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New Season

So we did a concert just the way I like it last week. The first half was Beethoven Consecration of the House Overture (yes it IS a good piece) and Symphony No. 1. Then instead of doing the next curtain call, I sent out our guest cabaret performer ISENGART to announce the second half: Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins (with Measha Bruegguergosman who was a-maz-ing). He urged the audience to have a stiff drink at intermission so that they would “come back nice and tight.” Another suggestion: “If you see something you like in the lobby, give it a little pinch …” In the second half, before Seven Deadly Sins, he sang a couple of Kurt Weill songs including Mack The Knife, to kind of set things up. These little cues from Isengart really made this thing work. We didn’t need a four camera crew, just a little creativity and willing artists. It also confirms my suspicion that playing with the “concert format” is the way to go. We need to do more of this. I think we need a new slogan along the lines of Michael Pollan’s “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” Something like … “Play Real Music. Update The Format. Don’t Be Boring.” By the way, Isengart has another persona I would like to share called the FOOD COMMANDER. CLICK THE LINK. REALLY.

Also would you like to know about the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s new season? Watch the video below … We’ve got a concert about quantum physics, a Nico Muhly premiere, two Liszt concertos in one concert, a concerto by Nicky Lizée based on the music of Rush, you know … the usual.

Coffee Talk

So I’ve been obsessing about this recently: a cup of coffee has been DESCRIBED as a “cacophony of nuance.” This cup of coffee costs $12. A friend of mine actually tasted it and joked that it tasted like “a Bartók string quartet in his mouth.” Another mentioned a sign he saw for coffee recently that said “Taste the Aroma!”

The point is — it’s really hard to talk about coffee and/or music! And the “cacophony of nuance” pretty much sums that up. There is some music that is a cacophony of nuance I suppose. Would anyone like to try a cup of Unsuk Chin? It’s a Korean made coffee made in Germany and it’s a wonderful blend of Hungarian and French roasts. Hyper-complex with a hint of D Major here and there. It’s a CACOPHONY OF NUANCE!

Anyway it’s hard to talk about music and coffee, and it’s hard to know what you’re buying if you are a music or coffee customer. Recently I walked into Chicago’s famed Intelligentsia Coffee in search of new flavor. I had gone through a pound of Serra do Bonè: Brazil and it wasn’t working for me. But when I tried to describe what I didn’t like about it, I was at a loss for words, because I didn’t know the COFFEE LINGO. I was like, “it was kind of sour.” And the barista guy was all, “??” I should have read the label on my airtight coffee bag (it pushes the air out if you squeeze it, really quite cool). “Creamy and decadent, with a chocolate truffle focus. Dried raspberries add dimension to the otherwise soft acidity.” Very descriptive, no? But it’s Bad English again. The first sentence isn’t even a sentence. Also, I don’t know what dried raspberries taste like! Has anyone ever had one? Anyway, we know this kind of thing from wine lingo. I asked the barista guy for something a “little less fruity” and “more bitter.” He told me that Intlligentsia Coffee is “really trying to steer their customers away from that taste” but nonetheless recommended Black Cat Classic Espresso noting that it “wasn’t really an espresso.” “This syrupy sweet espresso blend has been the staple of our lineup since the very beginning. Supreme balance and a wonderful sweetness make this a classic.” It’s syrupy, sweet (so sweet they say it twice) and balanced (what is the syrupy sweetness balanced with?), and it’s great because we say it’s great! These descriptions don’t help. They’re vague and subjective, but perhaps they’re good marketing tools, I don’t know.

What I wonder about is what happens when a PATRON calls my wonderful orchestra’s PATRON SERVICES (1-888-745-4717 call now!) DEPARTMENT and asks about the music? What do they say? In that coffee shop I bet I felt like lots of our audience members! Orchestra marketing is way more friendly and stays away from the whole “Intelligentsia” angle in general. You’re not gonna hear “We’re really trying to steer our patrons away from Tchaikovsky and more towards R. Murray Schafer.” But maybe we should do that! It might be fun to try. When I look through our current brochure, I see only one description that really gets into “coffee description” territory. And that’s for a concert we’re doing with Dan Deacon.

“Dan Deacon’s music is simultaneously dance party, electronic odyssey, minimalist magnum opus, and childhood gone horribly right.”

I have no idea at all what that means, but I’ll have a cup of that.

I think I’m going to start getting into this! Composer descriptions that read like the ones on my coffee bags! We could do it for performers too! It might be really fun! I’m sure before long it will reach a crescendo, but the only casualty will be the English language! Let’s go!

Listen: Eat!

Reader, I am about to leave for a tech rehearsal for our Music & Food concert tonight at the KW Symphony. We’ll be playing the music, and my favorite (or favourite, since I’m in Canada) local restaurant, Nick & Nat’s Uptown 21 will be doing the food! Btw. Nick and Nat, great theme music on your website. Anyway, I’ve never heard of anyone doing a concert like this, so I’m xcited!!!

There might be standing room for tonight; there are a few tickets available for Friday.  Get them at www.kwsymphony.ca.

What’s on the (musical) menu?

Raymond Scott: Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals
Per Nørgard: Pastorale from Babette’s Feast
Shostakovich: Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two)
Vaughan-Williams: “March Past of the Kitchen Utensils” from The Wasps
John Estacio: “The Harversters” from A Farmer’s Symphony

-intermission-

Cole Porter arr. E. Outwater: “The Tale of the Oyster”
Lee Hoiby: Bon Apetit
Strawberry Alarm Clock arr. Nicole Lizée: Incense and Peppermint

What food will be served:  Well that’s a surprise!

By the way — did you know that orchestras basically started as accompaniments to Grand Feasts.  For real! I read this in the scholarly tome The Birth of the Orchestra. You can read about it through the link on page 41!

Check out this feast for the archbishop of Milan in 1529 for instance …

1st course:

Food: Sea bream, boiled sturgeon in garlic sauce, pike entrails fried w/ oranges, cinnamon, and sugar.

Music: 3 trombones & 3 cornets

2nd course:

Food: Cream-filled French Pastries, artichokes, olives, fermented apples, oyster pies

Music :3 flutes, 3 bagpipes, 1 violone.

17th Course:

Food: Candied Orange & Lemon Rinds, Ices, Nougat w/ mounds of cinnamon, pine nuts, pistachios, melon seeds

Music: 6 singers, 6 viols, lira, 3 flutes, kit fiddle (sordina), trombone, lute, zittern, 2 keyboards.

I ate my way thru San Francisco

Back in SF for a short weekend. My first time back since moving to Chicago.  It felt like when I was on tour with the SF Symphony in Italy for just one day.  Hadn’t been there in years and had no plans to go back, so I ate my way thru Torino.  I did the same in SF this weekend.

After rehearsal it was all about the usual Blue Bottle Coffee, burger at Absinthe, and the normal Hayes St. stuff.  Also tired Heaven’s Dog which is Slanted Door food with a great bar.

But two things were especially memorable.

Alembic was off the hook: eating a pork belly slider and sipping a Corpse Revival No. 2, I felt like I was in the world’s most delicious zombie movie.  And shishito peppers are the best bar food ever.

Then it was Delfina, which I never went to because I thought it was too hard to get a table.  Big mistake.

Escarole salad with nuts and first persimmons of the year, house cured salmon and then two revelations.

The spaghetti was perfect and the tomato sauce was so fresh but was all umami as well.  I asked them what kind of bacon they flavored the sauce with, but it was vegan(?!).  They just stewed the early girl tomatoes in some sort of magic way (tomatoes are still good in Cali).  How?  Please tell me!

Also there was this ahi tuna on the white beans, but was there grated cheese on top?  Impossible in a serious Italian restaurant, and I was right: it was exquisitely grated hard-boiled egg whites.  They really helped to activate the fish and bean energy.

I just love the Cali cooking and how it’s all about the ingredients.  Why inject chef-ego into nature’s wonderful creations?  Usually, it doesn’t make them better.

Beer

Well, here’s something we could do for Oktoberfest!

Discoveries

On my way to NYC for the YouTube Symphony.

As I was packing, I was listening to Radio David Byrne. There’s a lot of new, interesting stuff on, including the new Dirty Projectors album which hasn’t come out yet. (They are my favorites these days along with some others on the playlist: St. Vincent, Final Fantasy, The Bird and The Bee). What’s great is how Byrne-influenced all this music is. The Children of Byrne & Eno have grown up and continued the tradition of artsy, beautiful, witty, world-influenced, electronic music! Yay!

And I discovered a recipe for Chicken Fried Bacon.

And I’m now on twitter (eoutwater), if you’d like to keep track of me that way.

End Transmission.

I must fly down and eat at this location, wherever it is.

This is like a dream come — like the moment when chocolate combined with peanut butter.

Memphis

I find every journey to the South really really interesting. This is my first time in Memphis.

First, the orchestra: excellent group, great hall. They love to play music, which is what makes me happy when I conduct. No matter how good an orchestra is, if it feels like just another day at the office what’s the point? Of course I have to do my part to make this happen. So in many ways, when I’m working with a given orchestra in a given week, I’m thinking to myself, “How can the music-making be as vivid, as distinctive as possible?” Kudos also to David Loebel (music director – the real thing), and the excellent staff, who have really built something here.

The visit to the town has been full of feeling and emotion for me as well. Seeing the National Civil Rights Museum was incredibly moving because the facade of the museum is the actual Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assasinated.

MLK

What made it even more moving was seeing it in context. With Barack Obama elected president, MLK’s sacrifice and struggle really hit me more than ever before. But there was another context in which I saw this museum: it sits next to one of the poorest zip codes in America, with an infant mortality rate higher than Nigeria! We still have a long way to go. We can do better than this.

Also of course, this is the birthplace of blues and rock and roll. It’s still an enormously musical place. Shouldn’t cities like Memphis and New Orleans be our Vienna? They’re not of course. In the US we have trouble celebrating our own culture. The more I think about it, the culture we celebrate is just a reflection of having and making a lot of money. That’s why we don’t have Carnegie Hall in Memphis.

Beyond that — I’ve been exploring and eating. The best fried chicken ever (Gus’s), catfish, ho-cakes, and some BBQ to come. I’m going to try and hear some American music as well after rehearsal tonight.

Elistism

Here’s an ARTICLEby LA Times columnist Mark Swed about elistism. He makes the case that there’s elitism in “high” and “low” culture, which is of course true. And in fact, in classical music we’re less elitist than some places as far as, say, ticket sales:

“A ticket to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic in fancy-schmancy Walt Disney Concert Hall may not always be easy to come by at the last minute and top seats are now $147. But for most programs, bench seats behind the stage (which many love) go on sale two weeks before the concert for $15. Do I need to detail the princely sums in the thousands it takes to attend an NBA playoff? On Broadway, $400 tickets no longer raise eyebrows. At Disney, we are a democratic audience who sit together. In the supposedly populist Staples Center, luxury suites resemble nothing so much as the royal boxes in European opera houses of old. Anyone can go to an art museum, but not anyone can get past the bouncers at the latest in-crowd club.”

True – but not enough people want to buy our “brand” of elitism because it’s stuffy and old. It’s the same problem as I mentioned in an earlier post – what we’re doing is ok, but the perception of the general public about what we’re doing doesn’t match up.

Tom and I went up to Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes Station and the freshest, biggest, tastiest OYSTERS yesterday. Love the BBQ ones w/ a little Tabasco. Driving an hour for oysters? Sounds like food elitism to me. Yum.

I’m stuck at O’Hare …

…so I think it might be a good time to BLOG a little bit.

Since I’ve been in LA and SF, I’ve taken it a lot of music … The Album Leaf, Devendra Banhart, Gilberto Gil, Stevie Wonder, and Matmos. The best concert was … wait for it … STEVIE WONDER. I was in the presence of a real living music god. I haven’t felt that way since I was around Ella Fitzgerald back in the day or Rostropovich – you get the idea. Please don’t miss seeing him live if you get the chance. He sounds perfect, his band and orchestra is hella tight (the string players DANCE for a good part of the show), and he somehow manages to play three hours of happy songs without being tedious. That is not easy. In fact I don’t know of any other living musician who has explored so many iterations of joy and happiness with such success. The other concerts were great too but … STEVIE … wow, how fortunate I was to have seen that.

I was in KW last week doing some VISIONARY PLANNING for the orchestra, and one thing we discussed is how to be innovative, I mean really innovative. One thing that always comes up is programming. Heck there was even a BIG ARTICLE about this in the New York Times recently. I, for one, didn’t find any of the programs mentioned particularly innovative, but I did find most of them good, artistic, musical experiences. I’m looking for more. It’s not the food that’s bad, it’s the the room, the vibe, the tired, non-inclusive, ritualistic, society-oriented presentation of music that the orchestra biz hangs on to for no good reason and which does them no service. Now there are some hardcore chowhounds like me who will go eat great food in an unappealing setting, ’cause the food’s just so damn good. But if I were a chef (and I am, d’orchestre), I would want my meals served in an attractive, modern place with good lighting and a hot wait-staff. The atmosphere of an orchestral concert is generally similar to the kind of stuffy restaurants Monty Python used to make fun of (with “waffer-thin” mints). I know some of the halls are old, but the vibe could still be spiced up quite a bit. With programming, I think there’s nothing new under the sun. It just has to be good.

I just got back from Chautauqua which is a strikingly unusual place. It’s a retro-utopia for intellectual white people. These folks (and there are thousands of them in this gated community) will go to a foreign policy lecture in the morning, then go water skiing, then see the symphony, opera, or ballet at night. This happens every day. It’s full of Victorian houses shoved really close together which goes against my personal idea of a summer retreat (which is to be in the woods far away from most people). All this being said, it’s an inspiring thing to see so many people willing to give up their personal space to spend the summer with ART and IDEAS … at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like it.

While there I had a long chat with a conductor friend who has a different take on music and programming than I do. He’s fiercely committed to a few pieces he really believes in — at the expense of many others. He was very proud of how small his repertoire was. I was kind of put off by that (Symphonies of Wind Instruments is BAD? Copland only wrote one good piece?), but I also admired how much he loved works he loved. I like lots of music, but sometimes feel I’m being stretched thin as a result of my broad tastes. I guess we all commit sins as artists, either by liking too little music (like him), or too much (like me).

Damn — I’m still stuck at O’Hare, even after all this blogging.