From the Orchestra Library

Schoenberg and Bugs Bunny

Posted in The Business,The Music,Uncategorized by kschnack on April 25, 2010
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Sometimes daily life in the orchestra library is an exercise in absurdity and irony. As such, it can become great fodder for storytelling. And it also serves to provide endless material for merrymaking so that when the going gets tough we librarians have something to laugh about.

I remember how thrilled I was after graduating from college and getting my first orchestra job, and playing Mahler Symphony No. 1 the opening week. Even the pops concerts in the beginning were exciting, performing with all those “stars.” As time went on, of course, the reality of the job set in and one could be a bit disillusioned by the amount of “non-serious” repertoire that was programmed. I know that many of my colleagues experienced the same adjustment from their expectations of what playing  in a professional orchestra would be like. All those years of study and practice, perfecting every technique so we could execute the most technically demanding classical symphonic, opera and ballet repertoire, to play back-up for a pops show? Yep.

These days I am older and more realistic (and hopefully a little wiser), and I understand better how challenging it is for the artistic leadership to develop creative and appealing programming while maintaining and raising the quality and level of excellence, and……making payroll. So, I admit there are worthwhile pops programs that are not only audience-friendly but artistically satisfying for the players. Of course, some US orchestras “don’t do pops” — or at least if they do it’s called something else — and many players yearn for their dream job in which they wouldn’t have to do those kinds of concerts. But let’s not forget that composers have long crossed back and forth between the so-called serious and popular music in their compositions. For example, Erich Korngold, and, yes, even Schoenberg, had to earn a living after they escaped Europe to Hollywood during the war. Did Schoenberg go tonal to please? Korngold wrote some pretty progressive music for films that, with merely a change in title, could have ended up on the concert stage as “serious” with no one the wiser.*

So, it is with great pleasure that I recount for you the following short incident that took place during a recent rehearsal:

We were well into rehearsals for a week of subscription concerts and the strings had just finished a rigorous work-out on Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. As we finished the stage move to the Brahms symphony set-up I had to make an announcement regarding an upcoming pops program, for which the music had been promised but was delayed by the show’s creator. I got up in front of the orchestra and said “I am very sorry to let you know that the Bugs Bunny music  is late and won’t be here until Friday.”

From somewhere in the cello section I hear: “OH NOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

At which point we all lost it.

Because “Bugs Bunny on Broadway” is a pre-packaged concert that is performed in sync with the film clips of the cartoons, often to some of the most famous classical music ever written (you know, “Kill the Wabbit” set to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”), I like to think Mr. Schoenberg would have found the absurdity, irony, and humor in the situation.

*John Mauceri gave a very enlightening talk examining this subject at a MOLA conference in LA a few years ago. An edited version appears on page 4 of this issue of Marcato and I encourage you to read it: