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Nielsen in Texas

Folks I’m in EL PASO, TEJAS this week. I Can See Mexico From My House! Or out my hotel window. I’m having a great time here, partly because I’m getting to conduct a piece I really love that never gets done, and that’s Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3, the so called “Espansiva.” What a piece! I know people like No. 4 and No. 5, and they are more ambitious and serious perhaps, but I’ve always thought of Nielsen as a humorous composer, at least that’s the part I like the most about him. In this piece, he’s like a Nordic Haydn on Steroids, starting off with an amazing Eroica joke, playing ridiculous games with keys, backwards phrasing, odd orchestration, surprise singers, and folksy dances. In the last movement you can feel this kind of Nordic Step Dancing going on for sure. The orchestra is rising to the challenge and digging the music as far as I can tell. Maybe because it was below zero (F) in El Paso last week and now they can relate to the Idea of North.

I’m also looking forward to some desert hikes, Mexican food, and some Old West. Someone even told me they have great vintage typography(!) here, so I’ll keep an eye out for that (Actually, I’m watching the Helvetica movie on my iPad every night before I go to sleep. It’s really interesting but I can’t actually stay awake for too long watching it. It is, after all, about a font. There’s only so much one can do.)

Also, have you been checking out the latest Twitter conversation about orchestral programming? It’s called “Dead White Guys.” (#DWG), which is what we play a lot.
I chimed in a few times. The thing is, when we play concerts of living white guys, or dead other kinds of people, we get our most passionate audiences I think. They’re just small audiences. The question is, how do orchestras define success? If an orchestra wants to “grow” an audience, doesn’t that naturally imply that one starts small? At the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony we’re so lucky to have a space for small audiences (the Conrad Centre), so the small-audience concerts feel great. It’s from there that we can begin to grow.