Rehearsals and work-in-progress as previews (trailers)

Rehearsals and behind-the-scenes work in progress lead viewers to anticipate and expect the real thing.

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Watching a rehearsal of a choir or the behind-the-scenes of a film production makes me want to go see the real thing (when it’s ready). Like watching a chef prepare a meal, I start to get hungry.

Not the concert itself, Utrecht Conservatory June 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer
Not the concert itself, Utrecht Conservatory June 2008. Photo: F. vd Meer

Twitter led me to watch the work-in-progress of The Hobbit which will come out next here. The youtube video is not short by any means, but you grow to love the people working on the set and film.

On Facebook, I played a video of the rehearsal of the 88-member student choir of the New England Conservatory. So much goes on in a rehearsal that is not obvious. For the bystander like myself, I see beauty that is being created. I am reminded of my days as a conservatory student, singing in two choirs per year to improve my solfege. For others, it’s the awe of the director — how he manages to get the choir to produce an impressive sound.

The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam offers free lunch concerts each Wednesday. I remember queuing 45 minutes before one such event, shoulder to shoulder in the reception area, standing like sardines in anticipation of a 45 minute concert. When the doors finally opened about 10 minutes before the concert, we rushed in and exclaimed a unison “wow!”  It was the stendhalismo effect of arriving at a historically important place, feeling the special feng shui and grandiose atmosphere, and all of that we normally don’t get to experience in daily life. Once we sat down, I realized that it was just a rehearsal. Not even a dress rehearsal. But it was the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. They were rehearsing a Brahms violin concerto. All musicians were informally dressed, despite being on stage and in front of a full-house of eager listeners. We fell silent when the conductor raised his stick. I closed my eyes. This could easily be the concert itself. The conductor brought the violinist into his solo. After leading the orchestra to join him in a mesmerizing passage, he stopped at a beautiful chord. I opened my eyes to another unison sigh from the audience — an “Ah!”

The free lunch rehearsal concert ended 15 minutes earlier than I had expected. Yet we all felt satisfied — as though we’ve had our lunch.

That was a live trailer of the concert that evening.

All in all, I’d say that rehearsals, work in progress, behind the scenes and pre-production all lead us to anticipate. When we anticipate, we expect. It makes us look forward to the real thing.

Concerts for free or nearly free

Free concerts don’t always get full-house. Publicity is what it takes. And a lot of eager students on standby.

Search for “classical concert etiquette” and you will get guides like this one and numerous others. These articles are well-written. It would be superfluous to write more about this subject. In thinking about advice for first-time concert goers, I recall how I became an avid concert goer. It began with the word FREE.

Continue reading “Concerts for free or nearly free”

Starting a blog of our concerts

In the rush of preparing breakfast and getting dressed, I spotted an email from a friend who wrote that she had a gap in the afternoon and would like to come to our concert in Amsterdam.

I have long wanted to write the story of our duo: how it began, what it’s like to rehearse together, why we do what we do, who we meet, and where we end up. As we begin another season of concertising, it’s become ever necessary to use a blog engine like this one.

Monday 23rd March 2009,
a typically grey, windy, and indecisive day in the Netherlands.

In the rush of preparing breakfast and getting dressed, I spotted an email from a friend who wrote that she had a gap in the afternoon and would like to come to our concert in Amsterdam. It’s always nicer to play to a familiar audience than an anonymous one, even if only one face was known among the strangers.

The drive from Utrecht to Amsterdam was uneventful until we arrived in the heart of the city where unexpected roadworks forced us to make a detour. [I should say that every concert experience is unique. There are always surprises. We’re required by our concert organisers to arrive half an hour early. We always aim for a one hour slack because of traffic delays and our need to test the acoustics.] Luckily the detour was not extensive.

After parking in front of the building, we unloaded the car with our suit bag, guitar in case, microphone stand, and backpacks of our sheet music. We left the thermos flask of hot herbal tea and the box of Dutch cream puffs in the car for later.

The lady who greeted us appeared somewhat unsettled. None of the volunteers she had contacted to help out had arrived. It was 20 minutes before the concert was to begin. The programme notes had to be handed out, the audience welcomed and seated, and of course, someone had to take care of us — the performers.

As performers, we don’t require much — really. Just a good well-tuned piano. Piano stool and pedals that don’t squeak. For the guitarist, a chair without arms (a literal translation from Dutch). A dressing room. Warm drinks to prevent cold hands. And clean toilets. I should also add good acoustics and a respectful audience. Somehow we never get all of the above.

The dressing room was a storage room for the kitchen next door. It was too warm to get cold hands. I changed into a puffy white cotton designer blouse and a long blue Jaeger wool skirt. I couldn’t find my new eyeshadow set. The make-up only needed to last the hour, and yet I felt incomplete without a touch of colour on my eyelids.

“Welkom, dames en heren.” I had prepared to speak in Dutch, introducing ourselves, the composers and their works, and what juicy tidbits of information to make the music memorable. There were perhaps 20 at most in the audience, with my American friend in the front row.

The black Yamaha upright piano made the checklist. But the acoustics was dry. This meant that I had to compensate for the lack of sustain by controlling the damper pedal carefully. The microphone we brought to record our performance ran out of battery midway through the first half of the concert. Thankfully, everything else was under control.

During the intermission, my friend suggested that I speak directly into the microphone. After the concert, she came to the dressing room. “There’s an elderly gentleman who used to sing in the Concertgebouw,” she said excitedly. “I feel young here. The man next to me is 92 !”

photo credit: Serge van Empelen, Bethanienklooster, Amsterdam
photo credit: Serge van Empelen, Bethanienklooster, Amsterdam