Call it stress fatigue (I'm thinking non-stop about all you Florida friends), but the weather news is also somehow making me laugh. In case you're not watching, here's what you're missing: BREAKING NEWS! No one's safe, but if you can hear this then "Stay Safe!" You should be gone already but since you're not gone you should just "hunker down" instead, so you can stay safe. If you're not staying safe or hunkering down, don't go to the beach to stand in the receding water like you normally would because after the "business end" of the storm comes through, the storm surge will suddenly come back with snakes and drown you (plus there will be waves on top of the storm surge that drowns you). NOT SAFE. Also, you're not staying safe if you go outside where palm fronds and coconuts everywhere can easily become "missiles" (always pronounced the British way). Even spinning cranes can become "missiles" (cue exclusive-spinning-crane-footage). After hearing from Bobby, Dave, Steve, and Steve, let's now go to our one female on-site reporter who (I'm not kidding about this) "has been getting pounded all morning." Yes, I'm here where the storm was going to be before the spaghetti models changed within the cone of uncertainty. Lots of rain and wind here, but just out of this camera shot it's much much worse... We really haven't seen anything yet. Back to you, Anderson. Thanks. Stay safe! Now, let's check in on current conditions.
I’ve been thinking about monuments -and the anecdote (and mis-attributed quote, apparently) of Michelangelo revealing his David –later telling Pope Julius II that he simply cut away “everything that was not David.” I imagined those chunks of rock left on the ground as their own discarded community -and how little bits of them, over the centuries, might have unwillingly turned up in the materials of lesser statues.
Attributable to another sculptor
This line of Rocks not David lay in wait
Recrumbled not David
tumbling time’s Gloryless pages
Recaptured not David
the slavery of something old, something new
Reconstituted not David
orphans blending into now’s degree of hardness.
Repurposed not David
Watching old friends fall away under new ordinance
(they look small from above)
Revealed not David
fearfully bound to the chiseled dark of an enemy
Resigned not David
all Stones come to “rest under the shade of the trees.”
Removed not David
Dust to Dust never had it so good.
-for robert edward lee
Since what I'm writing amounts to an advertisement of sorts, I should start by saying that I don't know the man who I'm talking about now. I've never met him, and I gain nothing from this little blog entry (except, perhaps, some satisfaction that I'm sharing the good deeds of another person).
Eric Barker is a guy who studies and writes about the various social and psychological situations we often find ourselves in and (critically) how we can make the best of them. I don't even remember how I came to start reading his work, several years ago, but something about it grabbed my attention and took hold. His succinct, positive, and clever presentation of issues made following him more than just worthwhile. It was inspirational. And, while I normally don't sign up for sign-ups, I can even say this one proved life-changing.
Now Eric Barker is releasing his first major book, and I'm excited to share the news with all others who may be interested. I've pre-ordered my copy already as I know it'll be something very useful in my own study and in my own teachings. I encourage everyone to take a look. You can click the pic below to jump over to Amazon and read more about this guy. Best to you all! -BC
Some time ago, I remember Richie Hawley imploring fellow clarinetists to give D'Addario Reserve Classic Clarinet reeds a try -especially if they were using Vandoren V-12s, as I was. To be honest, my first thought was something like, "Well, Richie's gonna sound great on anything. I'm making what I have work well, so why bother?"
But, if you know Richie at all, you know that he's one of the most fastidious listeners out there -and, even more importantly, one of the precious links to a generation of clarinet sonority that has yet to be rivaled. So, my somewhat skeptical first-reaction ended up quickly morphing into an 'I'll give it a try.'
I'm glad I did.
The Reserve Classic reeds strike a balance between bright response and tonal richness, neither brittle nor dull, and they start ringing right out of the box. With V-12s, as I alluded to on D'Addario's website, I had an elaborate system of preparation, which began with the expectation that (after a short play-through) I would have to wait at least 10 days before those reeds were ready to handle an orchestra rehearsal. Further, I'd expect to lightly balance the tip and rails of at least 70% of them. Depending on the weather (we have pretty intense humidity in South Florida), that would sometimes mean ordering a quarter strength stronger so that "I'd have room" to remove material and produce a well-balanced reed.
I prided myself on this system over time, teaching it to others and believing I could at least count on the inconsistency.
But, what would happen on the rare occasion when I hadn't readied enough V12s in the weeks before? We've all had it happen... And, what would happen if those reeds simply weren't from a great batch of cane? Well, what it meant was having to hurry-up that process with a new box (never a good idea) and hope that I could superficially "condition" a few of them to peak at the right time -usually a weekend of 3-5 concerts. I'd know their little reed-lives would be shortened this way, but it was a sacrifice I'd come to expect.
Bringing this back to the present-day, you can imagine how different my experience is now. I find myself doing little-to-no work on each Reserve Classic reed, and I never have to order a heavier strength to work them down. The reeds do need a break-in period (and, as with any reed, a longer time is helpful), but they tip-their-hand with balance and sound right out of the box -the first time. You know what those reeds will become right away! And, they maintain a responsiveness and consistency from beginning to end. Honestly, the biggest challenge I have now with is knowing when they're dead -a good problem to have...so long as you euthanize humanely.
D'Addario is doing some other great work too. Their X10E mouthpiece (while too high-pitched for me in most situations) brings a much needed option to market (it has an excellent sound), and their humidity-regulated reed cases are convenient, well-thought-out, and inexpensive.
If it wasn't an easy enough choice for me to endorse D'Addario's products by all of this, the people I've worked with there made it a no-brainer. I want to give a big shout-out to Tom Kmiecik and Josh Redman for their fantastic involvement, great spirits, and great knowledge. They both talk about being proud of the work their company is doing on behalf of artists (and ultimately listeners), and I expect that D'Addario is quite proud of them too.
Feel free to message me here if there's something more you'd like to know about my experience. I plan to be a part of the next stages of development with D'Addario clarinet equipment, and I'd love to hear from you.
I thought (for sure!) that I'd find some great definition of "Dragon Tears" in the urban dictionary online. Alas, there was nothing. I didn't even bother looking up "Saltillo Tears," which was the first title of this poem. I added something for "Dragon Tears" though. It made sense to me.
I think this all happened because I inhaled too many tile-cleaning products. It was during a day when I was simultaneously missing my family, listening to Mahler's 3rd Symphony, and editing engagement photos for my dear friends, Laura and Jay.
Oh -and I was cleaning tile too. I didn't just breathe that stuff in to see what would happen. Our house is full of the Mexican "Saltillo" tile which we put down (by hand) years ago. Beautiful stuff, but the acrylic/wax coating on it needs rejuvenation from time to time. Not an easy task. I've done it with rags, brushes, and even a finishing-sander in the past. But, I found a great machine to help out this time: the Oreck XL Pro. Fantastic thing. I can't say enough about it. If I'd discovered this a decade ago it would have saved so much time that I'm pretty sure it would only be 2013 right now.
Anyway, though an "orbital floor cleaner" is great, there's nothing that can save you from having to uncork all those cleaning products. You can use a good mask, which I did, but when you're living in the same place that you're using the stuff...well...there's no escape. Deep inhale and... who knows! Maybe Oreck will invent a machine that can save me the years I'm losing from this too.
So, Mahler's 3rd with the BRSO (fantastic), then looking at photos of dear friends (and the flickering acknowledgment of how photos are so immediate but can terrifyingly seem to lock themselves into the past), then a movie about passionate particle physicists ("Particle Fever," because Netflix thought I'd like it...). It all started to get to me. All that music -all those sweet crazy scientists turning into Christmas-morning children over experiments at CERN...
Plus, I'd poured myself a little wine to enjoy the movie. (It would sound so cool now to mention that the wine was called "The Seeker," which it was, ironically enough. But, the truth is I only had it because it was two-for-one at Publix. If I'd had more money, I'd have probably bought a bottle of "The Prisoner" instead.)
So I was watching the movie, but then I suddenly stopped because I'd finally had some kind of chemical-induced realization that the "dirt" I'd spent all day scrubbing out of our tile and grout had so much family history in it (don't groan until you've tried all the drugs I was on). Indeed, I hadn't probably gotten down on hands and knees with a scrub-brush like that (the Oreck only does so much...) since before my youngest daughter was born. It's a super-cheesy thought, I know, but you can blame RoVal for that -whatever chemicals are in their pink stuff. Actually, you can't. They're out of business, as I woefully discovered. But, I digress...
Apparently, there was a poem in me about all this. And, it came out pretty quickly. It's for my youngest daughter, and I hope she'll appreciate it someday (maybe she won't mind a dirty house so much). I hope you like it too. -B
I am closer
the archaeologist of my own past
I see the creases I made years ago
between saltillo squares
the acknowledgement of tradition
to segregate and move on
dark layers come into light
calling back feelings of seeing my daughter's sketches
confetti’s distinct frequency
they were overtures to a world un-materialized
She drew me a hero
a Dragon who could carry macaroni
I was supposed to know this before, She told me
“wagging an acceptance”
avatar in hand
I remember ushering that Dragon into a pile of its relatives
as if the family was gathering
not a pile maybe
only a place where other unknowable receipts
laid in wait for understanding
crouched over my mexicans and their walls
on a chemical low
digging down the buildup of a child's entire lifetime
I would hold this dust forever
put it with the Dragon
just a smear of disintegrating sealant in my hands
with some of the dirt
from an urgent step of her shoe
as She ran into my arms
the Dragon could carry this too, I think
if I would only ask
It has occurred to me that the music directors of all three of "my orchestras" are women. I suppose it's not fair to count the same person twice (Anu Tali, of the Sarasota Orchestra and Nordic Symphony), and we don't yet know who will replace Marin Alsop at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music after her final season this summer, so I may not be able to say this for much longer. But, nevertheless, I realize that I'm probably in a relatively rare situation. Thankfully, this coincidental "rarity" of mine will probably not seem so rare in the coming years, as orchestral music further evolves to promote pure talent with less of the gender (and other) biases that have hampered our success. Anyway...it's cool to be able to say that right now.
Speaking of these two conductors, I can't help but appreciate that many of my most rewarding artistic experiences have happened under their leadership. That's one of the reasons I'll be so sad to see Marin move on from Cabrillo after her final (25th) season this summer. I first met Marin in Miami at the New World Symphony. I was playing principal clarinet in John Corigliano's extraordinary "Symphony No. 1," and Marin was conducting. I'm not sure whether she was based in Eugene or Denver at that time, but she was somewhere earlier in her famous trajectory. Her work with us was powerful and poignant, and, as she would later tell me, that experience ended up becoming my invitation to Cabrillo.
I started at Cabrillo playing Second and E-Flat Clarinet. There were some terrifying early experiences in that role (like handling Aaron Jay Kernis' "Color Wheel" on the e-flat!), but it was all worth it. And, later, after I was "promoted" and was able to have two of the most extraordinary clarinetists in the world join me in the section (John Schertle and Michael Maccaferri), those early experiences would feel like a prelude to the most satisfying (and sometimes still terrifying) concerts I've ever played. I'm very proud to be able to say that I've been a part of 15 of Marin's 25 seasons there. Many more words will be said about her departure, including more of my own, but I will leave this here for now.
With Anu Tali, the experiences have been blending discovery at home and abroad. In Sarasota we're evolving quickly to incorporate more of the styles and repertoire of European composers who yearned for independence and freedom -some of whom would never truly have it. And, though this may be an overreach, it is not lost on us that our Music Director herself spent formative years in Soviet occupied Estonia, before the country gained its independence. These musical explorations are not always the most pleasant ones because the subjects are difficult, but they are coming with an authenticity that is changing our musical culture dramatically for the better.
You can read a review of our first concerts of 2016 here: http://ticket.heraldtribune.com/2016/01/08/concert-review-contrasts-mark-winter-dreams-by-sarasota-orchestra/
In Estonia, I'm learning both how quickly the language of music can create wonderful new friendships and how slow the process will ultimately be to comprehend the history there. With anywhere from 10-15 different countries represented in the body of that wonderful orchestra, I have been able to build new relationships and to learn from people of tremendously different backgrounds. Traveling to Tallinn last month, I arrived to feel as though I was actually "home" among those wonderful musicians. But earlier, in August, after travel through Stockholm, Riga, and Vilnius, I saw for myself how some of my new friends (who make their lives there) perform the same music we do while still living with the firsthand echoes and even contemporary worries of oppression. Nevertheless, these people and these families are blessings, and the travels are themselves a joy.
I was reading some of my dad's poetry today. Naturally, I re-read his "Children." And, for whatever reason, I decided to write him back.
father’s day / children part 2
let me say this love
our time of four will diminish someday
replacements suited better to what is old is new
pushing past the old units
sorting paper and byte
maybe they’ll throw away what I couldn’t
this feeling of insufficiency
kneeling beneath their new reach
a nightlight against the shapes of perfection
This must be the best part
I carry the smoking torch anyway
wanting to teach them everything but how to let me go
I could not have been more heartened or happy about the experience of performing Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (for the first time!) last weekend. I'll have more thoughts on this, but I'd like to say thanks to the extraordinary colleagues I had with me on stage. Looking over at some of my best friends while we took everyone through that half-hour journey was the purest reminder of how special it is to make a career in music. Congratulations to everyone involved.
From February, 2015:
The Orchestra has been on a great path this year, and Anu Tali's work with us has been extraordinarily satisfying. Hearing my colleagues play with such rich sounds and such fine phrasing is incredibly inspiring to me. In Sarasota, we're lucky to count many retired musicians among our patrons. Musical luminaries often grace our audiences, and several of them recently took pains to tell me that they thought our recent Enigma Variations with Anu Tali was the best they'd ever heard the piece done. And, they weren't the only ones:
And, we've also just finished a rewarding set of concerts with the wonderful Carlos Miguel Prieto as our guest conductor. I had the special chance to host one of the Orchestra's "Classical Conversations" with Maestro Prieto, and the audience was thrilled with him. We talked through the many connections between Beethoven and Berlioz, giving our audience different perspectives on the works we would be performing (Beethoven's 4th Symphony and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique). We even gave them a "surprise" by presenting examples and text from "Lelio," Berlioz's little-known sequel to his famous Fantastique. Our rehearsal and concert experiences proved to be equally engaging, and I was reminded of how special it is to be part of a group which so completely and sincerely cares about the music we play -and about our audiences.
Ahead, we'll conclude our Masterworks series with two different programs (Anu Tali returning from Europe to join us again), and then I will turn to Mozart (for his Quintet for Clarinet and Strings and for his Clarinet Concerto). Later I will be rejoining The Lincoln Trio and Arianna Zukerman for performances of "Annelies" in Dallas, TX, and Columbus and Atlanta, GA.
Sarasota Orchestra has come roaring out of the gate this year with nearly every conceivable kind of classical music concert in just 6 weeks. We've given a great set of children's concerts featuring an incognito Michael Andrew. We've then switched to light classics, a set of Pagliacci with the Sarasota Opera, and a fantastic opening masterworks weekend with Anu Tali and Alexander Toradze.
Here's what the critics had to say about this wonderful all-Russian program:
Coming up quickly, we're going to perform an incredible semi-staged production of "Songs of Wars I Have Seen." I'm not sure if tickets are still available, but if you're in town, click the link to see what's available. It will be worth it...
Later, I'll be happily (very happily) reuniting with Anu Tali and the other wonderful musicians of the Nordic Symphony Orchestra in Estonia as we give a series of concerts in Tartu and Tallinn. Details about that right here. Last summer, our concerts were streamed live internationally, so please check us out if you're interested. I'll post a link here if I can.
KAETA will be hosting its first private fundraiser next month, and I'm incredibly proud of our team's hard work. Since we're all volunteers, the funds we raise will go entirely to some very cool new programs (things like matching up students from Girls Inc. with seniors at the Sarasota Bay Club for collaborative reading and art projects). We're trying to raise a lot of money so that none of the kids or elders we serve have to pay anything to participate. We've been working to identify donors who care especially much about intergenerational work and the arts. If you're feeling like you'd like to check out KAETA -or know someone who would, please visit us at our website.
Finally, I'd like to give a big shout-out to Nick Fitzsimmons and all of his colleagues at Rogue Audio in Brodheadsville, PA. I had a chance to experience both their craftsmanship and their customer service, and I can honestly say that their reputation for extreme excellence is deserved. In fact, despite the constellation of amazing press they've received, they might still be a little under-rated. I like it when good people do good things.
I'm feeling especially thankful for family, for doctors like the one who helped my mother in law and the ones who travel to places like Liberia, for artists who stand up for principles, for everyone who's been helping Jay Hunsberger survive the loss of Jon, for people celebrating this kind of climate news while others tear it up, for Cabrillo, for schoolteachers, for the Kansas City Royals, and for the artistry of Richard Blais. Happy Holidays!
We've wrapped up an excellent season in Sarasota -our best yet, if I may say. And, I'm incredibly proud of the direction we're taking. Next season will be the first fully immersive one with our new Music Director, and it feels like the arts community here is on its toes. The experience of performing with Anu Tali (and hearing our sold-out audiences roar their approval) is awesome. It's hard not to notice how many things the Sarasota Orchestra is doing well right now...We're fortunate.
Outside of the orchestra, nothing was more exciting than the preparation for our Lincoln Center debut of "Annelies." With the original recording cast of Arianna Zukerman, Desiree/David/&Marta (The Lincoln Trio), James Jordan, and the Westminster Williamson Voices, we went into New York really knowing each other.
Our first rehearsal (in Princeton) with James Jordan's group brought me to tears. We were inside a giant old wooden rehearsal room -the kind where the floorboards have a soft look but a pressured, hard, and worn patina under your feet. Sounds were resonant but not lingering -and the pure tones of the choir were never diffused. They were just the simplest sounds of song, completely undisturbed, with dark silences. No one would move or shuffle through the rehearsal because it was captivating to hear this kind of beauty in such a quiet place. We were proud of the journey we'd taken over the last couple of years. The minutes-long shouting ovation given to us by the Williamson Voices as we reunited is something I won't forget. In fact, I want to do that now for everybody -just so they can feel that good.
It's hard to call performing Annelies "fun" because the subject and power of the piece can quickly overwhelm a person, even onstage. But, it did feel great to perform it again with such excellent musical colleagues and friends. I was reminded how easily performances can change just by virtue of how personal relationships have developed. It's a special thing when I'm able to lose so much of the self-consciousness that might otherwise come from a revered space like Alice Tully.
In Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia, I rejoined Anu Tali onstage as Principal Clarinet of her Nordic Symphony Orchestra. With at least eleven countries represented (including two people from the U.S., myself and the terrific harpist, Cheryl Losey), we presented four concerts of old and new music. Arvo Part's Fratres (a version with string orchestra and percussion) opened the program, followed by Erich Korngold's Violin Concerto Op. 35 (the wonderful Isabelle van Keulen as soloist). It closed with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade.
I had never been to Estonia, and I felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity to join new musical friends -and to experience such an amazing place and amazing culture. Kadri and Anu Tali have created something which the people of Tallinn really seem to cherish. At one point I was in a bookstore, looking for children's books for my girls, and I ended up talking with two of the employees there. (Actually, I only spoke with one because the other didn't speak English well -her English was on par with my Estonian, let's say). Anyway, they asked what I was doing in Tallinn, and when I told them I was with Anu Tali's group, they both lit up with big "knowing" smiles and lots of good encouragement. Orchestrally, I had to navigate a new environment and some slightly different musical aesthetics. But, those subtleties became familiar quickly. And, by then end, I felt like I'd made excellent new friends and helped bring thrilling concerts to the people there. It was a profound joy for me, and it left me even more excited for next season's work in Sarasota.
It was a wonderful experience for our recording to reach Grammy Nominee status. While we didn't take home a trophy, we gave our friends, family, and followers of the piece an exciting month of anticipation and celebration. There was no greater fun for me than receiving texts from others who'd pulled out their laptops & tablets to stream the ceremony and see if we could pull it off. Beyond that, new friends (like Grammy Winner Laura Sullivan) were found through the process, and I was able to cheer the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra as they took home the orchestral prize after an utterly ridiculous 16 months of being locked out.
With performances happening all over the world, Annelies will continue to establish its important place in the choral/chamber repertoire. And, I'm proud to say that my collaboration with the spectacular musicians of the disc (Arianna Zukerman, The Lincoln Trio, and James Jordan's Westminster Williamson Voices) will continue this year! We will make our Lincoln Center debut at Alice Tully Hall this April. Please click the link below for more information:
Cheers to all of you!