There was a time when I would look at my calendar and say to myself, “Self, you are not too busy. Have a nice summer.” That was how it appeared it was going to be for a while this year. But priorities have a way of piling up, and now I find myself with just a little too much to do and not much time to accomplish it.
It all started out with a promise I made to my brother at his gravesite. He passed away on my birthday, September 1st, and we gathered in New Jersey two days later to lay him to rest.
Among the saddest parts of his death was the timing. We were supposed to have met up on September 2nd for our annual trip to Las Vegas. Not that we were heavy gamblers, but we didn’t have many opportunities to see each other, and this was a bonding experience we looked forward to every year.
At the burial, I spoke about how that trip could not take place, and I believe I said something along the lines of, “Wherever he is, Fred is trying to win a couple hundred dollars from the croupier in the afterlife.”
To honor his memory and our tradition, I decided to head out west to hit the craps table just prior to a conducting date in Sacramento, California. Cindy and I were joined by our good friends Harvey and Carol Steiman for dining and entertainment.
In a twist of fate that could be considered a small miracle, I proceeded to win the two hundred dollars almost immediately. When I cashed in the chips, I asked for the winnings in hundred-dollar bills. Then I put the money in an envelope and handed it over to Cindy for safekeeping until we returned home.
Now it sits on my desk, under a photo of Fred, never to be touched, unless he comes back to get it.
During my time in Detroit, I had the pleasure of working with Alice Sauro. For a while, she served as my executive assistant in addition to her role as orchestra manager. When her husband got a job on the West Coast, she was offered the position of executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera. One of the first things she did after leaving Detroit was ask if I would come out and do a performance with her new orchestra. I enjoy doing favors for those who have aided me over the years, so naturally I accepted.
We had a lovely program planned, but on the plane from Vegas, I discovered a small problem. I appreciate concerts that are not too long, but this one felt too short. Cindy’s Circuits started it off, coming in at six minutes, followed by the Four Dance Episodes from Copland’s Rodeo at 18 minutes, and then the Franck Symphony, which is about 35 minutes long. So, the program included less than an hour of music. Even if I spoke about all the pieces, it just was not enough.
I wondered why I did not catch that and realized it more than likely had something to do with the program I was to lead the following week in Nashville featuring the complete Rodeo, which includes around six or seven more minutes of music. Consequently, I tried to come up with something to add to the Sacramento program and settled on the Barber Adagio for Strings, which felt like the perfect choice.
The orchestra was eager to please, and I had a nice week with them. Like most cities of its size, Sacramento does not boast many corporate headquarters, so the fundraising challenges are significant, as they are throughout the country. However, the orchestra seems to be attracting enthusiastic audiences and engaging with the community.
From 2006 to 2009, I served as the music advisor of the Nashville Symphony for three seasons following the death of their music director, Kenny Schermerhorn. During that time, we opened the hall bearing his name, won the orchestra its first Grammy, and helped to establish a stronger national presence for the ensemble. Since then, the orchestra has flourished under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero.
I had not seen the Nashville Symphony in ten years because concerts originally scheduled for 2020 were cancelled due to you-know-what. For this appearance, I chose my own Kinah, the aforementioned Rodeo, and the First Symphony by Elgar.
The musicians demonstrated solid playing in each section. The Copland was raucous without being overblown. My piece was performed sensitively and with all the feeling with which I wrote it. And the Elgar, especially the second performance, was magisterial and moving, coming as it did on the day of the coronation of King Charles III.
The city of Nashville is booming, with hotels springing up everywhere. Its vibrancy rivals Vegas and New Orleans, which becomes evident when you walk around and find the streets teeming with people.
The week I visited, even more people than usual were hitting up the honky-tonks as Nashville’s own Taylor Swift was back home to give three sold-out concerts at the stadium just across the river. Venues and other facilities pop up quickly, but parking lot construction lags behind. As a result, traffic gets backed up whenever multiple shows of any kind take place.
I was informed in advance that even though we had very good sales numbers, many people were calling in to exchange their seats due to the inability to maneuver the crowded city center. As a result, there were many unoccupied chairs in the hall. But those who made it were treated to a fine set of performances.
As for the Swifties, if I never see another pink hat or sequined outfit, that will be just fine with me. She is a brilliant artist and businesswoman, but maybe she could pitch in for a place where people can park their vehicles.
Returning home, my main job was to work on the new book project that I am not supposed to tell you about, according to my publisher. Let me just say that it will be in a series format and is the most scholarly of anything I have written so far.
Aside from that, it was time to turn the Cardinals’ fortune around. They had a miserable start to the season, with many already giving up on them. Not so with this lifelong fan. And indeed, once I returned to St. Louis, they began a wild run of wins, some of which occurred in the most extraordinary ways.
For example, I took the current SLSO music director, Stéphane Denève, to his very first ballgame. After a crash course in the basic rules of the sport, we settled in to watch the team take a seven-run lead, only to see it reduced to one. Then the Redbirds exploded for eight more, doubling up the LA Dodgers.
During this time, the team had four home runs in one inning. The oldest player pitched very well, and the kid making his Cardinals debut got three hits and stole home. Altogether, the team hit seven homers in one game for only the fourth time in their history.
I told Stéphane that all ballgames were like this.
A few days later, we got together again, this time with his family as well as Cindy, for a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. It gave me the opportunity to relate a piece of history, one that connected the show to St. Louis and me.
In 1971, I gave the very first live performances of this work, which started as a record album well before becoming a stage show. In between, some promoters put together a version designed to capitalize on the success of the recording. We got the rights to do it and played two sold-out shows.
Then the good folks at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production company found out about it, issued an injunction against any future performances, and turned it into the stage show, followed by the film.
More than fifty years later, I found it still has an impact, with some great tunes and, at least with this road company, a lot of energy. Yes, the transitions between some of the numbers still seem awkward, with horribly abrupt key changes. I had forgotten how many 5/8 and 7/8 bars there were. And in an auditorium seating almost 5,000 people, the words, no matter how sophisticated the sound system, were mostly unintelligible from our vantage point.
The dancing was outstanding, and the diverse cast gave their all. It was performed without an intermission and was more or less the same length as back in ’71. We went to a Saturday matinee and, upon returning home, I settled into the cave to watch another Redbird victory. Nice day.
See you next month,