Posts Tagged ‘programming’

Old Friends

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

On Sunday, John, Anton, Hans and I began rehearsals for our performance on October 13.

When I get a new performance opportunity, my gut instinct is to find a whole new program – music we’ve not performed before. I don’t know exactly where this impulse comes from. Perhaps it’s from my earliest training, in elementary and high school, where the three or four times per year concerts were always done with new repertoire.

Of course, that made complete sense in context. Our dedicated audience consisted primarily if not exclusively of our parents. And the ostensible reason for the music program in the first place would have been to expose us to different composers, styles, et cetera.

But does that approach make sense in the context of an ensemble like this one? Unlike in school, we don’t (yet) have a dedicated/exclusive audience. Each new series that books us brings in their own audience, and we bring along what audience we can (are you on our mailing list?). This means that, probably, the majority of the audience at any one concert has not heard us or our music before.

And so, relieved of the burden of complete originality, I have set a program for October 13 that is 80% the same as our performance on March 10. This means that these pieces, rather than being oh-my-god-what-is-happening-here exercises in learning notes, are old friends to us.

Playing through the list (see the post promoting October 13 performance), I enjoyed the feeling of recognizing what I was doing, of hearing the harmonies clearly, instead of the muddled-up confusion that often accompanies our first readings of things.

Yes, I do feel a twinge of guilt at this. There’s still something in me that wants to demonstrate my readiness for a challenge, the challenge of mastering something new. And it is also the case that when Michael Hovnanian left the group, he expressed frustration at always working on the same material. (And no offense to Michael, we were a bit stuck in a rut at that point. It’s one of the reasons I invested a good chunk of cash in repertoire the following year.)

But there exists also the fact that “mastery” is not necessarily achieved at a first performance. Assuaging my guilty feelings, I set a new challenge, that we will play these old friends better than before.

I would love to hear from those of you who perform regularly in your own groups: what’s your philosophy for adding or changing repertoire? How important, how often, HOW? Please leave a comment!

Creating a Program (for March 10, 2013)

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

One of the challenges of organizing a performance is to decide what to play and what order to play it in.

At the 2013 Chicago Bass Festival, we played a short concert. And I mean, really, short. When we got done and I looked at my watch, I realized that we would not have a full set for the March 10 performance. So we added a couple of pieces.

At our last rehearsal, I wanted to make sure we would have a program of a decent length. So I sketched out the pieces in what I think is a good order, and timed each piece as we ran through it. Add ’em up and we’re just under an hour of music. (See the column of figures in the picture below.) With some conversation in between pieces, this will be a nice concert.

Program for March 10, sketched out on the blackboard in our rehearsal space

Program for March 10, sketched out on the blackboard in our rehearsal space

The other aspect of a program is to try to have a nice flow from beginning to end. “Wildebeests and Warthogs” by Dan Armstrong is fun way to open the concert. It will show the versatility and flexibility of our instruments, and probably many audience members will be surprised at how nimble we can be. It’s a good opener.

Next, we move to transcriptions of motets by Tomas Luis da Victoria. This is a super sharp jump in style from “Wildebeests.” Arranged for bass quartet by Michael Cameron, these three motets will sound great in a nice resonant space.

As it turns out, one motif in this concert will be the movement across time — meaning across the eras in which pieces are written. Jan Alm‘s Kvartett is a contemporary piece, published in  1988. That’s followed up by the tender and short Lullaby by contemporary composer Paul Ramsier.

The peaceful mood laid out by Lullaby is however, short-lived. Because Teppo Hauta-Aho‘s Why? is a dark and brooding lament. It may be a bit of a shock! So we will probably insert a short period of conversation with the organizer of Sounds of the South Loop, Kim Diehnelt to put some space between these pieces.

Why? is so emotionally intense that I want to offset its impact before going on. At the Bass Festival, I programmed Lullaby to follow Why?. But I’ll be honest with you, that combination was really draining. I said as much from the stage at the festival. So this time, I’m following Why? with a transcription of a Georg Philipp Telemann sonata for four violins (TWV 40:202). It has the kind of motoric rhythm and simple, classical harmonies that should serve as an antidote for the passion of Teppo’s piece.

If you look at the image on the blackboard (yes, the Chicago Waldorf School is kind enough to let us use their music room as a rehearsal space, and they have big, beautiful blackboards, lovingly seasoned by the teachers–yes, there is an art to seasoning a blackboard, but that’s not our subject now), you’ll see “Fugues 9, 5.” Joel DiBartolo arranged two fugues from Bach’s second Well-Tempered Clavier. Since number five has a motif very very similar to the final movement of the Telemann sonata, I decided during our rehearsal to play the ninth fugue before the fifth, in order to avoid a repetitive feeling.

Finally, we’re reprising Tony Osborne‘s Rocket Man, a piece the Chicago Bass Ensemble had a hand in commissioning, and which we premiered last month. Due to its high energy and virtuosic playing, it’s a good closer!

So, that is a summary of my thinking behind the program. I’m posting this at 9:30 pm on Thursday, and haven’t taken the time to link all the pieces — though most of them do have links somewhere on the web. If you read this before I get back and add all the detail, you can enjoy finding more information via our friends at Google. I do intend to get back here shortly and add more links for you.

Cheers! I hope you enjoy Sounds of the South Loop on March 10!

– Jacque


(updated 8 March, 2013, with links for most of the composers, arrangers and pieces. Many links selected using the “hmm, that looks good even though I didn’t read it” method. You may use your discretion when following and reading.)

Designing the Concert Experience, part 1

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

I want to craft a good experience for those who come to performances of the Chicago Bass Ensemble. This post will mark the beginning of my discussing the idea of designing a concert. First some random thoughts. (I’m tapping this out on an iPhone, at least initially, so I may be somewhat inelegant.)
Understanding the audience
Let’s agree that this seems obvious. If you want people to enjoy what you do, do what they enjoy.
Is that selling out? Only if you end up doing something that you don’t enjoy. if that’s the case, consider not playing for this audience.
Can a concert maintain the same emotional, physical, dynamic level from beginning to end? If you can, is that desirable?
The Peak-End Effect
I think I’ve got the right name for this psychological effect: that people remember the highest point of an experience and it’s outcome or end. (They may remember the trough, rather than the peak, if the lowest point is lower than the peak is high.) So send ’em home whistling!

There are of course others: timing meaning duration, contrast which is related to pace, direction meaning the overall emotive vector of he program, and I’m sure there are more.

For the moment, understanding the audience provides me with a project: get a fuller understanding of the (likely) audiences for our performances in January and February. Two actions present themselves:

  • speak directly with the presenters
  • look closely at who else is programmed for the series and for the festival.

By taking these two actions, I can help myself settle my programming decisions.