“Where’s Waldo, er, Neal?”
November’s an unusual month at your Dayton Phil. The orchestra will perform three different programs: “Nature in Music”, a Young People’s Concert on November 10th; “The Music of Pink Floyd” on the Rockin’ Orchestra Series on the 12th; a Verdi-Shostakovich-Berlioz Masterworks program on the 18th and 19th. Plus, there are rehearsals on the 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th for December’s “Hometown Holiday with Amahl and the Night Visitors” SuperPops.
And I’m not on the podium for any of that. It’s maybe the first month in 27-plus years that your DPO musicians won’t see me on the podium at all.
“Nature in Music” Young People’s Concert
Your Dayton Performing Arts Alliance puts on two Young People’s Concerts each season—one in the Fall, one in the Spring. These are the mornings when it seems every parking meter in Downtown Dayton is bagged and the streets around the Schuster Center are filled with yellow school busses. On Young People’s Concert days we play two back-to-back programs for a total audience of 4,000 students from schools and home-schools in a 15-county area. They’re not generally open to the public, but these are some of the most important performances we do, because they introduce audiences of the future to the wonders of orchestral music, ballet, and opera.
DPO Associate Conductor Patrick Reynolds conducts the Fall program and I take the one in the Spring. Pat creates and performs great Young People’s programs. He’s wonderful with the Orchestra and wonderful with the kids in the audience. Actually, at many orchestras it’s the Associate or Assistant Conductor who does all the educational programs. But I love doing them, so I keep the Spring program on my conducting “dance card”.
“Music of Pink Floyd” Rockin’ Orchestra Concert
Our guest performers for this evening of the amazing, far-out sounds of Pink Floyd are the musicians of the Windborne rock ensemble. Windborne is one of the top rock-band-with-orchestra outfits, and we try to feature them on at least one Rockin’ Series program each season. On the podium—as usual, for Windborne shows—will be Brent Havens.
Brent is Windborne’s Musical Director. He performs with them week-in and week-out through the year. And he creates most of their orchestral arrangements. No one knows these shows like Brent. No one conducts them better.
And no one rehearses them better. When I conduct a Rockin’ Orchestra show, I typically use nearly all of the allotted two-and-a-half hours of rehearsal time. Brent Havens regularly gets Windborne concerts ready for performance in 90 minutes or less. How does he shave off an hour of rehearsal time? Because he knows these shows backwards and forwards, Brent knows exactly which songs need extra attention in rehearsal. He knows which songs can be played through once and be ready to go. And, most importantly, he knows which songs have passages that are so straightforward that they don’t even need to be rehearsed at all! So every time Windborne comes to play, the musicians get an extra hour of rest between the afternoon rehearsal and the evening concert. Believe me, they love that!
“Symphonie fantastique and Vadim Gluzman” Masterworks
The title of this concert is accurate. The big piece is Hector Berlioz’s amazing (dare I say “fantastic”?) Symphonie fantastique. And the guest violinist soloist is Orchestra- and audience-favorite Vadim Gluzman, returning to the DPO for the third time. But the concert’s title is only two-thirds accurate. It should really be “Symphonie fantastique and Vadim Gluzman and Antoine Clark”, because young American conductor Antoine Clark will lead the orchestra for these performances.
When we have guest conductors, some of you come up to me and say, “Why is there a guest conductor? We like it when you conduct.” That’s very kind of you, but guest conductors serve a vitally important role.
My relationship with the amazing musicians of our Orchestra is something special that I value deeply. We work together. We play together (since our work is playing music). We’re a musical family. I try not to be bossy about, but I am their boss. And I believe that everyone needs a break from their boss every once in a while. Guest conductors are that break. They bring a different approach to music-making. They bring different styles of conducting. They bring different rehearsal strategies. So guest conductors help keep my relationship with the players fresh. That’s very important.
And podium guests are even more important, now that I’ll be retiring in a few years. There are lots of extremely talented young conductors—like Antoine Clark—out there, and Dayton musicians and audiences need to get to know them. Not because every guest on the Schuster Center stage will be a candidate to be your new Artistic Director and Conductor. But some very well may be…
Hometown Holiday SuperPops
I love the DPAA’s Hometown Holiday shows. But I haven’t conducted one in ten years. Why not? Because every year, starting the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I spend almost all my time in the Ballet Studio observing rehearsals for Dayton Ballet’s Nutcracker production. In a pinch, I could probably pull off Hometown Holiday and Nutcracker prep. But it’s better for both shows if I stay focused on sugar-plums, rats, and snowflakes! Plus, as a Firesign Theatre fan from way-back, I know that you can’t be in two places at once!
So Where is Waldo, er, Neal?
What will I be doing this month, while Pat, Brent, and Antoine are conducting your Philharmonic? I’ll be getting ready for Nutcracker and Messiah and New Year’s Eve, plus studying music we’ll be playing in the second half of the season (especially Wagner’s Das Rheingold, which I’ll be conducting with Dayton Opera in April). And I’ll be joining you in the Schuster Center to sit in the audience. That’s really important. As good as my “seat” at the podium is, what matters most is how the Orchestra sounds to you out in the hall. Yes, it’s a “busman’s holiday”. But it helps this busman drive his route even better when he gets back behind the wheel!
And that’s where Waldo is!