I Was At A Concert: The Pendleton Mahler 5–A Diseased Report



I just returned home from traveling to my old stomping grounds, hanging out with my old roommates, doing the job I did in my old life.  I flew to Portland, got to see my family for about 4 hours (which was both terrific and terrible in how little time there was), and then met up with my good friends James and Rebekah to crash on their boat for the night.  The geese that swam up as we came near the dock were always there to hiss at us, which was adorable.  We rolled out to Pendleton to ready the preparations for the Mahler 5 with the Oregon East Symphony Thursday.

It was nice to be back in Pendleton…it had been a couple years since I’d been there, and there were some familiar faces there, although they become less familiar when you’re no longer an active member of the musical circle, through no one’s fault.  At any rate, I had the Rainbow’s Pressure Fried Chicken, so my trip proved fruitful whether I played a note or not, and I didn’t eat it like a pansy, either…no forks and knives.  You could literally burn a hole in your lips from the juices, but such is the price one must pay to maintain any semblance of cowboy spirit, lest he be called out mercilessly, almost without end, by the townspeople.  I’m afraid a friend and colleague walked down this path and ended up with a stern talking-to.

One other thing to note before actually talking about the music…I was sick as a dog that is sick within 6 hours of arriving in Pendleton.  I don’t know what hit me, but I’m still not over it, and am in fact typing this while not working today, the very definition of a blessing in disguise.  Suffice it to say that while the large majority of the orchestra was cavorting together about town and enjoying one another’s company, I was enjoying the company of the heater on the bathroom floor of our homestay with the good doctors, who celebrated their anniversary on the day of the performance, by the way.  I battled wicked chills all weekend, lots of congestion, headaches, etc. but still enjoyed myself on the whole.

The performance itself turned out to be rather good.  I’ve had the good fortune of participating in other parts of the OES Mahler cycle (although I foolishly skipped the Mahler 2, which I forever kick myself for), and I personally think the performance of the 5th was the high water mark in the series.  There was a pretty stellar crowd there, and they seemed to dig the show a lot.

On a personal horn level, we fucking rocked the shit.  The principal/obbligatoist was Lydia van Dreel from the University of Oregon, and I officially declare her a bad ass.  Real easy to play with, too, which is key, because there’s an awful lot of teamwork as a section.  I’m not even going to bother mentioning specific examples of our collective shit-rocking, but perhaps when Maestro Woods finishes the recording I’ll toss the link up here for peeps to listen to and confirm what I’m saying.  We weren’t alone…

The trumpets were also rad, as was the percussion.  The bass drum, played by a sweet woman whose name is totally escaping me right now because I’m a forgetful dumbass, was off-the-charts good.  The four-measure solo at the end of the Scherzo was one of the most musical things I’ve ever heard…precise, menacing, crisp, soft, driving…not bad for a piano teacher.  The best string section I’d ever heard in Pendleton was there, too…terrific Adagietto, and a good job all around.  It’s notey music.

Maestro’s take on the symphony was in many respects different from my perceptions and feelings on it, but it still worked tremendously.  It’s easy to enjoy, accept, and understand an interpretation that may be vastly different from your own ideas when you know the amount of preparation, thought, and work that goes into it.  I don’t know the preparation, thought, and work levels of everybody, but I’ve decided for myself now more than ever that THAT is the great divider between good and bad conducting.  Technique is important, communication is important, rapport with orchestra, audience, board, etc. is important, but nothing trumps the very basic, although probably often overlooked, concept of just being uber-fucking-prepared.  Knowing Ken well enough to know what he puts into it makes it far easier to understand his decisions.  I only hope when my opportunity arises to conduct this piece my preparation will be sufficient to make my interpretation as understandable as his.  I salute him on a top-notch show.

That was more than likely my last ever go-round with the OES as a horn player, and what a way to go.  I will have several nice memories from that performance with me for years.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed as many times as my knuckles will allow that I’ll get an opportunity to audition for the conducting gig there, although having heard about some of the other applicants for the position, I’m readying a prominent spot on the roof of my fort made of rejection letters…it’s warm in here.  But that’s for another time.

In the meantime, thanks to Ken, Christina, Pendleton, James and Rebekah, the Doctors, Mahler, Southwest Airlines, my family, the bartender at Hamley’s who made two very nice Caucasians, Fran from The Health Nuts who when asked if she would be coming to the concert on Sunday said matter-of-factly, “I like country-and-western music,” Lydia, Michelle, Steve, Nathan, my new facebook amigo Roy, who is a chilled out awesome dude, Kenny for being enthusiastic about horn and for being enthusiastic about having jumper cables to start James’ car, the Mullers for letting the rest of the world as we knew it that evening that tri-tip is the greatest cut of meat in existence, and everyone else who helped make it a kick-ass run.  I hope to see you down the road sometime, Pendle-Vegas.  And even though I had a contractual obligation to be there, it was my pleasure, as an active participant, to be at a concert.


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