I’m sitting down to write this post on my second day off since mid-August. And my first day off was yesterday, which I spent binging on TV and Super Nintendo … really needed that.
I honestly can’t remember a more intense start to a year. Two tours, eight AFC concerts, our annual three-day retreat at Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill, ME, where we sketched out our Season 10, a three-day residency at DePauw University in Indiana where we discussed our experiences and AFC’s artistic and business models with the fantastic and engaged students there, two grant applications, one photo shoot, twenty-seven rehearsals, and probably the most bonkers program we’ve ever pulled off.
That was “VS.,” one of two AFC shows on the Gardner’s Thursday night Stir series this season (the other will be the awesome and powerful “Lady Russia” on March 3rd, featuring music by Sofia Gubaidulina and Olga Bell). “VS.” was a program I drew up and the group picked out a year ago, featuring music relating to conflict in sports, war, and politics, hopping back and forth between the baroque and the 20th century. Sport went from Queen to John Zorn to Rameau, War was a WWII radio drama, Samuel Scheidt, Shostakovich, and Takemitsu, and Politics went from The Song of the Birds through Vivaldi to Frederic Rzewski’s epic Coming Together. It all made sense in my head… at some point.
In my introductory comments to the audience, I referred to our Stir concerts as AFC’s Test Kitchen, a forum where we have the freedom to take risks and delve into high concept programs, the avant garde, jazz, dance, or whatever strikes our imagination. And I made that comparison mere seconds before the first note, truly without the slightest clue how the evening was going to go, only the thought: “this could work.” A couple days out I’m still not quite sure what happened.
What it confirmed though is really the same thing that all of our shows do, only to an especially pronounced degree here: that this group is populated and surrounded by people with some serious superpowers. I’m looking at you Alicia Mielke, coordinator of the concerts at the Gardner, who handled innumerable special requests, printing out newly edited parts up to 15 minutes before show time, all the while graciously welcoming patrons as if nothing was amiss. Or Bradford Gleim, kickass baritone, here our narrator, who brought exceptional dedication, focus and intensity to the Rzewski, far exceeding anything I could have imagined. Or Karl Doty, who took it upon himself to dust off his electric bass and learn the Rzewski’s harrowingly difficult part for that instrument, a full 22 pages of constant 16th notes.
If only there were military-style decorations for musicians, I think they’d be bestowed to each and every person involved in making this show happen. And at this point it really does feel like we made it through some kind of a crazy ordeal, that’s left us all unsure whether to think “let’s do that again!” or “let’s never do that again!” After some well-earned rest, though, I think I know which we’ll choose.