Me and my „Pultie“

I don’t think that there are many professions where you permanently share a desk with a random colleague. Yet if you observe the  string sections of a symphony orchestra – violins, violas, celli – you’ll see that this is exactly the case. Imagine, day and night, working closely (on the average, around 90 centimeters distance) with someone you’ve been paired off with by some trick of fate. How does that work? We in the viola group have a rotation list: every two weeks we change partners  so that we all play together on a regular basis. Does this make a difference in the quality of our playing? I think so, because working as a team doesn’t just mean playing the same notes at the same time.  Having a partner who actively supports his stand partner (Pultkollege or „Pultie“) can make  life so much better. Turning the page at the right moment  so you can manage that nasty little passage at the bottom right-hand corner, writing in the bowings and corrections so that the other player is free to continue the music, stopping you by a subtle gesture from making a false entrance, keeping a sense of humor when things get stressful: these are all signs of  successful partnering.  It can be even more than all that. In our group, we have a mix of gender and generation that’s probably the most extreme in the orchestra. Our oldest member’s approaching 62, the youngest is 22. My colleague could effectively be my grandson – and it would be hard for me to respect or like him more. Stand partners both teach and learn from each other, not just in questions of orchestral existence.  I have had stand partners who have become close personal  friends and effectively changed the course of my life: Gary, who become a flatmate; Meg, whose influence brought me to Basel; Vreni, whose brilliance and laughter freed me from many constraints. Walter became my husband and father to our boy. My Pultie and I manage to make the best of many situations and master everyday orchestra life with enthusiasm and  energy.  If someone comes to work in a foul mood, why should I let it get to me? There will always be somebody there who’s willing and caring enough to buoy up the situation.  So really, I don’t think I’d want to sit alone, when my Pulties help me grow and be stronger. Even through situations that aren’t fun or pleasant,  being  part of a team makes life as a rank-and-file player  a very attractive way to spend one’s professional life.  It certainly suits me.

When is an Orchestra Sexy?

I just read an interview in „The Guardian“ with the iconic pianist Yuya Wang, known as well for the flambuoyance of her playing as for  her presentation. The article’s entitled, „If the music is beautiful and sensual, why not dress to fit?“ I  mentioned in an earlier blog that I find it sexy to play my instrument: I love the feeling of holding this vibrant being in my arms and of feeling the response of the bow on the strings, the warm singing  that results and which, in the orchestra, blends with other voices to create a rich palette of sound and atmosphere. So I wondered, after reading about this very self- confident young soloist’s approach to showing herself both emotionally and physically to her audience, how much (if at all) does her attitude apply to an orchestra?  For me, the greatest satisfaction that I know as an orchestral player is the instinctive feeling that we, as an organism, are sometimes able to create something indescribable  transfering  our audience and us into a realm of something approaching divinity.  Of course people come to concerts to be uplifted. But I dare say that the eyes also take their fill of the music that plays upon the stage.  So I’d like to encourage your feedback on  this theme:  what inspires you when you come to our concerts? What are the elements that  you look forward to? Do you have any  favorite players in the orchestra whom you especially enjoy observing and/or hearing?  We players of Sinfonieorchester Basel are, without exception, passionate in our efforts to make music in its purest form.  We do this for ourselves, but we need you, our audience, to give it a purpose.  If you have the inclination, I’d like very much to hear what your thoughts are. But it would  be great to know that you find us inspiring, dynamic, and maybe even a little bit sexy.

Back Down to Earth

After the tour is before the tour. I’ve been sleeping in my own bed again for a week  and it’s the best. After a fairly giddy ride on the touring caroussel, when you start asking yourself „what day’s today?“, „what city  are we in?“, it’s sweet relief to return to the banalities of everyday life.  Touring with Sinfonieorchester Basel is an extraordinary opportunity and privilege, getting to spend time with colleagues outside the normal framework and to experience new cities and audiences – and even be applauded for it! It’s also a challenge to be met anew with each new day.  (We were brilliant, by the way.)  But now it’s time to move on. Our next venture, hardly less challenging and daring than a tour, is the preparation for Phillip Glass’s opera, „Satyagraha“, soon to be premiered in Theater Basel. „Minimal“ music, another facet of modern repertory,  uses repetition as a tool, creating structure and atmosphere.  It’s a once in a lifetime thing for me, and I’m curious to see and hear the end result. Playing the notes isn’t the hard part: it’s keeping track of them that mades your brain nearly explode. Have I already played the repeat? Is this the da capo? The repeat of the da capo, or are we in the dal segno? Help! What day is today? What city am I in? Where else could we  enjoy as much diversity as here in Basel?