Texas


Dear Readers,

I’m passing a long wait at the airport by writing this entry. Above my head, a U.S. government official frowns as she speaks on CNN; a man to my right, buried in his newspaper, appears to be skimming through articles about Baghdad and British debates; and in front of me, a middle-aged guy in a baggy gray t-shirt and beige ball cap plays a card game on his laptop. At his feet, a touristy stuffed parrot dressed in Hawaiian fabric sports a tiny straw hat advertising a resort destination. To my left is a concrete wall. In back of me is a tall window with a tarmac view. Baggage handlers and airplane-steerers complete their duties like little kids in plastic wagons: tiny in their boxy carts and oversized headphones, they seem absorbed in a world of disproportion. Fluorescent vests and thick gloves lend an air of dress-up to their jobs.

So where am I? At the moment, I’m in Dallas, waiting for a direct flight to Toronto. I just finished a telephone interview with a radio personality in Cincinnati; my phone was running low on power, so I plugged it into an outlet about six feet off the floor. It was the first time I’ve had to stand on tiptoe to reach a power source! I was afraid a security worker might tell me to move someplace else, but no one objected.

Though I’m at the Dallas airport, I actually played in Tyler, Texas, this week – a two-hour drive from Dallas itself. I arrived a few nights ago, was picked up by the executive director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, and we stopped by a grocery store on the way to Tyler. In three days, I had three rehearsals with the orchestra and two concerts; the last rehearsal took place between the concerts. The orchestra picked up the repertoire really quickly, which is not easy to do when both pieces are new to the musicians! We played Ludwig Spohr’s Violin Concerto #8, titled Gesangsszene (literally, “song scene” in German). It’s a very operatic work, reminiscent of the great Italian vocal tradition; this concerto is filled with recitatives and lyrical phrases, with virtuosity and flair to spare. Within the violin repertoire, it stands alone: there’s nothing else like it.

Filling out my part of the program was the “Poeme” by Ernest Chausson, a brilliant composer who died young when his bicycle crashed into a stone wall. (Helmets hadn’t been invented yet.) The “Poeme” is one of the most beautiful, heart-rending pieces ever composed for violin and orchestra. The harmonies are lush; the violin part balances delicacy with raw emotion and deep sentiment.

The Spohr came before intermission, the Chausson after. The rest of the program, however, differed from one evening to the next. Friday’s concert, the first of the pair, was a children’s concert. It marked the first time balloons comprised part of my audience! I had a lot of fun. The program opened with Rossini’s William Tell overture, which is famous for its thematic galloping rhythm. By the time I got onstage, a baby was crying, kids were being escorted quietly in and out of the hall by their parents, and numerous little legs swung back and forth from too-high concert seats. As it turned out, they were a great audience. Many of the children stayed till the end of the concert – which was perfect, because the orchestra had planned a wonderful closing number: a Harry Potter orchestral suite. During one of the movements, “Harry’s Wondrous World”, ten members of the youth orchestra played alongside the professional musicians onstage. They’d all won auditions for that opportunity, and the kids had worked really hard on their parts. It sounded terrific! A side note: magicians were hired for pre-concert lobby entertainment, but one of them was so well disguised as Merlin that he almost wasn’t admitted into the building. It took some sorting out before the woman working the door realized that he was supposed to be there. Can you imagine? It would be rather strange for a wizard to show up at a classical concert, but hey – anything goes!

Saturday’s concert, the second, was a regular subscription event. No magicians appeared, and no balloons were present. Applause resumed its normal resonant pitch, performed by grown-up hands. The first piece was the overture from Mozart’s Magic Flute, and the program concluded with a Dvorák symphony. As I had done the night before, I took part in a signing after the concert; then I switched the pattern a tad and attended a reception at a patron’s beautiful, luxurious house. But to backtrack a bit… Before the signing, another musician came backstage to chat: Conrad Keely, the lead singer of the Austin, Texas-based, internationally-renowned underground alternative rock band, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. He loves classical music and had stopped by to see the show, bringing along fellow musician and artist James Olsen. It was nice to talk shop with someone from a different genre of music – though when it comes down to it, music is music, whichever style it follows. Both he and the conductor this week, Norwegian trombonist Per Brevig, have agreed to participate in interviews for my Opinions section; keep your eyes out for those.

Speaking of the conductor, Per did a wonderful job with the Spohr and the Chausson. He was thoughtful, kind, and very well-prepared, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him.

They’re calling my flight now, so I’d better close up my computer and board the plane. Till Toronto, then!

Yours from the road,

Hilary