I discovered something over the last two nights of rehearsals with the Southeast Symphony... something I'd lost touch with in the course of the last few years. I remembered why I really wanted to pick up the piano again... to collaborate with other musicians. People who raise the bar and make you want to do better. Who make you excited to be in the room.
When Maestro Anthony Parnther first asked me to do "Rhapsody in Blue", I immediately had one goal in mind. I had performed the Gershwin before in high school and then as a last minute replacement in my solo recital with an accompanist, putting it back together in a week after having not touched it in 20 years. With the Southeast Symphony, I was going to relearn this piece to the T, and make sure I was respecting every musician on stage with me by not slopping through it.
My accompanist and coach, Michael Sushel, not only tolerates you when you decide to do said slop through with two pianos; but also (when you decide to take the piece seriously) pushes you to continuously work to find your stride and improve. Maybe his best piece of advice for the Gerswin, since I do not have a jazz background and was taking incredible liberties with the rhythms, was to put sections to the metronome first and then go from there. It was probably apparent to him that I was imitating recordings instead of understanding the true nature of jazz. After some practice, here is a rehearsal run.
I have always been uncomfortable being referred to as "the soloist". There are a lot more musicians performing with me with a hella-lot more experience than me. I prefer it to be just me doing my part in a number amongst the ensemble. And it's nice getting to know people around town now. Jonathan Sacdalan has "that" clarinet opening in Rhapsody. Jamie Stowbridge heading the full percuission section. I glance up and see John on tuba. Etc., etc, etc,. You know, the last time I soloed with an orchestra I literally only knew the harp player.
When you are led by Maestro Parnther, he has checked his ego at door, and by example leads everyone else to do the same. He puts the music and program first. It is such a great working environment. I have never once heard him use the expressions "my orchestra" or "my vision". He speaks of the organization and orchestra as a whole and understands the legacy of the Southeast Symphony.
Here's what best about this program, it's great to be a small part of exciting.
Listen, I know there are many of you who are coming to support me, and I thank you profusely... for flying in and driving in and pushing your Oscar viewing parties later, It really does mean a lot. And all the well wishers who are working behind the scenes or are in the audience at the Oscars, thanks for all your texts and e-mails as well.
But mostly, I am thrilled to be able to share with you some amazing music by some crazy talented musicians. I will be in the audience enjoying the majority of the program with you until the last second possible. Can't wait to hear the full complement of solos on "Night in Tunisia" and the power of the "Afro-American Symphony". But I am so thrilled that John Wineglass's "Someone Else's Child" is on the program, which I flipped over from the first notes. Even crazier, I happened to be sitting next to John Wineglass during the first rehearsal.
When you've dabbled in writing for orchestra, to say John Wineglass is inspiring is just about as much of a cliched understatement as you can muster. This piece takes you on a ride. Two minutes in I was on my iphone trying to buy a recording of it. And I finally had to lean over and ask him if it was on iTunes. WHY NOT????!!!! I made a shoddy video recording of it, but Anthony kept stopping to rehearse. Ugh. If you think I am over gushing, I am not.
My only regret is that I am not getting to play on this piece. BUT I am sharing piano duties with the ridiculous David Lee who is going to town on all the great material and has an ear that just syncs with the orchestra like mad.
I have exchanged e-mails with John Wineglass and have called dibs on soloing when he writes a piano concerto. Anthony says the Southeast is ready to premiere it. John, are you feeling any pressure?
I also have to tell a quick story about Jen Lindsay who blindly friended me on FaceBook. After the first night of rehearsal, I commented on the Wineglass piece, and Jen leaves a comment "Yeah, that was a great ride for the orchestra too." Knowing Jen only through her posts and photos, I assumed she was an opera singer and asked her what she was playing and told her I wish we had met. Problem. We had. She's the concert master. She had told me she was Jen. And she was sitting two feet behind me. I know, I'm dense. I owe her drinks. And she's awesome!
Thank you everyone for coming tomorrow. Thank you Anthony for asking me to be a part of it. And this is not a gratuitous statement because I'm not playing on most of it... the concert will be amazing!!!