May 2010

How SWEEP it IS!!

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Verismo Duet

maddon25_jpg_665841gm-a.jpgIf you’ve watched any baseball coverage today, you have probably seen video footage of both Tampa Bay Rays’ Carl Crawford and his manager Joe Maddon in heated arguments with homeplate umpire Bob Davidson prior to and following their ejections in the sixth inning of last night’s game against the Boston Red Sox in Tampa.

In case you might have missed this dramatic display, watch it here. 

I’ve seen countless ejections as a spectator, but I was captivated by this video footage because of how seemingly out-of-control Davidson himself seemed to be.  I wondered: Aren’t umpires charged with setting the tone of games and maintaining a sense of decorum?

I was also fascinated to see two individuals (Crawford-Davidson and then Maddon-Davidson) so completely invade each another’s personal space–as close as they could be without touching– simultaneously yelling at the top of their lungs.

The display intrigued me enough that I posted the video on my Facebook Wall, along with commentary similar to that written above.

kaufman-gheorghiu3.jpgI received numerous comments, but one of them prompted this post. 

A member of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Craig Montgomery, commented on my post,

     “Actually, that’s sort of what singing an opera duet looks like :)”

And he is absolutely correct.

Any singer worth his/her conservatory training knows that, in order to project the voice over the orchestra, he/she must sing out directly toward the audience.  However, in the interests of staging and realistic portrayals of his/her character (not to mention variety), singers often find themselves singing in acoustically or musically compromising situations.

I have witnessed singers deal with these challenging situations, among others:

    • Singing with their backs to the audience, singing upstage.
    • Blocking requiring the singer to sing into heavy (sound-absorbant) scenery, an upholstered sofa, a bed, or a pillow.
    • Seconds away from un altro baccio (“another kiss”), being required to sing directly facing another singer, literally yelling at (and sometimes inadvertently spraying) the other artist, not unlike umpire Bob Davidson and his fellow “artists”.

The following clip features soprano Waltraud Meier and tenor José Cura in a duet from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.  The video appears to have been recorded in 1996 in Ravenna, Italy, with Maestro Riccardo Muti conducting.

About 2:30 into the clip, Meier and Cura–in the roles of Santuzza and Turiddu, respectively–the intensity of the couples’ exchange prompts them to embrace and get very close to one another, singing passionately into each other’s faces.  The “other woman” enters shortly thereafter and after her departure, at about seven minutes or so into the video, Turiddu grows tired of Santuzza’s jealous rage, becomes enraged himself and, again, they sing at full voice directly facing each other, so close that their lips almost touch.

Take a look:

 http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/cp6mmGvUl0U&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1

 

Soprano Renée Fleming, recently described operatic expression as “controlled screaming”.

“Basically we holler – in an extremely cultivated way, of course!”

I guess it can then be said that, in the passion of the moment–both in opera as well as in sports–the line between refined sound/decorum and yelling–”cultivated” or otherwise–can be a thin one in the name of art/the game.

Vengeance Aria

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The Phillies return tonight to Citi Field.  Since their last visit, accusations have come out that the Phillies’ bullpen coach, Mick Billmeyer has been stealing signs, using binoculars.  

Major League Baseball issued an executive order in 2001 barring the use of “electronic equipment”, citing that it could not be used “for communications or for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a club an advantage.”

Obviously, bincoluars do not constitute “electonic equipment”, but their alleged use in this situation seems suspect, at best.

Yes, yes, I know:  stealing signs has been around for as long as there’s been baseball.  But, somehow, stealing signs with the aid of binoculars seems egregious to others besides me. The Rockies filed a formal complaint against the Phillies over the matter and the team was reprimanded.  Rockies manager Jim Tracy stated,    

“A pair of binoculars staring down the gun barrel of the hitting area, I don’t think a club in baseball that’s competing against that team would take too kindly to that,” Rockies.  …You start reflecting back on some of the things that have taken place in previous games and it makes you sit here and wonder a little bit.”  

And here’s what Cy Young winner Steve Stone was quoted as saying when Sammy Sosa was taken to task for stealing signs by the Cardinals in 2002:

 “To be honest with you, sign-stealing used to be much more of an art than it is now. But as long as you are not stealing signs from the scoreboard, using a camera or something, then you are stealing legitimately.”  

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Because of the accusations, the rather absurd retort by Charlie Manuel that he found the Mets’ astounding home record (at that time, anyway) suspicious, along with the usual animosity created by uncivilized Phillies fans in our ballpark, I’m willing to bet the fans, if not the players themselves, will show up tonight on the lookout for any signs of foul play and ready to extract vengeance in the form of a big win.

 

 
 

Off-Season Pick Ups

The New York Mets season is not over…yet.

I did, however, just conclude my eighteenth season at the Metropolitan Opera.

Just as general managers of baseball franchises purchase the contracts of players and make trades in the off season to fill available positions, the end of our season often sees openings created by retirement.

As I write this, many of my colleagues are involved in the culmination of a four-day endeavor to select a new First Horn:  a very key position in any orchestra.

Barring any unforseen circumstances, by today’s end, a new Principal Horn of the MET Orchestra will be named.

***** 

Not too many years back, vacancies in orchestras were filled through arrangements between a conductor and a player that he knew from somewhere else or whom that instrument’s section leader knew–usually a student.  It was arranged that the musician would play for the conductor, sometimes as briefly and informally as in the conductor’s dressing room prior to a rehearsal or concert.  He was then handed the job.

I use the pronoun “he” because female conductors as well as female orchestral players were unheard of in the early twentieth century.

Because of the strength of the musicians’ union and because of the general increase in the numbers of capable players worthy of consideration, most positions are now filled through an audition process.

Siegfried.jpgAudition notices are published in the monthly newsletter of the American Federation of Musicians.  Interested candidates may submit a resumé and request to be sent the excerpts–the specific passages from longer works which the committee will hear during the audition.

While such auditions are supposed to be conducted fairly, prejudices often play a part of the decision-making process.  It is understandably difficult to remain objective when serving on an audition committee when one is hearing a player who (1) has been subbing in the position and has been deemed worthy–and deserving–through that informal trial basis, (2) has been his or her student, (3) or is a personal friend or acquaintance.  Further discrimination can occur, consciously or subconsciously, on assumptions made by the age of the candidate, the candidate’s known experience (or lack thereof), the make of instrument on which the candidate plays, or even the gender of the candidate.

The MET does something in its auditions that, to my knowledge, no other orchestra has utilized:  every single round of the audition is conducted with the candidates placed behind a screen.  The committee is then left to evaluate the candidate strictly on the merits of the music the candidate is making.  When, for example, “Number Two” is declared the winner and comes around to meet the committee, his/her identity is not known to the members of the committee.

I think it is hardly a coincidence that our orchestra boasts a large number of women in its ranks as well as extremely accomplished very young players–some of whom won their jobs before they were even out of music school.

*****

Because I’ve always been intrigued that there are so many parallels between playing for a baseball team and playing in an orchestra, I am also very interested when I find or think of distinct differences between being a player on “my” team and a player on a MLB team…beside the issue of payscale, I mean.

I have often wondered what the music world would be like if music directors or general managers of music ensembles orchestrated trades to fill vacancies.  While I have had colleagues who left the MET Orchestra to play in the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony, the MET did not receive a player in return for these musicians.

The “Player to be Named Later” was named following an open audition on OUR end.

Spring Training can be a somewhat informal “audition” of sorts, I suppose. Some players will make the team and others will not, of course.  Auditioning for a specific position, while not as common, does happen.  After all, it wasn’t until after Opening Day that Jerry Manuel awarded the Center Field position to Angel Pagan over Gary Matthews, Jr.

But to think of (1) ball players auditioning in a way that did not reveal their identity and/or (2) having them perform certain plays, i.e., throw certain pitches, catch balls going to the left/right, basket catch, shoestring catch, etc.–as a “tryout”, in the manner of prepared excerpts from the orchestral literature, is downright hilarious.

 Imagine a batting cage sheathed in dark cloth so as not to disclose the identity of the batter.

phillies copy.jpgObviously, in order too properly evaulate a prospective player, one has to watch him react, see how tall he is, observe his batting stance, and countless other visual clues to his abilities.

While I believe the MET’s anonymous audition process has worked well as a hiring procedure, I can still fantasize about the scenario of musicians being traded and finding themselves making music in another city with different colleagues with little or no notice (if he or she chose to waive any No-Trade Clause.)

“Hello, Susan?  It’s the Philadelphia Orchestra calling.”

 

UPDATE:  Colleagues from the brass section responded last night to my inquiries regarding the results of the audition and informed me that the committee had selected Erik Ralske, acting Associate Principal Horn (for the past 5 years) and, prior to that, Third Horn for the New York Yankees, er, New York Philharmonic.

I also neglected to mention in the first publication of this post that the Principal Horn vacancy was created by the retirement of distinguished Principal Horn, Julie Landsman.  Julie is a dynamic, inspiring player that has led that section with distinction since 1985.  She is also on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music and has former students in many major orchestras, including the MET Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Agile Ike

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Respect Must Be Paid

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 Thrilling to watch, amazing FREAKS

on the mound and the podium, respectively.

 

 *****

 

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Gilbert Kaplan.jpg(Gilbert Kaplan, considered an imposter by some musicians,)

Arguably, have NO BUSINESS on the mound or podium.

 

*****

   

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OWN the mound and the podium.

You tell ‘em, Granny!

 

 

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