Research finds me even when I’m trying to enjoy an evening out. This past Wednesday evening, I attended a Minnesota Orchestra concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis entitled “Inside the Classics: The Firebird.” I love Stravinsky’s music to “The Firebird” ballet, so I was really looking forward to this concert. And what a delight! During the first half, hosted by Sam Bergman, a violist in the orchestra, and Sarah Hatsuko Hicks, Assistant Conductor of the orchestra and conductor that evening, I learned about ballet music circa 1910 and how Stravinsky’s music for three ballets, “The Firebird,” “Petrushka,” and “The Rite of Spring,” broke all the rules and shoved music (and audiences) forward into the 20th century. (Who is the composer who will do that for music and audiences in the 21st century?) I learned about the four different scores Stravinsky composed of “The Firebird,” and the most popular, the orchestral suite composed in 1919, and the copyright woes Stravinsky experienced until he moved to the U.S. (Authors can relate to the last.) Two dancers from the James Sewell Ballet, Penelope Freeh and Justin Leaf, performed in costume an excerpt from the ballet accompanied by the orchestra, and Ms. Hicks played musical examples of themes from Stravinsky’s three ballets on the piano. The commentary from Mr. Bergman and Ms. Hicks had a friendly tone and was laced with good humor. During the summary of the ballet’s plot, orchestra musicians used props to illustrate characters and their behavior — their “acting” participation must have taken a certain amount of persuasion on Mr. Bergman’s part but was great fun and added a nice human dimension to the music. Usually everyone is so very serious and intense on stage. This concert series is more casual and designed to blend education and entertainment.
After intermission, Mr. Bergman introduced the second half and talked about a blog at the Minnesota Orchestra’s website that he and Ms. Hicks are writing for the Inside the Classics series (link on my blogroll). They write about the experience of starting a new concert series; their experiences as orchestra musician and conductor, respectively; and answer questions about the series or general music questions. The concert’s second half was a full performance by the orchestra of the 1919 “The Firebird” orchestral suite. Although not that much happens in the ballet, much happens in the music, and the Minnesota Orchestra gave an especially fine performance of it. Their ensemble playing has improved so much over the last four years that now it’s breathtaking and powerful in its precision. The concert ended with a brief question and answer session with Ms. Hicks and Mr. Bergman for anyone who wished to stay.
The next day, I made my way in cyberspace to the Inside the Classics blog and found a goldmine. I have wished for something like this that I can use as background reference for my Perceval novels — what is the life of an orchestra musician really like? What is the life of a conductor really like? I have been researching these questions for several years now but I am always open to hearing more. Each conductor or musician brings his or her own unique style to their lives and how they lead them. I have tried to make my conductor/musician Evan Quinn unique in his life and experience, also, and as authentic as I can make him.
In truth, when I first began researching conductors and conducting, I prayed to meet a conductor who’d be so interested in my novel he’d be willing and offer to be a friend/buddy, someone I could call with questions or meet with occasionally to talk. None of my fellow music students in college went into conducting. I have been fortunate to interview conductors and orchestra musicians over the years who were generous with their time and experiences, interested and willing to help, and I have been grateful for the material they provided. But I never found a “conductor buddy.” Now, I don’t really need one for research but it would certainly be wonderful (and probably a miracle) to have a “conductor/buddy” to read the novels, give feedback. Alas, I suspect that conductors spend more time reading music scores and preparing for rehearsals/concerts than reading novels….
I recommend the Inside the Classics blog to anyone interested in classical music.