Tuesday, November 28, 2006

symphonic slapstick with H.K. Gruber

Most of the time a classical new music concert is a pretty serious affair - we all dress in black and our most solemn facial expressions. That might be a challenge at our New World Symphony new music concert this Saturday though, in which composer/conductor H.K. Gruber will conduct his own piece Frankenstein!!, and he'll also sing, dance, and play various kazoos.

At today's first rehearsal, H.K. Gruber had to tell us several times to keep a poker face - "be like Buster Keaton!" he said. (Who's that?) We might not have understood half of what he said, but the orchestra couldn't stop laughing. His piece seems to treat the orchestra as a big collection of toys, and then add some real toys into the mix just for more fun. There are slide whistles in the low brass, toy pianos in the bassoon and percussion, a car horn for the harp player.... All the winds stand up at one point and twirl noisemakers. In the bass section, we mostly just play the bass, but at one point we join the rest of the orchestra to harmonize on some nonsense poetry.

I guess we do sometimes treat ourselves too seriously as classical musicians. I'm pretty sure we're not humorless people though - we just don't want to compromise the composer's intentions. Most of the composers I've met, though, seem to have fantastic senses of humor, and I'm sure that Mozart, Haydn, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky did as well. Probably Beethoven never played a kazoo, but he definitely liked to surprise and shock his audience - and he was known to burst out laughing maniacallly during his own improvisations, from what I've heard.

So please come to the Lincoln Theater this weekend, but don't come expecting a lot of dour, sour new music posturing. At least for Saturday, you're more likely to find a whoopee cushion on your seat.

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