Now that a couple of days have passed since our weekend of concerts with Maestro Neeme Järvi, I wanted to finish this mini-narrative of sorts with a look back.
The first thing I remember is fun. Järvi set us up all week with the most miniscule gestures (in a seated position) on the podium. In concert, he stood tall and alternated between that same small-scale and very grand movements, as if throwing the energy of the music to us. He also made it a point that we should expect anything. While traditional to let the entrance-applause die down before starting a concert, Järvi threw downbeats almost immediately after stepping up onto the podium. Different tempi in the Brahms Tragic Overture produced three different versions over three different nights. The same happened for the Strauss tone poem, and the piano concerto had spontaneous moments as well.
Possibly my favorite moments of these concerts, however, were the Sibelius encores given by our string section. For some reason, I just found myself smiling through the whole thing, each time. I think it was the lushness with which our string section sang out its melodies and counter-melodies. But, it was also (definitely) watching Järvi. I didn’t have to worry about playing anything, so I could really study what he was doing to motivate the music. He alternated between ultra-basic timekeeping and sweetly humorous gestures toward the orchestra, leaning in armless or just bouncing with his belly toward the music. It was unbelievably endearing because no matter what “move” he made, it felt just like the music did. So, the strings spun along happily, and if the phrasing ever stood upright he would just make big paintbrush gestures at them, and it would all go quickly back into place.
For my own part, things went pretty well. I had a few little solos throughout the concert, and they were always set up well and/or accompanied by my colleagues throughout the series. My dreaded high E’s all came out nicely (though Sunday’s felt like it scooped for a millisecond), and I had a strong clarinet section down the line, with Laura Stephenson doing gorgeous solo work in the piano concerto and “duetting” with me beautifully in the Strauss. Calvin Falwell really dug into his bass clarinet lines, singing out his melodies, and Jon Holden wailed on the Eb clarinet (which is what one does with an Eb clarinet –that or run a cord through it to make a nice bedside lamp). So, I had strong support. I would take a few more shots at those high E’s if I had my way, just to get more and more comfortable performing them in the grueling physical context of the piece, but these were effective performances, I thought.
If I’m going to honestly reveal the mind of a performer during an experience like we had last week, I also have to point out that there were learning moments as well. I was reminded that we, as an orchestra, are still morphing from being (what I would call) overly-dependent on the conductor’s baton to being comfortably independent of it. Knowing how intentionally oblivious to conductors other orchestras can be, I always wonder what guest conductors think of our still hyper-attentive reliance on their beats. I would hope they find it flattering, as it must surely empower them (getting to feel like we’re paying that much attention).