Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Walk in the Park

Dear readers,

I'm writing this from a bus (yes, it's the bus again, saves time in these busy times) on the way back from a brief and very successful weekend the BSO had in the great New York City, performing Honegger's Joanne of Arc at the Stake with our Music Director, Marin Alsop and a big cast of singers, actors and no less than three choirs.

The ride there was blissfully uneventful, and, after dropping stuff backstage at Carnegie Hall, I took a short, but very sweet, walk to Central Park. It was one of those perfect Fall days, with warm sunshine shining down from deep blue skies threaded with contrails upon throngs of people that had come out to enjoy it in every way possible. The active ones, ranging from pick-up soccer games, Frisbee throwers, joggers, rollerbladers, kids frolicking in piles of fallen leaves and on playgrounds, to the passive ones, strolling along and occasionally stopping to watch one of the many performance artists, taking in the sun on the grass at Sheep Meadow, sitting on one of the walls and just observing the people passing by (and speaking many of the world's languages), or enjoying a ride on a horse drawn carriage, feeling and looking romantic all the while trying to ignore the fact that they are, indeed, only feet away from a big animal whose bathroom habits are as controlled and mannered as those of a baby.

And, speaking of performance artists, that's where Central Park really stands out. Not only are they as varied here as anywhere, they also are the cream of the crop. If you can attract the crowds here, where they always have a choice of walking a hundred yards further to hear and see something that is more interesting, or moving, or just plain crazy, then you can make it anywhere! From the always-present caricature artists, to oversize bubble makers, and bicycle and rollerblade tricksters, to the many musicians of all kinds, there's definitely something for everyone.

One particular musician caught my ear as I was descending the steps towards the Mall and the beautiful pond.

He was seated on the wall that surrounds the now dry fountain, playing movements of solo suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. His sound was beautiful, his intonation impeccable, his style just right. Yet there he was, in not so ideal conditions (were the cool temperatures a reason he was holding his bow the way a lot of bass players do-German style?), surrounded by masses of people speaking many languages all at once, with competition from other musicians nearby, minding his own business of making beautiful music. His open cello case, lying by his feet, the top leaning on the wall of the fountain, was full, and getting fuller by the minute, of one dollar bills. An elderly Grandmother, a young German couple, a little girl clenching the doll she took for a walk in the park, were all moved and felt like they had to contribute something to this classiest of street artists. As a colleague, I contributed more, and started walking briskly back to Carnegie Hall, so I could make it back in time for my rehearsal. But, there was another wonderful distraction waiting for me. A couple had stopped on a path and was quietly looking up at something. On a low branch on one of the golden-yellow linden trees, near the children's carousel, stood a large peregrine falcon. His head moved left and right, as his small but sharp eyes, separated by his razor-sharp beak, surveyed the park, probably looking for a snack. After a couple of minutes, his body stiffened, his head perked up, and he lifted his large wings to get what had caught his attention.

At that point, pressed for time, I had concluded that I'd had enough inspiration for one day, and it was time to go make some beautiful music.

-Ivan Stefanovic

Monday, November 7, 2011

Opera Update

So, here we are in the pit of the Lyric, ready for the three hours of overt emotions, death, unexpressed love, and great music that Verdi's Traviata offers. And then, the unthinkable happens: the computer that controls the lighting crashes, and the many hundreds of Baltimore's finest patrons, that have been waiting way too long for the Grand Opera to show its presence in this fine city, have to wait another thirty minutes for the show to start.

But all is forgiven and quickly forgotten when the first notes of violins start playing a melody that is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and yet hints at the tragic things to come, and the glorious curtain rises to reveal a party scene that starts the story...

Grand Opera is back in Baltimore!

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Ides of October"

So Mother Nature decided to poke fun at us last Saturday (and didn't even have to use Facebook’s poke button for it). Just a couple of weeks after relishing in how the aforementioned "Mother" was right on the dot in sending flocks of Canada Geese due North, I was flying due South on I-83 early one Saturday morning to start my teaching day at Peabody, when she sent a full-fledged winter storm into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast before October even had a chance to have a last word. People were sent scrambling to find car brushes and shovels; cities had to re-equip their trucks in order to push snow off of highways; all this just a few days after our sand boxes got delivered to hilly street corners (ours was still empty)! Also, I must say that hibiscus trees, butterfly bush flowers and marigolds look oh so wrong with a snowy white background behind them.

The BSO's trip to Strathmore was, fortunately, accident-free as we traveled to play an energy-filled concert with Barry Douglas as a soloist and Vasily Petrenko as guest conductor, featuring Rachmaninov's Symphony #3. Mr. Douglas used to play with us fairly often when David Zinman was our Music Director, and we recorded the #3 , together with #2, many years ago in my first few years in the orchestra.

It's funny how a brain plays games and tricks with musicians. Many times in my career, while playing a rehearsal or a concert, a very quick image of something or somebody from the past would appear in, and just as quickly disappear from, my mind (you'd be surprised how, despite the hundreds of bytes of information we are required to keep track of while performing, our brains sometimes venture off to mundane things like what we need to get at the grocery store!). After this happened one too many times, apparently at random, I started to come to a conclusion that I must have been playing that very same music when the given event happened. Now I don’t really have time to keep a diary of all our weekly programs and events from that week, but it would be interesting.

Speaking of interesting (and new), this Friday evening will be the very first time I’ve played a performance of a genuine opera in a pit, as the BSO brings the opera back to Baltimore in concerts in two performances of Verdi’s dramatic La Traviata. It’s been an amazing experience, with a great cast of singers, beautiful sets, and an extremely capable conductor who holds it all together. It has also been great listening to my colleagues that have been in the BSO just slightly (and a few, a lot) longer than me (coming up to my 21st year!) tell the many stories and memories from their days at the Lyric (before the Meyerhoff was built).

This will be a truly memorable weekend for the city and its music lovers. If there are any tickets left, it’ll be the place to see and be seen this weekend, so hurry and get some! We promise at least a few tears and many laughs, accompanied by some of the most beautiful music ever written. I also suggest a visit to Little Italy before and after-you’ll surely be craving some great Italian food after this!

(Little Italy, Baltimore)

-Ivan Stefanovic