Listening but Not Seeing, pt. II
In April I was once again asked to help, but in a totally different capacity. Mr. Ogawa told me that the artist to be featured at the exhibit had written a poem for every one of his works, and that some of them had been put to music. To be specific, there was a collection of tunes, each written by a different composer but still using the artist's poems as lyrics, compiled into a single work for a choir with a piano accompaniment. Someone involved with the upcoming exhibit had requested the Kashima Philharmonic put together a chamber orchestra and perform some of those tunes. Naturally, that meant someone had to arrange them for a chamber orchestra. Naturally, that someone was me.
The tunes were all, well, very typical examples of modern choral music, i.e. lots of bizarre time shifts and very close, often dissonant harmony. It wasn't a simple matter of transcribing the parts as they were; I had to put a lot of thought into it while still staying as close to the originals as possible. As usual, I got totally wrapped up in the project. Paying little heed to such trivial things as my job, I immersed myself in the tunes, tried to get to know them as best I could, even make them a part of myself, and then try to shape them into something of my own.
Looking at the book and the examples of the artist's work it contained, I had a fleeting feeling of familiarity (or was that "a familiar feeling of fleet..." never mind). It seemed I had seen that artist's work before, or at least something very much like it. I didn't pay it much mind, however, for I soon became too engrossed in the music to care.
In the end, however, the arranging didn't take me long at all. There were a little under a dozen tunes in the collection, and I had all of them but one scored and on Mr. Ogawa's desk within two weeks. (Mssr. Maestro was quite astonished, I can tell you!) I never heard anything more about it, though, so I figured the project had quietly dried up.
I'd figured wrong. At the end of the Kashima Philharmonic rehearsal on May 12th I was told that the chamber orchestra was going to try reading through my arrangements, which the members had apparently been practicing individually during the previous week (and which I had virtually forgotten). I was asked if I could hang around and make sure nothing needed fixing. Well, with all the bizarre tone palettes and changing meters (not to mention some very unorthodox musicality), we quickly found something that needed to be fixed: the lack of a conductor. I directed the rehearsal, and after selecting the pieces that would be used at the performance, the konzertmeisterin asked me if I could conduct them regularly. I agreed with some reservations knowing full well it was just another load to try to give time I really didn't have.
There were two performances, the first of which was on Saturday the 24th after my morning of guiding people (and ill-tempered old farts) to the mass choir rehearsal. Real communication was at a premium, and the schedule kept being subject to random changes, but I still managed to get myself over to the Kashima Workers' Culture Hall for the final rehearsal followed by the performance itself. It seemed like a comedy of errors. At least a fifth of the group had never rehearsed the pieces. We started the practice session with a couple of missing members, who came waltzing in (quite out of step with our changing meters) in the middle. And if rehearsal was a confusing joke, the Saturday performance was even worse. We were called to standby backstage only to find that the stage crew had no idea who was doing what where or when. It came down to a, "Well, why don't you let [so and so] go on first, and then we won't have to move the piano," sort of thing. The members of the chamber orchestra went onstage, but no one bothered to set up my director's stand, so I brought it out myself...and was immediately introduced by the announcer as the prelude to our performance, i.e. no time to tune up. The tuning was iffy. The execution was stilted. The conducting was awkward. The playing was tentative. The performance was lackluster. The crowd response was muted. The members of the orchestra were disappointed. The Moody Minstrel was out of the building and in his BLUE RAV4 headed homeward as soon as he could get out of there.
At least we had another chance to redeem ourselves on Sunday the 25th. Things got off to an awful start (i.e. no one told me our performance had been rescheduled half an hour earlier, so I showed up late...forcing them to reschedule it again). However, this time the stage was set up properly and the orchestra was able to tune up. I felt much more in the groove with my conducting, and the players responded well. It was a much better performance than Saturday's had been, and the audience response reflected it. We all felt much better afterward.
(When we had returned backstage one of the violinists said, "Now I finally understand these tunes! Can we perform them again?)