Technical Difficulties
30 Oct 2011
Inside the Classics

It’s been a whirlwind week for the orchestra, and a bit discombobulating as well. Last Monday and Tuesday, we rehearsed in Minneapolis for a concert that we would play for the first time at Carnegie Hall. (This was a switch from the norm – every other year that I can remember, we’ve played a set of concerts at home first, and then taken the show on the road.) By the weekend, we’d be back in the Cities, playing a one-off performance of The Bride of Frankenstein with Sarah, and practicing this coming week’s Britten, Sibelius and Debussy music.

But in between those bookends… wow. The Gods of Logistics were not with us this week, and our staff had to scramble right from the beginning. It had already been complicated figuring out how to get us all to New York: normally, we all fly together on a single direct flight, but this time, no single flight had enough seats available at anything approaching a reasonable price, so those of us taking the official flights were divided into two groups, flying on two different airlines, arriving at two different NY-area airports.

Both groups were leaving MSP at approximately the same time, so we greeted each other at the check-in desk, then went our separate ways. I was in Group A, headed for Laguardia, and as far as I was concerned, everything went smoothly. We boarded ahead of schedule, took off on time, and touched down in Queens nearly a half hour early. By 7pm, we were checked into our hotel in Midtown Manhattan and scouting dinner locations.

Group B, meanwhile, which should have arrived at Newark about 15 minutes after us, was still on the ground in Minneapolis. A series of mechanical problems caused their flight to be delayed, delayed again, and eventually canceled altogether. This presented a rather large problem for staffer Kris Arkis, who now had to find a new way to get 37 musicians to New York as quickly as possible, preferably without the orchestra having to pick up the tab for 37 different cab rides to Midtown if everyone arrived on different flights. The airline she was dealing with (which I won’t name, but let’s just say that if it were a landmass, it would be bigger than a country, and it might have a drift to it) kept insisting that they didn’t have any big banks of seats available, right up until they finally admitted that they had a flight getting ready to go that still had exactly 37 empty seats. Kris pounced, and Group B touched down in New Jersey just after 10:30pm Eastern, 21½ hours before our Carnegie Hall concert would begin.

(A few hours delay is actually nothing compared to what we went through on our first European tour with Osmo, back in 2004. If you’re interested in that story, I wrote a full recap of the last stop on that tour for an ArtsJournal blog I was writing at the time…)

The next morning at 7am (6am to us newly arrived Minnesotans,) much of the orchestra (and, presumably, most of the surrounding 10-block area) would be jolted awake by what sounded like a neverending string of 10,000-pound anvils being dropped off the Empire State Building. Looking out our windows, we beheld the sight of multiple hydraulic hammers, pile drivers, and backhoes in the vacant lot next to our hotel. They had clearly been at this job for several days, and had made pretty good progress in digging a couple of stories down into the bedrock below the ground, but they also clearly had no intention of stopping anytime soon.

From inside my room, twelve stories above the street, the noise was loud enough to make further sleep impossible. Down in the lobby, it was so oppressive that hotel staffers were walking around holding their ears and the bar/lounge area near 57th Street, which is normally close to full for 18-22 hours a day, had totally cleared out. A few people made an effort to change rooms, but almost no one succeeded. I retreated to a coffee shop a few blocks away to substitute extra caffeine for adequate rest and work on November’s ItC show.

Fortunately, other than a repeat of the construction noise on Friday morning as we were getting ready to leave, there weren’t any other major snafus on the New York trip. (Okay, I may briefly have left my viola in a bar at 12:30 in the morning, but I’m not counting that, since a) it was still there when I sprinted back in the door five minutes later, and b) if I hadn’t had to run back for it, I would have missed David Freese’s 11th inning World Series heroics.) We all made it back to MSP on time, and turned our attention to the weekend’s movie music.

Which is where the “bad news comes in threes” rule kicked in. Sarah’s gotten very, very good at conducting live film scores while the movie plays above us, and I know she’s been watching Bride of Frankenstein over and over and over for weeks to prep for this show. But as our crew rolled the film at the start of our lone rehearsal, Sarah looked down at the monitor that syncs a pair of clocks with her score, did a double take, and called a halt. Somehow, the synced clock that had been sent along with the film was off from the cues in her score by anywhere from 37 seconds to a full minute. Without the cues, we’d be flying blind, and Sarah would have no way of lining up important musical moments with the action on screen. And a whole different clock was now running on our 2½-hour rehearsal, with no way of stopping it.

Thinking quickly, Sarah decided to rehearse a few spots she knew could be hairy while the crew worked to re-sync the clock, then call a break as soon as house rules allowed it. I caught up with her as the break was ending and asked if they’d been able to fix things. She said the clock would now be “almost” right, and that would have to be close enough.

In performance, you’d never have known anything was awry, of course, as Sarah conducted the score like she’d been doing it for years. She even managed to remember to give several extra cues that various musicians had asked for during the rehearsal, all while dressed up as the Bride. And in the end, problems like this are neither unusual nor anything that constitutes a major crisis for a professional orchestra. But when they pile up like they did this week, it starts to feel like you’re living in permanent damage control mode. Personally, I’ve had enough excitement.

<February 2020>

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