Day Six: Crash-Course Fatigue

Sean Shepherd
Shepherd takes a few pointers from the MO’s Principal Harp Kathy Kienzle in Thursday morning’s harp seminar at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Photo by Beth Cowart

Exhaustion and its effects have begun to sink in, for all of us involved. The glazed-over look has become all the rage in the wing of Orchestra Hall we’ve taken over. Aaron’s got a new cough, and a few of us are very close behind, I fear. I must admit my late-night editing has been sliding in focus and I was horrified to find that I had described my friend Norbert as a fuzzy composer. Finicky and fussy (both in a truly good way—he accepts no less than utter clarity of idea and transparency of texture) are apt—fuzzy is so far from the man or the music we heard this week that I felt a true mea culpa was in order. The complete and utter wash of information from the seminars, programs, presentations, and workshops has left us awe-struck or, more correctly, dumb-struck. An engaging and thorough harp seminar by the lovely Kathy Kienzle this morning was the last session and one of the most valuable components of the week. These players are experts in their craft and communicate their enthusiasm for what they do with aplomb. And by sharing with us what Jorja Fleezanis calls “the ethos” of playing in a world-class orchestra, they allow us into a world we simply aren’t able to understand without seeing.

Today also concluded the Reading Sessions with the orchestra, and the three pieces for generally smaller forces than we saw before were all elegant, refined and, well, classy. Ed Martin’s Surreal Abundance brought rich, varied language together with compelling structure and a true conceptual understanding of what the orchestra can do. None of these are easy, and the marriage yielded a rich result. It seems that the orchestra is on a fast-forward track at times in terms of picking things up, where what would normally be the second rehearsal here becomes the second take, which is seven minutes into the first rehearsal. These players are homing-pigeons in search of the heart of the moment—be it a sound concept, a balance situation, the shaping of a line or phrase—and they find it so quickly it surprizes even Osmo at times. Ed, like the rest of us, found such a difference to be a shock of a strange sort. When so many natural steps are skipped so quickly, we forget what to say, but we sure like what we hear.

Reynold Tharp’s Cold Horizon was exquisitely gestural and tightly paced. Metallic percussion and microtonal writing for the orchestra proved to be effective in defining a sound world that contained a wealth of possibilities waiting to be unpacked. The orchestra gave the piece a brittle, dry reading at first, but quickly warmed up, finding life in the tiny melodic fragments with the help of David Alan Miller’s gentle and effective scratching beneath the surface. Mark Dancigers piece, Liquid Song, the last of the week, is a simple and elegantly delivered lullaby. Mark described the six-minute piece to be akin to a concerto grosso for the percussion section. This piece presented a special set of problems to the orchestra, which was reduced by omitting brass and bassoons, simply because of its icily transparent, yet vibrant and active texture. As short chunks became longer in rehearsal, the larger, structural blocks came into sharp focus, revealing a strong architectural argument. The extensive string harmonics were carefully worked out which aided his cause. Today the composers announced planning stages for the Mark C. Dancigers Endowed Chair of Perfect Writing for Harp at the Composer Institute, as his piece got Kathy’s only gold seal of approval.

I leave for the airport in four hours—and I desperately need some sleep. It’s back to the real world of grad school! I’ll spend time on my trip back reflecting on this week, no doubt, and plan a full report. But for now—Aaron and Beth were right, happy and tired is what I am.

One thought on “Day Six: Crash-Course Fatigue

  1. Marcos Balter

    thanks!
    Great report, Sean! Many thanks for such thoroughly description; I felt like I were there. It reminded me of our late-night, speed-composing, coffee-fuelled crazy days at Tanglewood!

    Reply

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