Day Four: Bliss

Today is one of the those days that seems like it was over before it started. It’s a haze right now—a reading is one of those things that there is nothing you can do to prepare for (other than the hundreds of hours making the paper look good). Once you are there, it just happens, whether you’re ready for it or not. So I didn’t prepare. I just showed up. And guess what? It went just fine.

Many of the heroes of an orchestra are so far in the background that we forget about them. For instance, what does an artistic administrator do? Well, I mean besides waving the giant palm-leaf fans and peeling grapes for the music director during normal business hours, and that champagne jacuzzi ain’t gonna fill itself… Or why does an orchestra need THREE librarians—is it, like, that hard to dig out the Beethoven 6 parts and slap ‘em in the folder? But here’s their secret—the less we notice these guys, the more they are able to get done.

I’ve known the value of a good orchestra librarian for a while. The only thing—the ONLY tangible thing!—we have to communicate with this crowd of orchestra people is our parts. They have to be as good as they can be, and as I mentioned a few days ago, it has been a major part of our discussions with the members of the orchestra. The players have needs, we have needs. This is where the librarians come in. Barely more than twelve hours before the reading, I showed up in the librarians’ office with their worst (well, I can only imagine how bad things could really get) nightmare, a list of errata for the strings, thanks to Aaron’s lightning-fast proofreading help. Now, granted, it wasn’t overly serious—mainly accidentals carrying over octaves, but this meant going through more than fifty parts and making changes. And since we were so close, the parts had to be tracked down. Well, as you might guess, I wasn’t jumping for joy to go visit the librarians yesterday, but of course assistant librarian Jennifer Johnson didn’t balk or even blink at my request. When I came back this morning, the parts were ready, thanks to Jennifer and head librarian Paul Gunther. These people were easy, calm, and nice. But more importantly, they were just doing their job, and doing it well. One more thing that kept me on track for a great experience this afternoon.

Some people do their jobs well, and some do it very well. Someone like Beth Cowart, the MO’s artistic planning associate, goes so far beyond what might be in a job description that when she quits, two people will have to replace her. And luckily for anyone who has participated in these seminars over the last five years, she has devoted her energy to giving green young composers rides in the backseat of a Cadillac orchestra with the top down. She has, over the years, single-handedly put her $ (or rather the monies of the Minnesota Orchestra, the AMC, the American Composer’s Forum, and a pile of other worthy institutions) where her mouth is not. I haven’t thought that much about how much this program costs, but I am guessing that my involvement all alone is costing Beth Cowart and her constituents well into the thousands of dollars. Cadillacs have never been cheap. But you’d never hear Beth say that. People like her and Tony Fogg at the Boston Symphony Orchestra have great jobs, and they know it. Tony says being a part of planning the future of a major cultural institution like the BSO is the best job he could think of, and he and Beth certainly don’t take it lightly. Beth has been a hero to composer’s causes for years, and you probably didn’t know her name. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

By the way, my 48 minutes with the orchestra were a breeze today. Osmo was fiercely accurate and perfectly on task. The orchestra was spectacularly fast at picking the piece up off the floor, shining it, and hanging it on the wall. The first run-through was cacophony, and the players got the information they needed. By the second time, there was precision, shape, even nuance. The soloists emerged and owned their parts. They gave me a beautiful reading. What else I could I or any composer ask for in less than an hour? These are the moments, and they are so fantastically rare, but they are why we do this thing—why we beat our head against the wall for hours, days, years. I write, because like many composers, I feel that I have to. It just has to be done. And I like to forget how much I crave it—like any good job, it gets tough at times. Sometimes I have to write, but these experiences remind me how much I want to write.

Tomorrow we are back in seminars—Susan Feder, president of G. Schirmer, is joining us this week—and I meet with Aaron for the post-mortem.

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