Thursday, July 07, 2011

A musician and a gentleman

A musical interlude

As you may know, I bestowed my extra ticket to the San Francisco production of Wagner's Ring on the son of long-time friends. “EF” is a recently-declared music-composition major and I got to play the part of a patron of the arts by introducing him to the sui generis landmark of operatic composition. My friend Gene O'Pedia weighed in with a vigorous endorsement: “Neat that it's all in the space of a week, a concentrated dose of Wagner. Could be transformative. Like if EF starts the next school year as an engineering major.”

Good point. The experience could confirm the young student in his career goals or scare him off into some different field entirely. As it happened, the former seems more likely than the latter. An important factor in EF's opera adventure was his opportunity to converse with one of the performers in the orchestra pit.

We arrived at the War Memorial Opera House early enough on the evening of the performance of Die Walküre to catch most of the talk that was scheduled one hour before curtain time. It turned out to be an unfortunately dull affair—a flat and uninflected reading of an analysis “by some great expert for the edification of other great experts”—and I was glad we had missed part of it. However, the talk was presented on the opera house's main floor, so EF and I got a different perspective than the one we normally had from our regular seats in the balcony level. After the talk ground to its eventual end, I led my guest over to the orchestra pit so that he could check out the disposition of musical forces and ogle the conductor's stand.

It was still half an hour before curtain, so there were very few musicians in the pit, but EF was in luck. Although he is studying several instruments, his principal instrument is the cello, and there was a cellist at his post in the orchestra pit. EF promptly leaned over the railing and asked the musician about the cello part for Die Walküre. I was concerned that EF was committing a faux pas by bothering one of the performers, but the cellist seemed not in the least perturbed.

He came up to the rail and informed EF that the cellos had 79 pages of music to get through for that night's performance. He added that Walküre worked the cellos especially hard, having the same number of pages for them to perform as the massive Götterdämmerung, despite being 45 minutes shorter in overall duration. Upon finding out that EF was studying music composition, the cellist gently suggested that his future compositions might give the cellos a break by not emulating Wagner too much.

Although we did not know it at the time, EF's friendly advisor was David Kadarauch, the opera's principal cellist. He took several minutes to chat with EF and was generous in sharing his informed perspective on composition and performance. When he found out that we were sitting in the lower balcony, Kadarauch congratulated us: “I always tell my friends to sit there. It's the best location in the house for appreciating the music.” My young companion soaked it up like a sponge and it started the evening on a high note for him.

I am confident that Mr. Kadarauch does not follow this blog, so he may never see this. However, I feel that I witnessed something significant and praiseworthy. He probably did not think it was a particularly big deal to take a few minutes to encourage a young music student who hung on his every word. He was simply exchanging his performer's hat for a moment for that of a teacher. But it was a big deal. EF may be at the beginning of a long musical career. The kindnesses of those who have gone before him will shape and inform that career. Thank you, David Kadarauch, for giving that career an encouraging and appreciated nudge at its very start.

And I'm pretty sure it won't be in engineering.


Kathie said...

Oh Zee, you're giving me such saudades...

I remember my first operas at the Warm Memorial Opera House -- historic for the UN treaty. As a schoolchild, I went with a school group to attend Puccini's one-acter "Gianni Schicchi."

As adults, my husband and I were given Orchestra (main floor) tickets to "Il Trovatore" by the parents of a friend who was unable to use her folks' tickets when they couldn't make it, so she referred them to us. We were so desperately poor in those days that we had to scrounge around our apartment to come up with enough change to pay the 25¢ bridge fare each way, plus 50¢ for parking, as well as a dollar's worth of gas for the car so we could drive over to The City (including a detour to my friend's parents' house in the Marina) and back. My husband and I had attended a free few Merola Opera productions at Stern Grove previously, but this was his first opera with all the trimmings -- and who would've suspected he'd someday turn into such an opera maven (not to mention with a 12-year gig as a super in some of our regional company's productions!). I, on the other hand, grew up listening to the Met on the radio with my mom since as far back as I could remember.

Porlock Junior said... analysis “by some great expert for the edification of other great experts”

So, I presume you have also exposed him to a really good analysis, like that of Anna Russell?

Zeno said...

Indeed. We listened to Anna Russell's recording on the way to the performance of Das Rheingold, initiating him appropriately for the evening's event.

Kathie said...

Should read, "War Memorial Opera House" (not "Warm"). Is Dr. Freud in the house?

Zeno said...

In my experience, Kathie, it is usually a pretty warm place (although the air conditioning system is better than what it used to be).

Kathie said...

Zee, is there any reason why EF (or you) can't look up SF Opera online and send Mr. Kadarauch a thank-you note via snail-mail (or even just an email), with a link to the instant blog post? It couldn't hurt.