassoonists, we have additional worries associated with air travel.  Many of us, myself included, have experienced the nightmare of being told upon boarding an aircraft that we may not carry on our bassoons.  This problem is more common these days with many flights being booked to capacity, thus reducing the amount of available overhead storage space available to each passenger.

There are ways to reduce your chances of being stopped from carrying on your bassoon.  If you're lucky enough to be flying on Southwest Airlines, you have the option of paying a nominal additional fee for early boarding.  That ensures that you will gain access to overhead space.  On other airlines there may also be ways to ensure earlier boarding.  On Delta, for example, some flights offer Priority Boarding for a fee, which ensures access to overhead storage. 

Be sure to check on the size of the aircraft before you purchase a ticket.  Smaller planes do not allow ANY carry-ons!  Also, limit your carry-on to your bassoon - if you attempt to carry on another item as well, you are reducing your chances of carrying on the bassoon.  This probably  means you will pay a fee to check a bag, but all of these extra fees pale by comparison to the price you'd likely pay, monetarily and otherwise, as a result of your bassoon being placed in cargo!

There is one very  important factor which we bassoonists must consider which other musicians don't have to worry about for auditions.  If you are traveling to another area for the audition, which is nearly always the case, then your reeds will be different at the audition site.  It's best if your schedule allows enough time to arrive in the audition city with adequate time before the audition to test and adjust  your reeds.

Of  course, this leads to the next problem we bassoonists face.  If you fly to your audition, don't try to carry on your reed-making tools!   The TSA does allow sheathed knives in checked baggage.  However, the TSA warns that "It’s important to know that even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns. The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane."  In other words, there's no guarantee that your reed knife will make it through the screening process.

There are many valuable books written about how to ace an audition, and there are numerous successful  audition coaches offering their services. (Don Greene is one of the best-known.)  But bassoonists face extra challenges well beyond the norm of an already overwhelmingly stressful undertaking!

Good luck to each of you who face future auditions.  In spite of everything brought up in this post, somebody will win the audition.  It may as well be you!




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