Podcast #17 - Hindemith's Mathis der Maler

A brief discussion of this remarkable and powerful WW II classic, based on Hindemith's opera based on the life of Matthias Grunewald.


Pops opener

The HSO Pops season opener was terrific, and exhausting. To begin with, movie music in general is fairly difficult and physically demanding, especially the older music like the two Korngold pieces we opened with (The Sea Hawk, and Robin Hood). Second, when there is no featured act we are presenting, so much more responsibility falls on the conductor as host and entertainer. For this one, I also played the piano and the accordion, and I sang some of Rawhide. Not that I'm complaining... frankly, I had a blast, and seemingly so did the audience.

The orchestra again exceeded my already high expectations. To put this program together with so little rehearsal time was nothing short of heroic. Add to that the humor and energy they brought to the stage. That is what sells a pops concert. If the orchestra and conductor are having fun and the music is well chosen and well performed, you cannot go wrong.

Nice crowds again for both shows, particularly Sunday's matinee.

My favorite moment: on Sunday, when I played the accordion solo for The Godfather Suite, Odin (our concertmaster) and several other string players got up and put dollars into the accordion case. A few pieces later, when Odin had a schmaltzy solo in The Green Leaves of Summer, I stopped conducting and threw a couple of dollars at him. Classic.

Two more Pops posters

Here are the other two posters for our Pops season. The hills are alive...


Fun promo

Here is the poster for the Swashbucklers and Gunslingers concert this weekend. Our Marketing Director, Kent Wissinger, created this, and it's created quite a sensation in Harrisburg. It seems like a lot of people want to have signed copies to frame and hang in their homes. Figure that....

There are already posters done for the remaining two concerts, but I don't want to scoop Kent. The concerts are An Evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stay Tuned: The Golden Age of Television. Use your imagination and you'll probably come close. I'll post those soon.

Carnegie Hall, Pt. 2

Well, another Carnegie Hall concert come and gone. Again, it was a thrilling experience, and again, there were a few hundred friends and patrons from Harrisburg at the concert.

Let me start with that. How cool is it that 200 Harrisburg Symphony patrons made the trip to NYC to see me conduct at Carnegie Hall? It certainly give me a fuzzy, warm feeling inside. And people wonder why I like it here....

I took the train to NY on Wednesday afternoon, affording me several uninterrupted hours of work time. I stayed Wednesday night with my dear friends the Azenbergs, who conveniently live a block away from Carnegie Hall. I watched the ball game, couldn't sleep (sadly, par for the course), and went to rehearsal on Wednesday morning, the start of a very long day. The rehearsal was in the auditorium of the Jewish Community Center on 76th Street. Nice facility. Rehearsal was vigorous, focussing mostly on the Korngold violin concerto (with Pip Clarke), and the Enescu Rumanian Rhapsody #1. Neither is your typical pops piece, and there was much to work on. The orchestra and staff was extremely warm and welcoming, a fact I very much appreciated.

After rehearsal, James Johnson, the NY Pops Executive Director, and I met Ruth Henderson, Skitch's widow for lunch. Skitch of course was the founder and only director of the NY Pops up until his death in 2005, at the age of 87. Ruth is younger, and vibrant, intelligent, driven, warm and wonderful. It was great hearing her stories and getting to know this amazing woman (James aptly decribes her as a "force of nature").

From there it was on to the Pops offices, where I was to give a conducting lesson to the winner, at auction, of a chance to conduct the Pops at my concert. he was conducting the "Star Spangled Banner," which as it turns out, is not the easiest piece of music. It has stops and starts. Yikes! Mike Appling, the conducting student, had just the right combination of eagerness, humor, rhythm, and a bit of moxie. We worked for a while and thn it was time to move on.

Off to Michael Feinstein's house on the East Side, to go over his set for the concert. Michael lives in a gorgeous townhouse, which at present is a work in progress. Some rooms are not yet done, but the piano room, where we met, was beautifully decorated, with great art on the wall. One wall was a sort of shrine to George Gershwin, whom Michael clearly holds dear to his heart (he had worked closely with Ira Gershwin in his younger days). When people ask me what Michael Feinstein is like, my response is that he is as warm and charming in person as he is on stage. I really liked him. And I love the way he performs the American songbook. He knows this repertoire like few others anywhere. What fun for me.

After our meeting it was back to the West Side for dinner and a show. My old friend Aaron Sorkin has a new show in previews on Broadway (at the Music Box Theater), so he invited me to come see the show and I suggested we meet for dinner, as we haven't had the chance to visit in an age. He and I went to Scarsdale High School together and did lots of shows when we were younger. We met two other friends - Jeff Gardner, also of Scarsdale, who is currently producing a headed for Broadway production of a musical version of the film Grumpy Old Men, and Rob Jones, a friend of mine from Harvard, who became friends with the rest when we were all living in NYC in the late 80s. So it was a most enjoyable dinner. What I love about this kind of old, dear friend is that time passes, but the friendship doesn't change. It's a beautiful thing. It was doubly nice that we were to see the new show, and Aaron was coming the next night to Carnegie.

The show, The Farnsworth Invention was terrific. Beautifully written (I don't think anyone writes dialogue better than Aaron), beautifully acting and expertly directed and presented. I get very emotional when my friends do cool, great thins, and the show effected me anyway, so I was a bit "verklemmt" at the end.

Jeff walked me back, and I spent another mostly sleepless night.

Friday was spent preparing: In the morning, I spent some time tginking about what I wanted to say at the concert. Certainly the most important part of that was a tribute I was to give for John Griner, the Chairman of the board of the NY Pops, who just died a month ago. John was a special man, and I wanted the words and sentiments to be just right. I also wanted to make sure I had my ideas straight for the rest of the first half of the show. I generally do not like to memorize words - it tends to come out rigid that way. So I fill my head with possibilities and ideas, and speak off the cuff. It's something I think I do pretty well.

My wife Marty arrived in the early afternoon, and we went to the hall together. I went up to the Maestro's suite, a bit less overwhelmed than the last time, but nonetheless very excited. Rehearsal was okay, but I knew that in some ways we could have used more time, and we'd be flying a bit by the seat of our pants. This is par for the course, I think. Certainly I feel most of the time that I could stand another rehearsal, especially with difficult repertoire, but the happy news is that the orchestras generally kick it up a notch (to quote Emiril) and come through in the concerts.

This was no exception. The concert went very well. I felt pleased with my conducting and the orchestra's playing. The audience responded well to my banter, and seemed to have a great time. Michael Feinstein was splendid. I saw a bunch of family and good friends at intermission and after the show was over. It's great having that kind of support.

After the concert, there was a lovely reception where I got a cance to meet some patrons of the Pops. There is nothing like a good schmooze after a long night's work.

Of course, I didn't sleep much....

So what is it with this insomnia? I wish I knew. My mind simply races. It does make things tugh sometimes, being really tired. Ah, well... I've learned how to cope with it.

So now it's back to work here in Harrisburg. No rest for the weary. And it's more movie music. Swashbucklers and Gunslingers. Should be fun.

Opening Night at the HSO

Last weekend we opened our 2007-2008 Masterworks season.

A few reflections:

1) The orchestra is really good. It's such a pleasure to be reminded of that every time I take the podium. The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra is a dynamic, exciting, and talented bunch of players, and I am lucky to work with them. We had a fair numbers of substitutes in the orchestra this time. For those new to this concept, the players of the HSO, like most of the orchestras in our region, have a minimum requirement of concerts to play, beyond which they have total flexibility. this allows us to have the caliber of players that we regularly put on the stage. Of course, the only way this can work is if we have subs of the same high level. Luckily, as this opening night proved, we do. The repertoire was difficult, and in the case of Tchaikovsky's 2nd Symphony, somewhat unfamiliar. Rehearsals were upbeat and the results exciting. I will not soon forget the feeling on Sunday afternoon of pushing the accelerando at the end to its furthest limit, and the orchestra seamlessly following. Ah, the pleasure of conducting a responsive group!

2) Karen Gomyo, who played the Dvorak violin concerto with us, is a splendid violinist. She is an intensely gifted musician, but her playing is never self-indulgent. She simply makes every phrase gorgeous, and she is a delightful young woman who is easy to collaborate with. I can't wait for the next time.

3) What a difference 550 new subscribers makes! The orchestra ran two promotions: half-price subscriptions for new subscribers to the entire series, and $27 season tickets (in designated seating areas) for students and their families. Needless to say, they have been rather successful (and continue to be). This is not just a good thing for our balance sheet, although it certainly helps. These extra audience members actually make the concert a better experience, both for the players and for the audience. There is a "critical mass" of audience members (at the Forum I'd say it's about 1300) beyond which it feels like a full house. We are finally there, and the entire ambiance of the concerts is better. I certainly felt it. I imagine everyone there did as well.

4) The "talkback" sessions after the concerts are picking up steam. We had fairly large groups staying after both performances to ask questions of me and Karen, and reflect on the concerts. This is our third year doing these, and they are always enjoyable. For me, it's a chance to unwind, and an opportunity to have face to face time with our audience. For the attendees, it's a chance to get some new insight into the musicians and what makes us tick. Those of you who have never attended them should consider giving it a try.

That's all for now. I again ask that you send comments and questions - let me know what you think.

Podcast #16 - Tchaikovsky Symphony #2

A discussion of the folk based "Little Russian" Symphony.


Podcast #15 - Dvorak Violin Concerto

A discussion of this highly romantic, energetic, and unconventional violin concerto, to be performed by dazzling violin virtuoso Karen Gomyo.


Podcast #14 - Tannhäuser Overture

It's opening night time for the HSO! I discuss this wonderful overture by Richard Wagner. Will Tannhäuser give in to the temptations of the goddess of love? Or will he be true to the virtuous Elisabeth? And what about Naomi?


World-Famous in Harrisburg

I was looking through my photos today and thought I should post these two.

The first is my billboard, up this entire past season in various well-traveled locations, and the subject of much teasing from my friends here.

The second is my life-sized cardboard cut-out, made to help advertise the HSO raffle this past year, but kept for other potential uses in the upcoming season. If you think I got a lot of grief from the billboard, it was nothing compared to the flack generated by this:

It can be somewhat odd to be a local celebrity. It must be really strange in the larger markets. I remember when Movin' Out opened in NYC, and there was a building-sized photo of Michael Cavanaugh up in Times Square. That must have been intense and pretty cool for Michael. Then I think of the real mass-market celebrities like the sports, TV and movie stars, who see themselves everywhere, and have no aspects of their lives to themselves. At what point does it cross over the line between fun/cool and horrible/invasive? Tough to say, but I'm certainly glad that most people don't have any desire to know what conductors do when they are out of their tails.

My kids loved the billboard, though...

In Memorium: Earl Mays and Marjorie Katzman

It's been a sad week. Two friends died this week, both of complications from cancer. In a two day stretch Earl Mays and Marjorie were gone.

I met Earl Mays in 1991, when I went to Charleston, SC to be the Assistant Conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Earl was already a living musical legend in Charleston, having led the band program at the Citadel for many years, and having written several excellent pops arrangements for the CSO. Over the years, I've conducted nearly all of Earl's arrangements, premiered many of them. Earl was a magnificent orchestrator - he really understood how to write for symphony orchestra. I always felt he was particularly good at brass orchestration, and when he had the luxury of a sax section, his "big band sound" was second to none. I remember him telling me that he spent most of his arranging time working out the segues (the way one tune merges into another). They always turned out interesting and seamless. Even after I left Charleston, I continued to play his music - some of his charts, like the "Big Band Blast" and "Hooray for Hollywood", I could probably lead in my sleep. When my brother, Joel, and I created our "Las Vegas Legends" show, I asked Earl to write charts for the second half of the show - all of the Sinatra tunes. This may be the best work I saw Earl do. Tasteful, brash, swinging and fun.... what a great arranger!

As brilliant a musician as he was, he was equally a gentle, avuncular man. We became very close friends. I loved being around Earl, and after I left Charleston, we stayed in very close contact. He was planning to attend my Carnegie Hall debut last winter, but his health prevented him from making the trip. He would have really loved that...

I will miss Earl. Knowing him enhanced my life and contributed to my growth as a musician. I will continue to perform his wonderful music, and I know he will be on my mind whenever I program a pops program or perform big band music.

I've known Marjorie Katzman for only seven years. I first met her husband Ron, who was one of the committee that brought me to Harrisburg, was previously chairman of the HSO's Board of Directors, crafted my initial contract, and continues to serve on the Board and contribute pro bono legal advice to the HSO (the value of his donation of time and expertise has been immeasurable). He is one of a handful of real heroes of my tenure with the HSO.

Marjorie was much more behind the scenes during my time here. She had served her time in the spotlight - chairman of the Board, president of the Symphony Society - and in recent years was the chairperson for several fund-raising events. And that was just her activities for the HSO. She also was a volunteer for several other worthy organizations, and served earlier as a missionary abroad. She was the kind of person who would come through whenever you needed her - generous in every way. She was also an extremely warm, kind and sharply intelligent person.

Marjorie was no pushover. Her mind was always working, and when she had an idea, she would be heard. Luckily, her ideas were usually good, and always at least provocative. More importantly, they always came from a deep love of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. She really liked music, but she loved the HSO, and was one of the people (like Ron) who I knew would never allow the orchestra to fail. Every organization needs those supporters. In fact, if I could clone Ron and Marjorie Katzman and create a symphony board and auxiliary, it would be pretty hard to beat.

Harrisburg is a lesser place for having lost Marjorie. She devoted her life to two things: raising a family and doing good things for others. We need more people like that.

My deepest sympathies go out to Earl's and Marjorie's families.

Summer Update, Part 2


I was home from China for a day. It was supposed to be two days, but as I said earlier, we had to spend the night in Chicago because United Airlines would not hold our flight for 10 minutes (!) - and there were 21 of us! Unbelievable. Far be it from me to try to understand the workings of the UA think tank. I will say that the customer service folks at United were very pleasant and helpful. A silver lining on a rather gloomy cloud.

After that one day, I was off to Atlantic City, to serve as Music Supervisor for a fourth production of "Movin' Out", at Harrah's casino at the Marina. The work was hard but very enjoyable. I think the company is very good. This production will be in AC for 10 weeks, and then tour the country and Canada, playing a lot of the smaller venues that the First National tour could not play. The band sounds great, our two piano men, Matthew Friedman (who did it on the first tour) and Kyle Martin (who is new to the show) are both excellent, and it was lots of fun collaborating with David Rosenthal again on the music and of course with Twyla Tharp.

The thing that struck me most about the two weeks or so in AC was the joylessness of the place. You walk through the casino and see hundreds of people at slot machines, and no one is smiling! Very strange.

Great outlet shopping, though.

After my AC adventure, I returned home for "Daddy Camp". My wife Marty is the Director of the Massage Therapy program at Harrisburg Area Community College. She was heading into the last week of her program's first seesion, so it made sense (especially after my virtual absence for the previous month) that I take the kids on a week of adventures. We had a great time. Monday, we drove to New York City to see an open dress rehearsal of the American Ballet Theater's production of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" with our friend Marilynn Kanenson. I don't know if there is any prettier music out there. And the dancing was beautiful. Tuesday, we went to Baltimore's Port Discovery Children's Museum, a marvelous educational playground for kids. We were met ther by my sister-in-law Nancy and her two children, and spent the next two nights with them in Northern Virginia, while during the day we did the Washington, DC thing, visiting several Smithsonian museums and the main monuments. Friday we capped off the week with a visit to Hershey Park. We had an absolutely perfect day, and had a blast.

I love my family, if you haven't guessed yet.

So now it's back to work. In the next few weeks I have three programs - two with orchestra and one chamber music (see Upcoming Events...). Then I get some real vacation with the family at my parents' Cape Cod house. It should be just in time.

Be back soon.

Summer Update, Part 1

How time flies....

It's summer, and I'm at Barnes and Noble Bookstore with a venti coffee of the day, a spinach and artichoke strata, and my laptop. My daughter Sara is doing a one-week tennis camp about 25 minutes from my house. It starts at 9 and ends at 12, so the issue has been: do I go home in between and work, or stay out near the camp for the three hours. Today I chose the latter, and I am taking advantage of this chunk of time to update my hopelessly lagging blog.

It's been quite a busy stretch since the season ended in May. I should say a word about that last concert first. We premiered a new trombone concerto by Scott McCallister, played brilliantly (and I do not use the term lightly) by our Principal Trombone, Brent Phillips. What thrilled me was not only the piece, an excellent addition to the repertoire - beautifully structured, varied in content, perfectly orchestrated, dazzlingly difficult for the soloist, and audience friendly without dumbing down to anyone - but also the incredible and spontaneous response from our audience. This was no obligatory standing ovation, but rather the sincere expression of elation at the presentation of an exciting, gripping, and visceral new work. (My friend John Clare has an excellent interview of Scott at Composing Thoughts.) This was followed by a performance of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Symphony, in which the orchestra showed once again that it can hold its own with some of the elite orchestra's out there. A great experience, and one that left me optimistic about the future of the HSO, and profoundly grateful to be here at this point in time.

The next day was the wedding of one of my oldest friends, Jeff Gardner, in NYC (I've known Jeff since kindergarten!). A whirlwind trip, but one I would not have wanted to miss.

Jeff and Federica

The next day I left for China. This was a tour, organized by Bob Cheung of Harrisburg, to benefit the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. I was the supposed draw, although I think the trip itself was enticing enough on its own. I call it the "It's good to be Stuart Malina China tour." The trip spanned 12 days, including 2 full days of travel (actually, there was an extra night, as we missed our Chicago connection coming home...), and there were 33 of us in the group.

I will not make this a travelogue, but suffice it to say, the trip was amazing. The highlights for me:

1) The Great Wall. What can I say? I went to China expecting the Great Wall to be incredibly cool, and it far exceeded my expectations. It boggles the mind to think of how this structure was actually built. We had to take a gondola to the wall, and then exhausted ourselves walking the relatively short span we covered. How did the workers do it, carrying enormous stones? Even without the Wall, the natural scenery was gorgeous. We had a spectacular clear day at the Wall - apparently very rare, but it was very hot - certainly into the 90s. Amazing.

2) The Terra Cotta Warriors outside the city of Xi-an. I know... predictable. But, again, I was unprepared for the vastness of this archeological discovery. To think that three peasants were trying to dig a well, and they found this.

3) The China Conservatory in Beijing. Not the Beijing conservatory, but the one in Beijing that has a focus on traditional Chinese musical instruments. We were given a private tour, and a performance by eight young virtuosos of instruments like the pipa, the erhu, and the hammer dulcimer. It was unbelievably inspiring, and the music was soulful and stirring.

4) The silk embroidery masters at Suzhou. Again, an amazing thing to see great artists at work. The embroideries were expensive (far beyond my wallet) but so beautiful, and the ladies who were creating them were inspiring.

5) The Chinese garden, also in Suzhou. I want to retire there (I fear that plan A - Charleston, SC - will be too expensive)....

6) The whole shopping experience. It makes you crazy, and you always feel like you're being ripped off, no matter what price you end up with, but I like the bargaining game. By the way, the Chairman Mao watch I bought the first day (35 yuan, down from an initial asking price of 180 yuan - $5, down from $26. I was immediately told I shouldn't have paid more than 20 yuan - $3) still works.

7) The people. It sounds trite, but we are all indeed very much the same. The Chinese people were by and large extremely welcoming, friendly, warm, and generous. I should add that the folks on the trip, most of whom I had never met before the first day, were great travel companions. To a person, I look forward to seeing them again.

I've left out so much. There wasn't much I didn't enjoy. Bob Cheung did a brilliant job of organizing and leading the tour. The local guides were for the most part wonderful, and at the worst very good. The pace was literally blistering, but that allowed us to cover the amount of ground we did in a very short time. And although I did miss my family terribly, I was able to see them and speak to them daily, from the other side of the globe, on my laptop. iChat is absolutely incredible!

I was happy to return at the end of the trip. But I wasn't home for long.

To be continued.....

Podcast #13 - Suite from Cinderella

Prokofiev's gorgeous fairy tale ballet in suite form.

Podcast #12 - Love Music from Tristan and Isolde

Stokowski's transcription of this operatic classic. Love, torment, sex, passion...what more could we ask for?

Podcast #11 - Siegfried Idyll

I talk about this intimate musical love letter by the great German opera composer.

So Much To Discuss, So Little Time

Dick Strawser, friend, radio personality, and avid blogger (I happily admit, I read "Dr. Dick's Blog" every day) emailed me today. The bulk of the letter was in reference to the passing of our mutual friend Pierce Getz (which I will get to shortly), but he ended by asking if I was ever getting back to blogging. Indeed, it has been two months almost to the day since my last posting, and that was an apology for not having posted the previous three weeks. Ah, the shame of it.

Well, Dick, here I am, back in the saddle. It's 10:30, I just finished a spirited game of Mexican train dominoes with my extended family (all staying at my house this week for Passover), and I'm ready to attempt a condensed version of the last few months of my life.

First, a word about Pierce. Pierce participated in several of the most personally satisfying programs I have conducted in Harrisburg. He was the organist when we performed Saint-Saëns' 3rd Symphony, as well as for every other piece with organ we performed. He also directed the Alumni Chorus of Lebanon Valley College, which participated in every choral work the HSO has presented in its Masterworks series since I have been here, including "Carmina Burana", Mozart's Requiem, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and a most memorable Mahler's 2nd Symphony. He was a musician of profound talents, who made a significant difference in the musical life of Central Pennsylvania. But what I think about when I remember Pierce is his humanity. He was a deeply generous, highly spiritual, and gently dynamic man, who devoted his life to teaching, inspiring, and sharing his passion for music. I attended his memorial service yesterday, and the message from the overflowing crowd was clear: Pierce was as beloved for being a great human being as he was for being a great musician. I will miss his sense of humor and his warmth. I'm very sad to have lost a friend and colleague, and my deepest sympathies go out to his wife Gene and the rest of his family.

So what have I been doing since mid-January? Well, I guess the best strategy is just to go event by event.

The last weekend of January was the HSO's performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore". This was a particularly fun week for me, as it brought together many friends as well as family for the shows. Of the seven leading actors in that performance, I have known three for over 40 years, and two more for over twenty. We put together a two hour operetta from scratch in two days - a testament to the talents of these performers (and the orchestra). What made it especially great for me was sharing the stage with my brother
Joel and my cousin Josh. Joel and I have done over 15 pops shows together since I started as a professional conductor and he has never been anything but extraordinary - he is simply one of the most versatile and charismatic performers I know. Josh (star of television's "West Wing") and I had not performed together since 1987, when he was Moonface Martin in a production of "Anything Goes" that I musically directed at Yale. His family and mine lived 5 minutes from each other when we were growing up, and this was a treat for me to have him here. He is great on stage, and had me laughing out loud several times during the performances. Add to the mix my friend Jeff Gardner, who I have known since kindergarten, and is a veteran of numerous Broadway productions; Jonathan Rabb, who sang with Joel in the Yale Whiffenpoofs, is now a successful novelist, and knows Gilbert and Sullivan as well as anyone I know; Ilana Davidson, who I met at Tanglewood in the late '80s, and sings like an angel; Tracy Bidleman, who had participated in two previous G&S shows here; and Damian Savarino, a Harrisburg resident, with a gorgeous baritone voice; and you get one happy Stuart. What was my plan for throwing the show together? To allow my talented cast free rein to do whatever they could to make the audience enjoy itself. And they did so with great flair. You may see performances of "Pinafore" with fewer rough edges, but I doubt you'll find many that were more fun to watch. The other very satisfying aspect to the weekend was that we had nearly sold-out houses. Maybe it was Josh's star power, but whatever the reason, it makes a big difference, trust me.

Jonathan Rabb, Josh Malina, Ilana Davidson, Joel Malina, Sonja Bontrager, me, Tracy Bidleman, Damian Savarino, and Jeff Gardner

February 9th was my Carnegie Hall debut with the NY Pops. The program was all-Gershwin: the overture from "Girl Crazy", "An American in Paris", and "Rhapsody in Blue" (with me conducting from the piano) on the first half, and Maureen McGovern singing Gershwin songs on the second half. What can I say? It was an unbelievable weekend for me. The concert went very well, and I enjoyed my time with the orchestra very much, but what will stick in my mind for the rest of my life was the feeling of walking onto this august stage and being greeted by an audience largely comprised of friends and family. 275 people came from Harrisburg alone, 40 college friends came from all over the country, almost my entire family (aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and then some) was there, even a large group from Greensboro made the trek. I could go on. I have always considered myself a lucky man. But being blessed with so many people who love me is something I will never take for granted, and having so many of them there to support me and share in my moment is an indescribable feeling. So I won't even try to describe it.

My favorite Carnegie Hall moment? Walking in the stage door, introducing myself to the house manager, and being sent up to the Maestro's suite, where there are pictures up of many of the great conductors who have used that very room and a bust of Toscanini (it looked like marble, but it was fake....). When I used the rest room, I actually was musing over what other greats had shared the facility over the years.

That, and when my parents, wife and kids came back after my performance. My dad has said for a long time that every time he and Mom attend operas and concerts in the great venues of New York City (and he attends quite a few), he pictures me coming out for a bow. That night it was me.

The February Masterworks concerts featured Mozart and Beethoven. The treat of the weekend was working with
Markus Groh, a German pianist of great talent. His performance of the Emperor Concerto, on the old Baldwin at the Forum (he had deemed the Steinway we rented unfit - and I had to agree with him), was really special. Again we had wonderful crowds, and the comments I got in the days following were glowing. One patron said it was the best concert he had ever been to, another said that her one complaint was that the concert ended. Obviously, we cannot perform only Mozart and Beethoven, but equally clear is the undeniable fact that their music still speaks to our audience and sells tickets as well.

At the end of February, I went to NY for auditions for a new production of "Movin' Out". The first national tour had closed in January, and I thought that the marvelous journey had ended. Not so fast, Malina. A second national tour will go out in June, starting in Atlantic City. The show will be pared down a bit, but Twyla Tharp is directing the dancers, the lighting, set and costume designers are the same as the original production, and of course, I will be overseeing the music. So my hunch is it will be pretty darn good. So here we go again! (By the way, the auditions were pretty much a bust.)

The March Masterworks in Harrisburg featured the First Symphony of Sibelius, as well as the Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes" by Britten and Saint-Saëns' 2nd Piano Concerto with the incredible
Pascal Rogé. Two things about this concert. First, the Steinway was completely overhauled before the first rehearsal, only to have the sustain pedal break after the first movement during the first performance. A lot was made of my getting down under the piano in a vain attempt to fix it, but truly, what was I going to do, just stand there helplessly and let our stage crew (wonderful guys, but piano technicians? I don't think so) handle it? Anyway, the Steinway was rolled off, and our old friend the Forum Baldwin was rolled on. Pascal was not just patient, he was absolutely delightful. After the five minute pause, he came back out and played the second and third movements on this fairly out-of-tune piano that he had never played on before. What a testament to this man's character. Although the Sunday performance was certainly more refined, I will forever remember that Saturday night, and Rogé's grace.

The second aspect of the weekend that was noteworthy for me was the reaffirmation of Sibelius' greatness. The First Symphony is a terrific piece, and many of the orchestra players had never performed it. Several of them thanked me for programming it. I have to admit that I was disappointed with the audience size. I thought that surely bringing a pianist of Pascal Rogé's stature to Harrisburg would bring people in. Sadly, it did not seem to be the case. Not empty houses but certainly on the smaller side, especially given the successes of the previous few concerts. What particularly irked me was hearing of a bunch of audience members who left at intermission. Were they afraid of Sibelius? Did they know how passionate and mushy-gushy a piece it is? Ah well, in the end, they purchased the ticket, but in the end it was their loss.

The end of March was our last pops concert of the year -
Bravo Broadway, featuring Doug LaBrecque and Cristianne Noll. They had sung with us two seasons ago, and were a huge sensation, and they certainly did not disappoint in their return (back by popular demand!). Again, the houses were nearly sold out - I think it might have been completely sold out on Sunday. Of all the successes here in Harrisburg, the pops series might be my greatest. A few years back, the board of the symphony was on the brink of canceling this series. I made an impassioned plea, and we turned it around. A lot of thanks needs to go to Capitol Blue Cross (particularly Jim Mead and Anita Smith) for their vote of confidence and financial support. I will certainly accept much of the credit. But I must also mention how amazing this orchestra is. We have little rehearsal time for these concerts, and the music is generally very demanding. They have never let me down - not even one sub-par performance - and they do it with a smile. I've always believed that if the performers are having a good time, the audience cannot help but have a good time as well. This orchestra bears that up.

Well, that brings us pretty much up to date. I know I glossed over quite a lot, but, hey, I'm back.

See you next week with some podcasts on Wagner and Prokofiev!

Sorry for the Inactivity

Just a short posting to say I'm sorry I've been so lax in my blogging. It's been a busy time, between preparations for HMS Pinafore (which, if I may say so myself, was a tremendous success) and preparations for my Carnegie concert this Friday.

I will be back soon - hopefully with some podcasts for next week's Masterworks program. If I cannot get those done in time, then certainly soon thereafter!

Some Questions and Answers, Part 2 - Planning a Season

Sean Schultz asks: "How and when do you decide what pieces are going to be played for the performances?"

Well, when is a lot easier to answer, so I'll do that first. We generally begin planning our seasons in earnest in August of the previous year (ie 14 months before the season opener). Ideally, I have a rough draft by mid-September and a final draft by early January.

How I decide is a bit more complicated. I'll try to give a general overview, but keep in mind that every rule has exceptions.

I start by making a list of all the pieces that I'd like to do. This is akin to the "kid in a candy shop" phenomenon - "ill have three of these, one of those....." Sometimes I'll even page through Daniels' "Orchestral Music" for ideas. Daniels is the essential reference guide for orchestral repertoire - a vast, if certainly incomplete, list of pieces, listed by composer, with timings and orchestrations (what collection of instruments are required by the composer). A typical Daniels listing looks like this:

Ravel - Daphnis et Chloé: Suite No. 1 12'
optional chorus
4[1.2/pic2.3/pic1.afl] 3[1.2.Eh] 4[1.2.Ebcl.bcl] 4[1.2.3.sarr] - 4 4 3 1 - tmp+6 - 2hp cel str perc: bd, cym, sd, tri, tambn, tamtam, glock, crot, windmachine
Contents - Nocturne; Interlude; Danse guerrière
mvt durations: 5' 3' 4'
Durand Kalmus

What does this mean? The first line in the piece's title and duration. The second states that you can do the piece with or without a chorus. The third line is the orchestration, divided in orchestral groups - first the woodwinds, then the brass, percussion, and the strings. So, to translate the listing above, "Daphnis" requires: 4 flutes, 2 doubling on piccolo (meaning they play both instruments in the piece) and one playing alto flute; 3 oboes, the third of which plays english horn; 4 clarinets, one playing Eb clarinet (the high, shrieky member of the family) and one playing bass clarinet; 4 bassoons, with one playing sarrousophone (similar to a contrabassoon); 4 french horns; 4 trumpets; 3 trombones; 1 tuba; 1 timpani player; 6 percussionists; 2 harps; celesta (the bell-like keyboard instrument used in the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy and Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood); and a string section. The fourth line says which percussion instruments are used: bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, gong, glockenspiel (bells), crotales (pitched mini-cymbals), and wind machine. The next two lines state the names of the movements and their respective durations. The last line list the publishers.

Anyway....Daniels sometimes gives me ideas for programming, as well as pieces that I might want to listen to, particularly more contemporary works. I listen to unfamiliar music quite a lot. Our Executive Director, Jeff Woodruff often will recommend pieces for me to listen to, and lend me the CDs. I also get suggestions from orchestra players and some patrons.

So I make my long wish list. Then I generally pick seven "centerpiece" works around which I will build my programs. These are generally symphonies or longer orchestral works, but sometimes concertos. I look over the history of Harrisburg Symphony performances. If the piece has been played within the past few years, I discard it for now. If it's been many years (or decades) since last performed, I will prioritize the piece.

Then I try to match the large pieces with other works to make programs. I keep in mind what artists I have promised appearances to or which ones I would like to work with, as well as concerto repertoire that I think will suit them. I try to balance old with new, realizing that the period from, say, 1800-1915 will get the bulk of the season. I try to balance nationalities, so the season isn't too American heavy (rarely a problem) or German heavy (often a problem). I try to keep the choices interesting and exciting for the orchestra. And last but not least, I try to make each concert marketable, so generally at least one of the pieces is a big-selling perennial audience favorite.

How do I match pieces? Well, I must admit, I do it much more based on my gut feeling of what will work well together than on theme programming or motivic similarities. I do think about key relationships, ie you wouldn't want to do three pieces in C Major. I also think about pacing - a slow opener should probably not be followed by a ponderous concerto; emotional content - an intense symphony, should not follow an equally intense first half; and old/new relationships - a very avant garde piece probably should go with something a bit more traditional.

This seeming arbitrariness is why I am so often surprised and tickled by relationships between the pieces I program together, like the falling thirds in this last week's concerts. Maybe there is a sort of instinctual genius lurking deep below the surface, after all!

So now I have a seven concert season. Now comes the painful part. It must fit within the orchestra's budget. So I go back to Daniels and figure the orchestra size for each concert, adding up personnel, and comparing the totals with the current season's. Inevitably, the numbers are way too high (generally too much Mahler, Stravinsky and Strauss). So it's back to the drawing board for the second cycle.... then the third and fourth, and so on.

When I have a season that I feel is at least pretty close, I get together with Jeff Woodruff and Bill Schmieding, our operations manager. We discuss my plans in depth, look for weaknesses in the programming, find that the season is too expensive for our budget (if there is one certainty in all this, it is that the season will be too expensive) and make many changes. Then I go off and further refine. We meet several more times. Then I get together with the Artistic Advisory committee of the Board of Directors of the HSO, made up of board members, staff, and musicians from the orchestra. The committee meets twice a year, once to go over proposed programming, and once to assess the past season and propose ideas for the artistic future of the HSO (including, but not only, programming suggestions). I do not need their approval - they are simply there to advise - but the input is invaluable, and it's rare that I leave a meeting without some new, terrific ideas.

Jeff, Bill and I meet some more, and eventually we declare ourselves done, and the brochures are made.

The process for pops is a bit different and I'll discuss that in my next blog.


Some Questions and Answers, Part 1

It's Monday, and I'm having my typical post-concert weekend down day. I was extremely happy with the concerts this past weekend. The orchestra, as always, played their hearts out. Last night, after a lovely dinner reconnecting with an old college friend and his family, I couldn't sleep, because I had the second movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony coursing through my brain. I suppose if I am to have insomnia, there are much worse things to be haunted by.

I am so pleased to be receiving comments on the concert and on the podcasts. I thought it might be nice to address some of the issues, and answer some of the questions I have been posed.

First, as far as sound quality is concerned, I plead "guilty as charged". I basically use the built-in microphone on my iMac G5, and play on the Yamaha upright piano in my office at home. I have just today downloaded some freeware software, called "The Levelator", which supposedly will help even out the levels of my voice and the piano. I will also look into purchasing a higher quality mike to record into. The podcasts are very much a work in progress, and I promise to continue to try improving the sound quality, and the content.

A glossary of terms is an interesting idea, but I think others have already done it better than I could. What probably would make more sense is an accompanying list of applicable terms that could be looked up using either one of the online music dictionaries or a book of musical terms. I will list some suggestion below, with links to the web pages:

Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary: http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/ (special thanks to Sean Schultz!)
Music Dictionary: http://library.thinkquest.org/2791/MDOPNSCR.htm
Dolmetsch Online: http://www.dolmetsch.com/musictheorydefs.htm (this one also includes many links to other more specific music dictionary websites)

The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music (the best small volume)
Belwin Pocket Dictionary of Music (there are actually many such volumes, any of which will give you very short definitions of common music terms)

The last thing regarding the podcasts is that I am now accessible through the iTunes store, so those of you who listen on ipods can subscribe to my podcasts by doing an iTunes store podcast search for "Stuart Malina" and pressing the subscribe button.

I'll be back soon with another posting to address some of the questions you have posed.

A Note to my readers/listeners

First of all, thank you for your visits. I hope you are enjoying the blogs and podcasts.

Which brings me to the next point...

I very much want your feedback. If you prefer, leave it anonymously. This is the only way I can continue improving the page. Do you like the content? Is the recording quality too poor? Is the piano clangy? Am I too professorial? All responses are good responses.

Many thanks!


Podcast #10 - Brahms' Symphony #4

Could this be my favorite symphony in the repertoire?

Podcast #9 - Barber's Violin Concerto

What can I say.... simply, one of the most beautiful works in the repertoire.

Podcast #8 - Zwilich's Prologue and Variations for Strings

He's back (and badder than ever!) with a discussion of the opener of the HSO's January Masterworks concert. A 20th Century masterpiece for strings.