In memoriam: Lynne Haggard Rumney ’90

Lynne Haggard Rumney ’90 died after a long struggle with cancer on July 7. She was one of PUO’s most vibrant members in my 37 years here, and left a huge footprint at Princeton. Lynne was a very fine violinist, and was concertmaster of PUO. She earned a Masters in Violin Performance at the Eastman School of Music after graduating in English cum laude. She was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

There are two reasons that Princeton music students, PUO and otherwise, should know about Lynne:

1) She was the inspiration for and co-organizer of the first PUO tour in 1990, in which we got on busses and played concerts in Chapel Hill, Georgetown and Baltimore– and had a wonderful time, so much so that we adopted the practice for good.

2) She was a leader in the powerful student movement that brought pressure on the Music Department and Princeton Administration to establish the certificate Program in Musical Performance in the Fall of 1990. Lynne’s quiet, well-reasoned but passionate persistence broke down decades-old barriers and prejudices about the place of music performance in a liberal arts context. She, and others, succeeded after interior faculty efforts came up short. I offer what she did as a model to all future generations of Princeton students trying to effect change. Student voices can make the biggest difference.

Going forward, one senior recital per year by a PUO member will be designated the Lynne Haggard Rumney ’90 Recital as a living memorial, in music-making, to this extraordinary person.

http://bismarcktribune.com/news/obituaries/lynne-rumney/article_881eb605-ae58-5e7b-82c7-8944e1bcbf56.html

In memoriam: Ivan Moravec

The Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, whose name regularly appears on great pianists of all time lists, died last Monday July 27 in his beloved Prague. I note his passing here because the Princeton University Orchestra had the great good fortune of performing with him twice. Ivan was a frequent visitor to Princeton University Concerts, and so we were able to hear him repeatedly in the early 20th Century French repertory, his beloved Chopin, and of course others. He always seemed in top form for Princeton audiences, and adored performing in Richardson Auditorium.

His first time with PUO was in the Fall of 2007, in Beethoven’s C minor concerto. On this occasion (with the help of then-Princeton University Concerts Director Nate Randall) Ivan was a Belknap Visitor in the Humanities. He also gave two master classes in which he pushed student pianists to interpretive insights, even breakthroughs. Then in the Spring of 2009 he returned and gave us Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Lucky us.

Much has been written about Ivan’s playing by closer observers of the international piano world, and its history, than I. My personal reaction was always that of being bowled over by his elegance and exquisite poetry, and moved to tears more than once. Personally he was the gentlest of souls, with a completely natural old world courtesy, but with an underlying steel, forged in the years of being an artist with integrity under Communist rule. My wife Marty and I had the honor of visiting with Ivan and his vivacious wife Zuzana in Prague after his Princeton visits. After a laughter-filled dinner at his favorite restaurant, we walked slowly through the neighborhood in the Old Town where Zuzana lived during the war, listening to chilling tales of the behavior of the Nazi occupiers. We cannot know, we can only admire the strength these people had to develop in order to live in a country first under the harsh boot of the Nazis, then the Soviets, for so many years. It was an unforgettable evening.

Ivan repeatedly told me of the pleasure he took from working with Princeton students, both as a teacher and fellow performer. He regarded it as a very special treat for him. I hope he knew that we felt exactly the same way, many times over. I mourn his passing, and express my gratitude that we all came in contact with this incomparable artist and brave human being.

Arrival

We arrived today before sunrise at the intimate and friendly Shannon Airport after a splendidly smooth trip from Newark. That phrase (“smooth trip”), when applied to an entire orchestra + instruments, is actually a description of a  minor miracle. Moving a large (100 members) symphony orchestra- musicians, smaller instruments carried on, large instruments in flight cases checked as baggage- over an international border is a massively complex (and expensive) task. Glitches can and often do sprout up like weeds. We all have gripes and bones to pick with U.S. airlines, but the people on whom we were dependent stepped up big time this past day. Kudos to the United team at Newark.

Anyone who has traveled to Europe on an early evening flight, arriving early the next morning, knows about the several hour gap between arrival and hotel check-in.  The people responsible for the ground ops (coaches, hotels) of the tour, Cara Travel Group of Boston, filled the gap by driving us north to see one of Ireland’s most celebrated natural wonders, the Cliffs of Moher. We got there, and instead of the cliffs, saw another prominent feature of Ireland– a fog so thick you could almost grab it, and mist driven by gale-force winds spraying in upward torrents from the sea. No cliff viewing today for PUO, but nevertheless, there is something awesome about the wildness of this farthest-west point of Europe, with all the power of the Atlantic revealed, in sound if not sight.

The last stop before the blessed repose of the hotel room bed was King John’s castle in Limerick.  Built in the time of the bad-guy king from the Robin Hood tales (the who was also forced to sign Magna Carta), it was the cornerstone of the growth of medieval Limerick, and later was the object of numerous terrible sieges in the 17th century rebellions against English rule. A magnificent interactive exhibition was added a couple of years ago which does much to bring alive the rich history of the castle. It was fun watching PUO members scrambling atop the battlements. Before we kept, Emma Powell, Demi Fang, Nathan Wong and Spencer Shen delivered a spirited pop-up performance of a movement of Grieg’s String Quartet for the patrons at the castle shop.

Tomorrow is the first music day, at the University Concert Hall at Limerick University. Here’s hoping for a restful night for all!

Emerging on the other side

Whoops, seem to have let the old blog slide in the intensity of the last couple of rehearsals, and the concerts themselves. I don’t think a play-by-play is called for here, just a summary, to bring things to a close.

The Monday rehearsal, before which I paused writing, got us through a run of about 65% of the symphony (first four movements), which was good. Many little spots remained in need of fixing, which we did.

Wednesday we attended to the rest of the work, which consisted mostly of the great finale. We also added the vocal element for the first time– Barbara Rearick, the sopranos and altos of the Princeton Glee Club, and the American Boychoir, all for the fourth and fifth movements. I had allotted 30 minutes for this 14 minutes of music, and it turned out we did not need it all. The pegs slipped into the proper holes like clockwork, even with the choirs in the balcony. The vocalists brought a high level of preparation, but that was no surprise.

Dress rehearsal, Thursday night. First time through the whole thing, all 100 minutes of it, without stopping. I always try to get a no-stop run  before the dress rehearsal, as that in and of itself is an adjustment– especially when it’s this long. Then the dress rehearsal can be devoted to polishing. But because we could not rehearse the previous Sunday (Easter) we were deprived of that. So it was a tough dress, many simultaneous adjustments needing to be made. The next day I sent a fairly lengthy email to the orchestra with little fixes that we did not have time to do, and with what I hoped was good advice on transitioning between rehearsal and performance.

Again unsurprisingly, Princeton students more than rose to the occasion when the audience showed up– they dominated it with intensity and concentration. It was a dream of a performance, to a good house Friday and a great one Saturday. The recognition of the seniors was, as always, joyous and sad, then off we went. It’s amazing how often this happens– the fact that one is playing for people other than oneself  brings one miles closer to the spirit of the music itself. Mahler came alive. Hey, he was there. His love wrapped its arms around us all.

At the point I’ll just share the email I wrote to the orchestra Sunday morning, as anything else I say on the matter of the Princeton University Orchestra’s Mahler 3 performances would be just a rehash of that.

Dear PUO,

 There’s always a little nervous laughter and discomfort when the topic of Love is mentioned before a large group. I guess that’s because we all know that it is truly the most important thread in our lives, beyond pure survival, even though it may be hard to say that out loud.
 
But there was no such discomfort last night, when it was Mahler doing the talking, with us as his transmitters. My daughter (who also played Mahler 3 in college) said simply “waterworks” drawing her fingers down her cheeks. And, she reported, many around her were watery as well. Of course, Mahler’s love would have fallen flat, had it not been launched by yours. Several times I got the comment that, as long as it was, it did not seem long. The only way that happens is for those onstage to be fully committed, which always draws the audience into their commitment.
 
That was in the audience. On the stage…. we all spent time face to face, in utter intimacy, with one of the greatest souls of music. (Make that art.) There is no greater feeling for a musician, in my opinion. No composer can induce such a feeling of radiant ecstasy as Mahler. And I think maybe no other work of his does that quite like this one. We have now lived that. How did we get so lucky?
 
It was great, committed playing, to the core of every last moment. So many thank-yous– woodwinds, such a wonderful wildness, switching instantly to delicacy when it was time; brass, authority and brilliance, and at the ultimate moment, angelic singing; strings, feathery, delicious textures of petals, then deep, comforting richness; percussion, both crisp snap in the marches and the last tolling strokes, signaling eternity; and harps (whom I absentmindedly and unpardonably did not have stand, but whose pardon I humbly ask), delicate starlit drops, roars of sound, and those deep, deep (Tief!) A octaves, real Mahler tone.
 
We were also so lucky to be able to assemble, at a very busy time of year, three magnificent assisting artists- the angelic treble voices of the PU Glee Club, who took this on after their own huge concert the previous weekend, the magnificent American Boychoir, who squeezed us in just prior to a tour, and finally to my colleague and dear friend Barbara Rearick, mentor now to many generations of Princeton students, and whose voice is, to me, synonymous with Mahler’s music.
 
And what an effort by all on getting the word out, the team being energetically headed by Dana and Alina! I’m also quite positive that Lydia’s great video, that she got placed on the Princeton website, had a lot to do with it, as did our new website which is primarily Ben’s work. These things mark us as a more serious and professional organization. Thanks must also be tendered to Catherine Ugolini, our Director of Marketing and Outreach, who has developed great relations with the local press and placed two headliner stories about us. I think that all those efforts came together brilliantly, and that the huge success of this weekend gives PUO a stronger platform on which to keep building. We are no longer quite such a well-kept secret! At this point in my years here it’s silly for me to say that any one weekend was The Top One. But there was never a greater PUO weekend than the one we just had. 
 
Planets, Teatro di Strada, New World, Poppea, Concerti, Phaedra, Prague, and now Mahler. I am proud of, and grateful to you all, beyond words.

 

This will close this stretch of blog, and it may be until next Fall before I start another, when the topic will be Building an Orchestra from Scratch. (not really scratch, as 75% of the students are returning). Thanks for reading and sharing this journey with me. I’ve greatly enjoyed putting this experience into words, and I hope if you read it and came to hear us play, that the connection between the two was clear.

 

Michael Pratt

In between rehearsals

It’s been now five days now since the last rehearsal, as we didn’t rehearse on Easter. That’s a day longer than usual. We come back this afternoon for the last three rehearsals before opening the doors to the public. Crunch time. I thought I’d reflect a little on what goes through the mind in the last lengthy gap between rehearsals, with the concert now so near, and something of the trajectory that got us here.

In the pro orchestra world, which I inhabited for a number of years, the rehearsal schedule is highly compressed. The order of the day is to get the maximum results in the minimal amount of time. In my days with the New Jersey Symphony, rehearsals for a Thursday night subscription concert would begin on Tuesday, with morning and afternoon rehearsals on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a dress Thursday morning. There is no time for reflection or significant experimentation in a schedule like that. Conductor and players come Tuesday morning with things already honed to a fine edge, and the working of details and building the broader sweep happen pretty much simultaneously. The conductor’s reflections on how the piece is shaped all come before the downbeat. Things move fast. Time is money, and there’s never enough of either! But it’s doable, if the conductor knows what s/he wants, and the orchestra musicians are sharp pros (like the NJSO). All work from a platform of many years of experience.

It’s a wholly different rhythm in a university setting, particularly one where most in the orchestra are not concentrating on performance, or even music generally. In an early post I spoke of the first steps as seeing the architecture of the work from a distance. Then over the next weeks (PUO works on a five-week cycle) you attend to the bricks, mortar, wiring, insulation, carpentry. That platform of experience is not there, the young musicians are doing so many things for the first time. We go note-by-note, honing the details, tightening the screws, and getting help from those who do have that experience.

But a shift must happen now as we approach the performance, and the negotiation of that shift is the conductor’s responsibility. We must go back to a higher altitude and see the thing as a whole again. The details must be there still, but now they have to fit into a coherent unity. Detail work is now maybe 10% of the rehearsal. The rest is getting the feel of what it will be like to perform, getting comfortable with the length, and how a piece this long must be paced. As for the actual conductor’s conception, inevitably what happens in the many rehearsals, as strong and less strong tendencies emerge, result in decisions that will affect the conductor’s idea of how the piece goes, or can go successfully. I try to use the weekend before, and the time between rehearsals leading up to the performance, to put all of that knowledge into play, in real time. A bit of the monk in me emerges, Bodhidharma in his cave, sitting before the wall (or score), probing for the Truth! Keep the eyes open! What is it?

So we arrive at today, Monday, a 4:30 call at which we’ll run better than half the symphony. Daunting. And exciting.

OK, back to my cave!