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June 24, 2010


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Why didn't Phila.Orchestra pick our guy for conductor?

I'm extremely disappointed. I didn't get the job. The Philadelphia Orchestra has just named spiky-haired, 35-year-old French-Canadian Yannick Nezet-Seguin “Music Director-Designate.” This multi-hyphenated entity thus becomes the orchestra's 9th consecutive non-U.S.-born Music Director.

Oh well, at least I tried. I was just one candidate in a star-studded  field of contenders that included the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Justin Bieber and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, but I  thought that I had a distinct advantage, owing to my five continuous months as a cellist in the Old York Road Symphony in 1972.

I felt that I knew well what sort of audition would impress the Board of Directors. You see, classical musicians tend to be prima donnas, and they need a conductor who will push them to the limits of  endurance, “break them down” and then build them back up again from scratch. Oh yes, my friends, I knew all the tricks of the trade, and I was prepared to use them.

I arrived for the audition wearing a cape and white gloves, accompanied by my faithful valet, “Bernardo.” I started yelling at people even before entering the building: “Out of my way! Where's my beverage? I said DIET Pepsi, you blithering idiot!”

As I mounted the podium, I could sense that everyone was appropriately on edge. I announced straightaway that we would play through Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, “mambo-style.” Without explaining further or even counting off, I launched into a series of flailing maneuvers accompanied by superhuman grimaces, grunts and groans. I was so concerned with my own performance that I wasn't really aware of what the players were doing, but every now and then, just for effect, I would point to one of them and shout something like “More vibrato!” or “More rigatoni!”

At a predetermined time (I had an alarm clock in my pocket), I threw down my baton and screamed, “Dullards! Who ever told you that you could play? I refuse to be a part of this mockery any longer!” and stormed off, closely followed by a scurrying Bernardo, trying to put my cape back on.

I'd seen this technique used many times before. The players usually just sit there, dumfounded for a few minutes, then have a meeting and decide to send an envoy (traditionally the piccolo player) to beg the conductor to come back, whereupon he makes a triumphant return to the cheers of one and all. This used to happen at every single rehearsal of the Old York Road Symphony. That's why I joined. It was exhilarating, and it made us all feel special, which is why we got into music in the first place.

Anyway, after storming out, I waited on the street for what seemed  a very long time, and when I tried to get back into the rehearsal hall, I discovered that they had locked me out. They wouldn't even let me back in to retrieve my gloves. After screaming obscenities through the door for a few minutes, I went home and waited to see if I had gotten the job.

As we all know now, I didn't. I guess I wasn't “cool” and “hip”  enough for them. Apparently, the powers-that-be decided that the  orchestra needs to woo the younger attention-deficit-disorder generation in order to stay in business. No more old-fogey conductors or ponderous pieces like “114 Variations on a Schoenberg Fugue,” just tuneful ditties to leave 'em humming.

In keeping with the new image, soloists for the upcoming season will include Greenday, Lady Gaga and Snowball the Dancing Cockatoo. The orchestra will also be taking music out into the neighborhoods in the form of birthday concerts at Chuck E. Cheese, Thursday Happy Hours at Dave and Busters, and appearances at Shad Fest, Beer Fest and Fest Fest. There will also be a special concert for cats and a program of popular ringtones.

They’re pulling out all of the stops, and the fate of classical music in Philadelphia hangs in the balance. Good luck, Yannick. You’re gonna need it.

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