Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Losing my Rocky Horror Picture Show virginity

Sunday, September 26 was the 35th anniversary of the premiere of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I read this blog post on Monday, having missed all other notices that the anniversary was upon us.  As a teenager many of my friends were at least familiar with RHPS, but not me.  I hardly knew what "Time Warp" was, other than a song and dance from a movie that I thought had men wearing corsets and fishnets in it.  When I was in college, several of my friends told me how funny the movie was and that I should go to a screening with them.  But they warned me that as a RHPS "virgin," I'd have to stand up before the movie and be ridiculed.  And I wouldn't know any of the "shout-ins," so much of the movie might be lost on me.  I refused to partake in something so childish, so I put off seeing the movie.

In October 1995, during my senior year at Georgetown, someone from the Georgetown Program Board (a student activities planning group) asked members of Mask & Bauble (the most prominent theater group) to put together a live cast for a Rocky Horror screening at The Pub (once the on-campus bar, then a restaurant and program space).  I was dating my now-ex-wife Liz at the time, and she was and is one of the biggest Rocky Horror fans I know.  She got involved in the planning right away and claimed one of the roles (Columbia) for herself.  She pleaded with me to be a part of the production with her.  I tried but I couldn't say no and we decided that since I'd never seen the movie or the musical, it would be best if I took the role of Brad.  Seeing as I how I was then and still am a bit of an uptight guy, the part seemed like a natural fit.  We found other less-inhibited students and alumni willing to take on the rest of the roles.  We gathered the night before the screening to watch the movie and plan our live-action parts.  Ours would be a sloppy affair but to our benefit I was the only member of the cast who had no idea what he was doing.

The next evening, Liz and I met at my apartment and got into costume.  We fortified ourselves with a few shots of Stoli and took the rest of the vodka with us in a plastic water bottle to share with the rest of the cast.  When we arrived at The Pub we found a crowd already gathered and the audio and video systems ready to go.  However, we were missing one crucial item: the movie itself.  Someone from the GPB was supposed to have brought along a copy but either they'd forgotten it or they never showed up.  Luckily, the cast member who'd hosted us the night before lived nearby and still had the copy of the film that we'd watched the night before.  While she ran home to get it, Liz and the rest of the cast entertained the audience and ridiculed the virgins.  The live show went off mostly without problems.  We managed to act out the first hour of the movie, though we ran out of steam by the dinner party scene and watched the rest of the movie with the audience.  Before we left someone took a picture of all of us in costume.  I think I might have that photo at home; if I can find it I'll update this post.

That was the one and only time I saw RHPS in a theater setting.  In 2000 I went to see the Broadway revival of the musical, and I've listened to the soundtrack dozens of times.  I even sang "Sweet Transvestite" at karaoke a few years ago.  But I've never been to another live cast screening.  I should add that to the list of things I need to do here in New York.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taking my music on the road

I was in Baltimore and Bowie last weekend visiting my family, of whom I see far too little.  My brother had an extra ticket for Friday night's concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra so I left work early to meet him.  The BSO performs at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, a modern orchestra hall with curved surfaces for exceptional acoustics.  The concert consisted of Gustav Mahler's arrangements of Bach's orchestral suites and Mahler's Symphony No. 7.  The orchestra was amazing in their own right, but the sound inside the hall was amazing.  During the Bach piece, the harpsichord was crystal-clear from our seats in the balcony.  Mahler's 7th was just as impressive.  The fourth movement features a mandolin and guitar, and these players sat at the furthest point from us, behind the first violins.  But their notes came out as clearly as if they were sitting next to me.  And of course the other instrument groups like the horns and woodwinds sounded incredible.  While I prefer the NY Philharmonic, I'm a little envious of the concert hall in Baltimore.

Before the concert I looked at the photos of the musicians in the lobby.  I recognized the name of the assistant principal cellist but didn't place it until I saw it in the program.  He used to moonlight with the Georgetown University Orchestra when I was there.  Our music director studied at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and she would bring several students with her as "ringers" to fill out the string sections for our concerts.  Dariusz Skoraczewski was one of the two "Dariuses" that she would bring in, the other being a violinist.  The girls in the orchestra used to swoon over these two, but they didn't seem to notice or care.  It's also possible that they didn't speak much English and therefore didn't understand what was going on.  I hadn't thought about either of them since college but as soon as I saw the name Skoraczewski   I remembered the swooning.  It's good to see he's had such a successful career since those days.

I brought my viola with me on the trip so my brother (a violinist) could give me a few pointers about my playing.  I haven't had a lesson in many years and I know my technique has suffered.  He showed me a few things I was doing wrong with my bow and readjusted my viola's bridge, both of which resulted in some odd sounds coming from my instrument.  We were going to play duets on Saturday evening but the hair on his bow broke before he could play a note, so we had to share my bow (he had a spare but we were at my father's house and his spare bow was in Baltimore).  We did get to sight-read one of Mozart's violin and viola duets on Sunday afternoon, to great applause from my stepmother.  I gave him the music so he could look it over for a future sight-reading session.  It was much easier than I thought to haul my viola on the train, so I will do it again in the future.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New York Philharmonic Opening Night Concert 2010-11

I had fun live-blogging Live From Lincoln Center last year for the opening night performance by the New York Philharmonic, so I thought I'd do it again this year.  They're coming to you live(-ish) from Avery Fisher Hall, and I'm coming to you from Five Guys Productions HQ in Brooklyn.  So tune into PBS (check your local listings) and enjoy the Philharmonic with me!

Updates will be at the bottom, since I don't do fancy top-posting blogging around here.

8:58 PM: We have a problem already: the Philharmonic's website is throwing up an error when I try to click on tonight's concert.  The program includes Strauss's Don Juan, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses on a Theme of Weber, and a new work by Wynton Marsalis.  I think there's one more piece but we'll just have to wait and see.

9:02 PM: Alec Baldwin is back as the host.  He sounds a little raspier than usual tonight.

9:03 PM: Alan Gilbert in the white tie and tails tonight.  The orchestra begins with "The Star-Spangled Banner" as they do every opening night.

9:04 PM: Everyone stands up but the cellos.  Why do you hate America, cello section?

9:05 PM: The first work is the American premiere of Wynton Marsalis' Swing Symphony.  And there he is in the trumpet section!

9:08 PM: The orchestra seems at home with the jazzy style of this piece.  It reminds me a little of Gershwin.

9:09 PM: They squeezed the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on stage too.  Things look cramped up there.

9:12 PM:  I'm sure my first exposure to Wynton Marsalis was a jazz performance on TV many years ago.  But my father had this album of Marsalis playing Baroque trumpet concerti with the English Chamber Orchestra, and I must have listened to it dozens of times.  All of the works on that album called for multiple trumpets, and Marsalis played all the parts himself.  It was a recording engineer's dream (or nightmare).

9:15 PM: We've got car horns and whistles in the percussion section.  Like I said, I hear lots of Gershwin in this piece.  That's not a bad thing.

9:18 PM: I don't listen to much jazz, but if I did, this is the kind of jazz I'd like.

9:22 PM: I love the barker-hat mutes the jazz band trumpeters just used.  Alan Gilbert looks like he's having a great time conducting this piece.

9:26 PM: The jazz band musicians are calling out to each other during their solos.  But the audience isn't applauding after each one like in a standard jazz concert.  Is that because it's a classical music audience that in 2010 doesn't applaud in the middle of a movement of a symphony?  Loosen up!  It's jazz!

9:31 PM: This last part just opened up like "Sing Sing Sing" with Gene Krupa.

9:33 PM: I want a hat mute for my viola for rehearsal tomorrow night.  I don't know how I'll use it.  I'll figure that out.  Someone hook a blogger up!

9:36 PM: I like the fade-out ending of that movement.  And the next movement (are there four? Without a program I have no idea) takes off like a rocket.

9:38 PM: Marsalis takes a solo turn.  This guy can still bring it.

9:41 PM: It's about time the bassist gets a solo.

9:46 PM: There's more?  This is one long symphony.  Not that I'm complaining.

9:51 PM: I'm going to take a minute here and talk about some of the concerts on my Philharmonic schedule this season.  I'm going to hear Mahler's Symphony No. 6 next Wednesday evening.  The Philharmonic is performing Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah" in November.  I'm going back for more Mahler in April, for his Symphony No. 5.  And at the end of June the Philharmonic will stage Janacek's opera The Cunning Little Vixen.  If it's anything like the way they staged Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre last year, it should be a great performance.

9:55 PM: The symphony fades to a close, and Gilbert steps off the podium to congratulate composer and performer Marsalis.  The narrator notes that it's odd for a composer of a symphonic work to perform with an orchestra, but in jazz it's common.

9:57 PM: Intermission.  Rex Ryan says "let's go get a goddamn snack."

10:04 PM: Alec Baldwin talks to Wynton Marsalis at intermission.  Marsalis says he no longer plays classical music because it's too difficult to make the switch from one style to another.  Baldwin asks him about the different styles in the work, and wonders if Marsalis was trying to provide a history of jazz.  Marsalis responds that it's the history of swing music, from ragtime to the present, and I think he said that they didn't play all of the movements of the piece.  So there's more?

10:09 PM: Baldwin and Music Director Alan Gilbert talk about Strauss.  Gilbert says that Don Juan is a challenge for the entire orchestra.  There's a reason why excerpts from the piece show up on auditions everywhere.  And Gilbert says that Hindemith's Metamorphoses are a chance for the orchestra to shine.

10:11 PM: We're into Don Juan. This is some meat for the orchestra.  It's not my favorite of Strauss's tone poems (that would be An Alpine Symphony) but it's right up there near the top.

10:15 PM: It amazes me that Richard Strauss was 26 when he composed this piece.  It's such complex music for such a young man.  (Boy, do I feel old now.)

10: 17 PM: I love principal flutist Robert Langevin's mustache.  I don't know how he plays the flute with all that hair in the way.

10:21 PM:  Listening to Strauss makes me want to be a French horn player.

10:25 PM: I played Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks with NYRO a few years ago and it was so much fun to learn.  I fear that Don Juan is out of reach, though.

10:30 PM: The last piece on the program is Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses on a Theme of Carl Maria von Weber.  I played this work with NYRO three years ago and it turned out to be one of my favorite pieces we played all year.

10:32 PM: Gilbert launches into the Symphonic Metamorphoses before the narrator can finish his introduction of the piece.  Awesome.

10:36 PM: I may or may not be whistling along with the flute solos.  For anyone actually reading this live, this movement has a percussion fugue in it.  It's the kind of thing you don't hear too often.

10:40 PM: Outstanding work from the Philharmonic's brass section, as usual.

10:44 PM: I don't think you can say enough about the job Mark Nuccio has done in replacing Stanley Drucker as principal clarinet.  Drucker was a Philharmonic institution for six decades.  No one wants to try to replace a legend, and Nuccio has been stellar in the role.  Note: my mother is a clarinetist, so I may have a bias.

10:47 PM:  Langevin is just killing this flute solo.

10:48 PM:  I love the last movement of this piece.  I walked around with this piece in my head for a month and I couldn't get enough of it.

10:52 PM:  Have I said before how much I love a slam-bang ending?

That's it for tonight.  Enjoy the post-concert reception in the lobby, don't forget to tip your cabdriver, and I'll see you back here for next year's opening night.  Of course, if you like concert reviews (and who doesn't?) I'll post something about each New York Philharmonic concert I attend this season, and any other orchestras I might hear.  I think I'm going to see the Cleveland Orchestra at some point, and possibly the Pittsburgh Symphony again.  Because that's how I roll.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why was I not informed?

I know it's been a while (early July) since I attended a New York Philharmonic concert at Avery Fisher Hall.  And it's been even long since I went to O'Neal's or Peter's before or after a concert.  Well, I won't be going to either restaurant again, since both have closed.  Further research indicates that O'Neal's has become another outpost of the Atlantic Grill, so at least it's still a restaurant.  I haven't been able to find out what happened to Peter's.  O'Neal's was NYRO's go-to post-rehearsal watering hole and my standby for pre- or post-concert drinks and dinner.  I guess this makes PJ Clarke's my new default option for dinner before a concert.  Or Ollie's, if I'm not trying to impress anyone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My first visit to Citi Field


I wish I could say I had as much fun on my first trip to Citi Field as I had on my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium.  Like that game, we had a rain delay, but this one happened before the game and held the first pitch until just before 8 PM.  However, the rain delay allowed me to try the soft tacos, which I had heard were the best food option at the ballpark.  I didn't try anything else (except a Nathan's hot dog) but I can unequivocally say yes, the tacos are worth the trip.  My friend Jeremy came with me to the game and I thank him again for keeping me well-fed last night.

The game was dreadful.  First of all, we were competing with the Jets-Ravens game, the Yankees-Rays game in Tampa, and the mens' final at the US Open.  And it rained.  And the Mets and Pirates both stink this year.  One would think a 0-0 tie going into extra innings would be exciting, and from the perspective of those who enjoy good pitching, it was a great game.  But the Pirates found themselves in great scoring situations, once with the bases loaded with two outs, only to have the pitcher's spot come up in the order.  The Mets didn't fare any better until the bottom of the 10th when pinch hitter Nick Evans' single scored Ruben Tejada to give the home team the win.  I admit I was bored for most of the game.  I don't need high-scoring with lots of home runs, but I would have liked it if the Pirates had managed to put at least one run on the board when they had a chance.  Pat at WHYGAVS wrote a couple of posts analyzing the bunt laid down by Jose Tabata in the top of the 10th inning.  I don't know much about baseball and I couldn't figure out why Tabata bunted in that situation.  After that half-inning I went for a walk around the concourse and saw the Mets' winning hit from the far side of the stadium.  Rather than being upset about the loss, I was just happy I could go home, having seen the entire game.

I did get some good photos of the players at the plate, so there's that.




I'm going back on Wednesday, and perhaps the Pirates will have a better outing.  I don't want to have to wear my team hat in shame on the 7 train again.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

I was in Pittsburgh over Labor Day weekend on a semi-secret mission.  We ate ribs, toured the Warhol Museum, avoided a Bret Michaels concert, had some delicious Indian food in Oakland, and walked all over the city.  I flew JetBlue again and this time there were no incidents whatsoever.  Both flights were as unremarkable as possible, which is just what I want out of a trip.

I'm still thinking about the NYRO preview and other ways I can promote the orchestra's upcoming season.  Rehearsals begin Thursday night and I can't wait to get back to playing every week.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Coming soon to this space

I hope that posting about something I plan to write is just as valid as actually writing it.  With another NYRO season upon us, I'm going to write a preview of some of the music we're playing this year.  If I feel particularly energized, it will happen in the next 48 hours; if not, look for it here early next week.