Monday, August 10, 2009


A dear flutist friend stopped by for dinner tonight and wanted me to listen to her play a Bach unaccompanied sonata in preparation for upcoming performances. She played from memory and gave me the score, but I didn't follow along, I wanted to watch her play and enjoy this private performance from my couch.

There regularly is music in my place. I practice, but practicing often is repetitive ruckus, metronome aclacking. I have chamber music rehearsals here, too, but what I heard tonight was a full-fledged performance: poised, eloquent, full of persuasive rhetoric. Even the finest hi-fi could not match the aural pleasures of a live chamber music performance in one's own home.

Let me encourage everyone: treat yourself. (Eschew Netflix for a night.) Invite musicians to play chamber music in your living room. Offer a good meal (they will say yes) and invite just one or two special friends to share with you. Not too many.

You will not forget the experience.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

An Uplifting Proposal

Right before Tuesday's Imani Winds concert at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, the director of the series asked the ensemble whether a young man could propose to his girlfriend on stage during the concert.

Of course!

He and his soon-to-be fiancée live in Atlanta and had met at an Imani Winds concert eighteen months ago. They had travelled to New York City for tonight's concert.

Before the last piece on the first half, flutist Valerie Coleman told the audience that before we proceeded, there would be a special announcement. "Hello New York." the young man said into the microphone, his arm around his girlfriend. He calmly went on to explain that they were on stage to thank the Imani Winds for bringing them together and for their music which had continued to be an important part of the couple's eighteen-month relationship. And then he said good night and turned to leave the stage. We thought he had lost his nerve, but he swung back to the mic and said, "Oh, and one more thing . . . " whereupon he reached into his pocket and knelt. The audience exploded with applause and shouts of encouragement. The young woman, clasped her hands to her head, spun around, and before the question could even be asked, she yelled out: YES!!!

The ring placed on her finger, the couple thanked each of the musicians. Everyone was feeling a bit giddy, the audience was nicely stirred up, and before we continued with the program I stepped up to the mic, and asked, "Is there anyone else?"

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


It will be a beautiful night for a summer concert in the park.

Tuesday August 4th, 2009 at 7:30 PM

Scherzo for woodwind quintet, Op. 48
Marquez Danza de Mediodia
Medaglia Suite Popular Brasileira
Schifrin La Nouvelle Orleans
Ligeti Sechs Bagatellen
Barber Summer Music, Op. 31

The Naumburg Orchestral Concert begins at 7:30pm at the Naumburg Bandshell on the Concert Ground in Central Park located south of the 72nd Street cross-drive.

Admission is free.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Rest is Silence

Two eighth rests, how long are they?

I have had such a good time this summer playing with the Imani Winds while their oboist, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, is on maternity leave. I've enjoyed learning new repertoire for our concerts, but there is something special about working on pieces I've played for decades with Zéphyros Winds now with new colleagues. In these works—Barber's "Summer Music," Ligeti's "Six Bagatelles," Paquito D'Rivera's "Aires Tropicales," and Lalo Schifrin's "La nouvelle Oreleans"—I reengage my ears to another set of musical imaginations.

In these situations, a musician's opportunity to learn is ripe. And if we don't hear other players and play with other players, our various "chops" can atrophy for lack of attention.

In 1998, I was hired to play a single performance of "Annie Get Your Gun." It was a benefit for Lincoln Center Theater featuring Patty Lupone
and Peter Gallagher. The audience was filled with notables, Rosie was there, Barbara Walters seemed unpleasantly shocked by how politically incorrect the show was, Rex Reed was reported to have said, "Well, they didn't have to cut 'I'm an Indian, too.'" (Political correctness? And, yes, it did have to be cut.) And the orchestra, contracted by Red Press, was filled was the finest cats on the scene. I was pretty green (OK, very green). Out of Juilliard for just three years, I didn't know any faces in the band, but over the next decade I would come to. The first rehearsal began, naturally, with the overture. It looked pretty straight forward to me. Often in "tutti" sections (times when the whole orchestra is playing), orchestrators will give the oboe the same line as the first trumpet. The oboe doesn't make its most important contribution during these sections—you can't really hear it—so, we end up playing along with the loudest instrument, and that way we stay out of the way. Though I didn't know him at the time, one of New York's top lead trumpet players, Bob Millikan, was on the job. The overture started and I began to play my part, pretty much exactly how it looked on the page, in other words, totally square. The lead trumpet was playing in such a different style, and with so much style, I had to just stop and listen. "How does he know how to do that?" He knew. I didn't, but wanted to, and here, I realized was my opportunity to learn how it really went.

Each year in his Juilliard class, Albert Fuller would pick up a violin part to a Beethoven sonata and ask the students what he was holding. Always someone fell into the trap, "It's music." "No," Albert replied, "you cannot hold music. You can only hear music." Bob Millikan's trumpet playing brought that point home.

Lalo Schifrin's wind quintet, "La nouvelle Orleans," ends with an elaborate oboe cadenza meant to imitate the sound of a blues harmonica. After several performances with the Imani Winds, their flutist, Valerie Coleman, asked whether she could offer me a suggestion for that solo. It was a small thing, she assured me, but it would really help. The oboe cadenza begins after a loud chord played by the whole ensemble. There are two eighth rests between the chord and the oboe solo. "Could you wait a little bit longer before you start?" Valerie asked. One of the most challenging sounds for a musician to make on stage is silence. Modulating the right amount involves some risk. Concerts are about sound, after all. That night, I held onto those rests, the silence, just a little longer. The tension increased, and the solo landed with much more force.

When I was performing with Issa (Jane Siberry) a few years ago for her Carnegie Hall debut, she was coaching me on passage I was improvising. Again her urging was for less sounds, fewer notes, and more silence.

Listening to Albert Fuller's harpsichord recordings, again and again I am amazed at the role silence plays in his music making; especially as a tool to highlight a particular musical moment. He prepares that moment with a break in the sound, the silence features the next music.

Those two little rests written by Lalo Schifrin, how long are they, then? It depends on knowing what you are about to say next.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

On Whitman

This passage opens the second chapter of Susan Sontag's "On Photography."

As Walt Whitman gazed down the democratic vistas of culture, he tried to see beyond the difference between beauty and ugliness, importance and triviality. It seemed to him servile or snobbish to make any discriminations of value, except the most generous ones. Great claims were made for candor by our boldest, most delirious prophet of cultural revolution. Nobody would fret about beautify and ugliness, he implied, who was accepting a sufficiently large embrace of the real, of the inclusiveness and vitality of actual American experience. All facts, even mean ones, are incandescent in Whitman’s America—that ideal space, made real by history, where “as they emit themselves facts are showered with light.”