Sunday, October 15, 2017

OUT OF THIS WORLD - new music


Last Wednesday night, October 11, 2017, I played four new works for bassoon and strings and percussion with my Out of This World Orchestra.   Two of the works were written for me and I am connected to all of the composers. 

The intense main concerto, Apollo X, composed by Paul Frehner for me and Orchestra London in 2013, has three movements inspired by various popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s that were, in turn, inspired by the Apollo space program and the race to put a man on the moon. Extended virtuosic passages of rhythmic precision and complexity, contrasted with some harmonics and Berio trills along with mysterious floating textures from the strings and percussion.  It is a very absorbing piece to play and it is surprising and beautiful to hear.


The contrapuntal layering of Patricia Morehead’s Come Dance With Me the Dance of Life was inspired both by the composer’s love of dance and by Nina Corwin’s dark, mad-scene poem, Salome Gives Seven Explanations for a Kiss. With rehearsal, clarity emerged from the complex lines and this piece really grew on me.

These energetic, really new-sounding works contrasted with two short, very lyrical works, which were a new arrangement of BernardGarfield’s Soliloquy… the much-loved brief tone poem originally for piano & bassoon, sounding kind of like an upscale gymnopedie with lots of emotive and harmonic variety in the brief minute that it takes to play, and the premiere of Mathieu Lussier’sfloating, soaring, humane Song of Love and Sorrow, a piece that he created and sent to me the day after my father died in February, 2017.

Paul Frehner, composer of Apollo X, also was our conductor and we had two rehearsals for this program.  The first rehearsal was at Bloor Street United Church as it was impossible for me to get rehearsal space in either the University of Toronto or the Royal Conservatory of Music, the two places I teach in Toronto.  I rented the airy, chapel-like room on the top floor of the seen-better-days-grande-dame church, and we hauled up 12 stands and  a vibraphone, marimba, 2 triangles: high, slightly lower sistrum, 2 gong, medium tam tam, medium orchestral bass drum. My former student, Megan Morris, came to help and Paul Frehner also helped carry instruments, saying quietly that only now did he realize fully just how many instruments he had written for! I carried up my bassoon, amplifier, and all the attendant electrical equipment.  The genial caretaker of the church found an extension cord for me.  As this group performs standing, the set up is quite simple.  The first 90 minutes were devoted to Apollo X, then the percussion equipment was packed up, hauled downstairs by more musicians this time, then we had another hour to start sorting out the multi-modal Come Dance With Me.

All of the musicians in our group have busy lives.  I was in the midst of John Williams week with the Toronto Symphony, playing four sold-out shows of all the famous film scores, from Jaws to Harry Potter, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and much more… the superb conductor (Steven Reinecke) channeled the  energy of the crowds, and the echoes of their cries (over 10,000 people roared their approval of those 4 shows) echoed later in my mind as I poured my energy into presenting new music  for bassoon, strings and percussion.  I also thought about it when I had to decline the invitation to play second bassoon in the Harry Potter extravaganza because it conflicted with my self-presented concerto night.

Our second rehearsal was on October 10 and in Heliconian Hall where we would be performing.  Our group is too big to fit on the small stage, so we set up in the middle of the hall.  I arrived two hours before the rehearsal began so that I could set up stands and meet the delivery company that was bringing the percussion equipment.  Our second rehearsal began to take shape. The string players are excellent and are effective at floating useful ideas; we are all used to working very quickly under less than ideal conditions.

The players are young, resourceful professionals with a ton of energy and focus… Bijan Sepanji, Jennifer Murphy, Jeremy Potts, Sang Kyun(Steve) Koh, Alex McLeod, Laila Zakzook, Brian Lu, Brian Holt, Joe Phillips and Mark Duggan.  All have established their own chamber groups and are intensely aware of the work that goes into self-presented projects.  I can count on them.  Composer and conductor Paul Frehner is a respected professor at the University of Western Ontario, and was truly supportive of this effort.  Despite all the experience and skill that we possess, if a genie jumped out of a bottle, one of my first requests would be for funding for more rehearsal time.

I was fighting a cold, and spent the evening in my hotel room, working on the concert program.  To save money, I am now doing all the graphics and advertising for my project which is a fairly steep learning curve. Trial and error, plus Canva and Create Booklet are all helping, but the night before the show, I set the program up on full-sized pages, uploaded to DropBox and went to bed.


On the concert day, I packed all my gear and spent the morning printing the programs, then got lunch and went to the hall three hours early to set up the music stands (Joe Phillips helped me), move the percussion instruments into place (Paul Frehner and Joe Phillips helped), get makeup slathered on (because Rob diVito was filming the concert and photographers Bo and Yan Huang were coming to capture a publicity photo) and into my new silver and black leather T shirt, shiny black leather pants and my blue faux cowboy boots (it is a show, after all) because our soundcheck went 

from 5:00 to 6:30 and the show started at 7:00.  We covered all the pieces in a 90 minute sound check.  My merch volunteers, Reshawn Walcott and James St Fleur, arrived straight from school while we were rehearsing and set up the CD table; my ticket person Kristin Day arrived just before the show started… all of this part is very important and it helps so much to have people who know how to run the business end of the event.  This is an area where I could use much more help in the days leading up to the shows, and is an aspect that needs to be rehearsed to run smoothly.

Right before the concert started, something went mysteriously wrong with my equipment (Apollo X is meant to be amplified)… after testing every component (batteries, microphones, amp and preamp), I decided to pretend it was fine but we suspected the preamp was shot.  I remained hooked up to everything and maybe that gave me the confidence to be totally audible, at least, while playing the bassoon.  My speaking voice was reduced to a husky squeak by laryngitis so the audience had to really lean in to hear me.  Joe Phillips offered to lip read and try to anticipate/guess my next comment.  Bijan stood beside me, ready to take over, but I croaked on.

We opened the concert with Bernard Garfield’s Soliloquy, in Kevin Harris’ arrangement for strings and bassoon.  A compact, musically spacious work that goes from suspended, languid beauty to agitated passion and back to floating  in eternity, all in a very short time span , it has long been a favourite of bassoonists in the piano/bassoon version.  When I studied with Mr Garfield at the Curtis Institute, he always passed on new music by other composers, rarely pushed his own music to us.  He was a wonderful teacher and I sent two of my former students to study with him at Curtis (Julia Lockhart & Alex Eastley)  He still writes to me at the age of 91, full of interest in life and music.

Composer Patricia Moreland spoke a little before we played her vertiginous, single movement work, Come Dance With Me the Dance of Life.  Patricia studied dance for a decade with Royal Winnipeg Ballet before her heavy-duty career as an oboist, composer and professor. She talked about her love of counterpoint and how grateful she was for a second performance of this work (it had been premiered in New York with one rehearsal) and grateful to Paul Frehner for continuing to help edit.  It twists my heart when composers speak of this particular gratitude… broader recognition of the value of original creative work takes a long time.

Then we played the propulsive, energetic Apollo X albeit with a lot of intently focused gazes and, in my case, furrowed brow.  I love the vast shifts in textures in this piece, and the titles of the movements (Ten, Nine, Eight…, Secret Oh Secret and Giant Steps).  This will be the main work on my next Canadian Concerto Project and I want to play it many more times.  It is an out-of-this-world experience to play original pieces with the composer conducting and this was the third time that I’ve had that privilege (previously, Silver Angel with Constantine Caravassilis conducting; Double Concerto & Bacchanale with Mathieu Lussier conducting).

Before the last work, I had each of the performers tell the audience about their next concerts, and I felt so proud to hear of the range of concerts, from violin and viola duets at the library, to quartet concerts, to the massive Vivier extravaganza with Esprit.

We ended with Mathieu Lussier’s exquisite Song of Love and Sorrow.

After the show, we visited with the audience.  There were remarkable people in our small audience, including composer Michael Colgrass and his lovely wife Ulla.  And composer Adam Scime.  Adam wrote a concerto for me in 2011 and Michael is being commissioned by SUNY Fredonia to write a concerto for me with wind ensemble.  Because of my obvious cold, Michael told me an amazing story about touring Spain with American Ballet Theatre and watching Erich Barn dance the Black Swan pas de deux night after night with a cold and no sleep. Michael said that I should feel confident I could do anything, and I tried to avoid hugging him too much.

Steve Koh packed up all the stands, James and Reshawn packed merchandise, signs, equipment and the tiny stack of dollars. I barked (well, croaked and waved) at anyone who approached my gear (still learning to trust). We waited for the cartage company to arrive to pack and haul the percussion equipment, then I did a last sweep of the hall, turning out all the lights, closing doors and activating the alarm system.  My faithful friend Hye Won Cecilia Lee stayed by my side, and composer Patricia Morehead and her amazing husband Phillip Morehead gave us firm instructions to meet them at the Duke of York which we did, and they generously treated us, a wonderful way to end the day.  Luckily I still had my hotel and didn’t have to face the two hour drive home.

Musically, this concert felt momentous despite my personal sense of complete insignificance (that could be the cold talking).  I have done eight of these self-presented concerts in Toronto in the last year, presenting 25 artists and  41 works (or 53 if you count each of the Telemann Fantasias separately) for bassoon with strings, guitar, voice and piano, along with more works by other soloists.  I also presented 4 other concerts in my church/studio/home in the small town of Drayton to MUCH larger audiences and lower costs (makes me think).  I am totally putting my money where my heart is and am carrying a significant debt in the service of these concerts.

One of the students (not one of mine) at the concert asked me how long it took to learn the concerto as it is full of obvious extreme technical and musical challenges. I was very glad that the student had the initiative to ask any questions, and before answering, I said that I first received this concerto in a year when I was premiering 8 concerti and dealing with the long final illness of my father… I had to learn the music in rushed moments between gigs, teaching, tours and hospital visits, yet all that aside, it is a safe rule of thumb to allow one year to learn ANY concerto. 

I wished they had also asked how long it took to plan, to organize, and how much it cost…and how I could play such hard concerti while doing all of the other things, just so that they would understand exactly how rare an event it was and how they could best take advantage of the many opportunities they have as students.  This concerto cost about $12,000 and was paid for by a commissioning grant from the Ontario Arts Council; Bianca Chambul and I split the copying costs.  Canadian concerti can be had for around $12,000… the going rate for a bassoon concerto in the U. S. A. is between $20,000 and $30,000, just for the commission. 

To prepare and present the actual music, to rent rehearsal space, concert hall, percussion equipment, to pay fees to the musicians along with filing contracts with pension/work dues, plus the costs of marketing and advertising… not to mention parking, traveling, eating, hotels.  Not to mention the exigencies of life.  So many students of our universities want free tickets to arts events and I work hard to make sure that we can pay their way (Michael Sweeney sponsored four students for this concert) yet how many have any real idea of the work and planning that goes into developing new music? Or any music.  I wish they would ask if we get support in significant ways and how that can be improved.  Do they know that all orchestras in Canada and the U.S. are run as charities with massive administrative staffs?  Do they know that it is impossible to present classical music without sponsorship?  And do they know that musicians can all help one another if they understand what actually goes into these productions?  Volunteers who understand the infrastructure and the nature of work can actually be part of the survival of classical music.  This is something that I taught my students through our annual Vivaldi concerts and through assisting at my many solo shows when possible. Some of the students really understood the value of these challenging experiences.

Ambitious, independent classical bassoonists are still anomalies yet now is the time for all musicians to put their best work forward and be part of the solution.  I cannot do it alone but I am going to keep on this journey and I will share any insights that might help others.  I know that my efforts will reach across boundaries and that other people will relate to my work.  I will post video links when I get the material next week.  And I look forward to seeing you at my next concert.


2 comments:

Marcia McGill said...

I really appreciate your comments and explanation about being an independent musician, the time, effort, and cost to prepare for a premiere concert or a season of concerts. One of the things I find concerning is many organizations that offer grants are diminishing or placing amount restrictions to their grants. In the U.S., some organizations will not grant funds if you have applied to others in your state for the same year’s activities. S We are voicing our opinion now. Many funding sources have a maximum that a not for profit can request from their organization per year...so if you are a nonprofit with all volunteers to sponsoring six or seven concerts a season, you need to go to area, state and federal sources as well as private grants or donations to support a season of concerts. This even means city and college orchestras, symphonies, chamber groups are finding it harder and harder to support musicians with out having everyone working as instructors on campuses, private studios, competitions and fundraisers...or performing as volunteers. It’s important for everyone to understand the work, time and cost to provide professional new works and support highly talented musicians and having them mentor the next generation of composers and musicians. I love the fact that you put your talent out on YouTube and Facebook. Your ability to share your experience allows those who work behind the scene to educate those on the sidelines that do not realize the importance of support.
MRM

nadina mackie jackson said...

THANK YOU, Marcia! I think it is big puzzle that we all have to work on. I have been a professional musician and teacher for a long time and yet I feel like such an outsider when faced with the institutions. The music is great, I am finding phenomenally talented creators and instrumentalists to work with and I'm finding new audiences but the usual channels of funding and income do not seem to to fuel progress and growth. It is time to find new connections and platforms for making money and opening stages. Thanks always for listening (and reading!!). Nadina