An Accordionist's Perspective
Part 1: Brief Regrets
Henry Doktorski, Hila Plitmann, Ken Karsh at rehearsal (May 4, 2011)
April 9, 2011: I budgeted two weeks of my life to learn the accordion music for David Del Tredici’s “Final Alice” which I'm playing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on May 6th and 8th. I'm putting on hold all my various projects (except for my regular church job as organist and choir director at Grace Lutheran Church in Rochester, Pennsylvania, and my Monday night Chess For Kids classes at the Bethel Park Community Center) so I have lots of time to learn this music. My schedule is: 2 weeks to learn the music (while also playing organ and directing the music for Holy Week services), then after Easter a week vacation in Florida, and when I return begin rehearsals with the symphony.
Just today I started to read through the music, and at first I felt like kicking myself, “Why did I accept this gig? The music is so very difficult and I’m gonna have to spend hours and hours and hours and hours learning these 38 pages * of music; and I do not like practicing anyway!”
Oh well, I guess I just gotta put my nose to the grindstone for the next two weeks and say goodbye to my life of leisure. It will be worth the great endeavor, I’m sure! :)
* Although there are 38 pages in the accordion part, eleven pages are tacet with cues, so actually I only have to learn 27 pages of music!
Part 2: Our First Rehearsal—A Great Day!
Wednesday, May 4, 2011: I had two rehearsals this afternoon with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall in preparation for two performances of David Del Tredici’s “Final Alice” this weekend on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. I played 40 concerts with the PSO between 1995 and 2005 (on accordion, piano, organ, celeste & harpsichord), but I haven’t performed with them since April 2005 when I performed with them on accordion in Arturs Maskats “Tango.” Six years. It felt good to once again be sitting on stage with such great musicians.
Curiously, less than a month ago when I started learning the music to this very difficult work for soprano and orchestra, I was cursing myself for accepting the gig. I began by working on the hardest 3-page section of the piece, the prestissimo accordion solo. I don’t like learning new music because for me the process is painfully slow. I sit with my accordion and the music and go note by note measure by measure; right and then left hand, and write in the fingering I think is most efficient. This type of work is tedious and dull for me and I could only play it at 1/3 tempo or less, and I could hardly play one measure without error.
I began to worry that I would NEVER be able to get this part up to tempo. I thought of all the other more fun things I could be doing. After all, I had budgeted two entire weeks to learn the music; a half month in which I completely abandoned most of my other projects I was working on, except for my Monday night Chess for Kids classes and Sunday services and Wednesday rehearsals at Grace Lutheran Church.
However, after much suffering for two days, on the third day I could finally play this section at half tempo and it started to sound like music. I don’t mind practicing if what I play sounds like music; I LOVE music. I ADORE music; and now, finally, the practice became enjoyable. I also began working on the other sections of the piece; and whenever I would make a mistake, I immediately stopped, slowed down, and repeated that section until I could play it three times perfectly, without mistake. This is how I work. If I make the slightest mistake, it means it is not correct, and I have to stop and work on that measure until I can play it perfectly three times in a row.
There is a saying, “practice makes perfect,” but that is not correct. I tell my students, “only perfect practice makes perfect.” So learning music for me is a very strict discipline; it is a type of yoga, or body and mind control. The attention must be one-pointed without distraction. Only in this way can one perfect his skill in the most efficient way in the shortest possible time; and then when one’s fingers have memorized the music; only then can the performer abandon the intellectual control of the mind and allow the music to flow through one’s heart and truly recreate the composer’s intentions. At the final stage one becomes one with the music; without thought; without ego. This is my opinion, and this is what I experience.
After this exciting and enjoyable afternoon rehearsal, I am convinced that I made the right decision years ago to pursue a career as a professional musician. Today was such a FANTASTIC day. Such GREAT PEOPLE, GREAT MUSICIANS, GREAT CONDUCTOR, GREAT SINGER, SUCH GREAT MUSIC, SUCH GREAT FUN.
I must admit, however, that I was somewhat concerned and even apprehensive before the rehearsal because the music is so devilishly difficult. There are some nasty sections in the accordion part, but as it turned out, my concerns were (mostly) unwarranted.
I had to park about a mile away from Heinz Hall, in a parking lot at 15th & Smallman under the I-579 freeway, as all the other lots had signs out front saying, “Lot full. Leases only.” Only later, when I asked Terry, the soprano sax player seated to my right, where he parks, I found out “Park in the garage right across the street. If it says ‘Lot full, leases only,’ just drive in and tell the attendant you’re playing with the symphony. They’ll let you right in and give you a space.”
I walked onto the stage about 30 minutes before rehearsal and found my stand; right smack in front of the conductor’s podium! To my left is Ken Karsh, well-known Pittsburgh guitarist who serves as Adjunct Professor of guitar and music technology at the Mary Pappert School of Music, Duquesne University (he is playing banjo for this gig), to Ken’s left is Irvin Kauffman, Associate Professor of Guitar at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Principal of Fretted Instruments and Assistant Principal Cello Laureate (who is playing mandolin for this concert). To my right are two soprano saxophonists, Terry Steele, professor emeritus of music at Slippery Rock University, and his former student Jason Kush, Instructor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies at Slippery Rock University.
Henry Doktorski & Ken Karsh (May 4, 2011)
The five of us are called the “Folk Group,” and we sit in a semi-circle right in front of the conductor. That’s a nice touch, because this piece is something (but not exactly) like a sinfonia concertante, in which a group of solo performers play against and sometimes with a full orchestra. So we usually play together, like an ensemble.
Why does this work have a “Folk Group?” Composer David Del Tredici told me during a telephone conversation, “When I began writing my musical setting of Alice In Wonderland for orchestra, I wanted to include a second group of instruments which would sound completely different from a symphony orchestra; something totally UN-orchestral. After some consideration, I decided that the saxophone, mandolin, banjo and accordion would be perfect because those instruments—due to their cultural identity and distinctive tonal qualities—were rarely used with symphony orchestras.”
After a minute or two, I saw soprano Hila Plitmann at the front of the stage; and I walked over to introduce myself and say hi. We had performed together with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony some years ago in another David Del Tredici piece, “Vintage Alice,” and although I was sure she wouldn’t remember me, I thought I’d say hello anyway.
But as I got closer, I noticed she was testing out a headset microphone (her voice will be amplified during the concert) and I decided not to disturb her, and I headed back to my seat.
A few minutes later, Ms. Plitmann walked over and gave me a hug, “Henry!” I can’t believe she remembered me; she was really sweet and upbeat, and I introduced her to my partner-in-crime Ken Karsh, and she graciously agreed to pose for a photo of us.
Other PSO musicians also greeted me; double-bassist Jeff Turner; and cellist David Premo and violinists Huei Sheng Kao and Hong-Guang Jia, who performed on my very first compact disc release “A Classical Christmas.” I mentioned to Huei Sheng that we recorded that album 17 years ago; and he replied, “and you’re still selling that album!” True. Not many CDs, but I do managed to sell a small amount each year; a GREAT ALBUM!
Ken and I ran through a few sections of the piece before the rehearsal officially began.
At exactly 1:00:00 pm (there is an enormous digital clock on stage accurate to the second which all 110 musicians in the orchestra can see) PSO Personnel Manager Kelvin Hill clapped his hands and indicated that it was time to begin the rehearsal. Guest Conductor Maestro Leonard Slatkin (currently Music Director for the Detroit Symphony) began by talking about David Del Tredici’s piece. If I remember correctly, he said that “Final Alice” was commissioned in 1976 by the Chicago Symphony and premiered with that orchestra under the direction of Sir Georg Solti. The PSO principal trumpet player George Vosburgh happened to play that premier some 35 years ago. Maestro Slatkin said he was also in the audience at that concert.
Maestro Slatkin explained that prior to “Final Alice,” contemporary composers wrote in an academic 12-tone style, such as the music of Milton Babbit. Today it is hard for us to understand, but in those days, contemporary composers couldn’t get their works published or performed unless they wrote in this style, which was praised by academics and intellectuals.
So David Del Tredici broke the mold; he wrote in a tonal style with GORGEOUS melodies and lush harmonies, but not without plenty of other dissonant elements. In any case, Maestro Slatkin explained that this work was GROUNDBREAKING; after it’s premier it freed the contemporary composer from writing in the dry intellectual dissonant style which was popular among academics at the time. So in a historical sense as well as a musical sense, this work which we are performing is very important.
We played through most of the piece in that first 3-hour rehearsal, and I was quite surprised at my playing. The parts which I thought would be extremely difficult turned out to work absolutely perfectly, like that horribly nasty pages from section 30 to 34 which is in extremely complicated meter. In fact, I played it perfectly each time we rehearsed it. Even the horrendous accordion part from section 151 to 159 went rather well. I was amazed. I suppose I should not have been amazed, as I had put in maybe a couple dozens of hours learning the music during the last few weeks. But I was amazed, and pleased, none-the-less.
This is not to say I didn’t make a mistake or two; I cannot tell a lie! but that is why we have rehearsals, to fine-tune the ensemble so that everything fits together just perfectly during the public concerts.
After one especially nasty section (163-168), Ken looked over at me and said, “At least we ended together!” I laughed and exclaimed, “Yes! if we start and end together, everything is fine!” I like Ken. We get along very well. He’s a great “stand partner.”
We were all INCREDIBLY IMPRESSED with soprano soloist Hila Plitmann, who sang everything FROM MEMORY! OMG! Granted, most singers perform from memory, but this is no traditional oratorio; this is MODERN MUSIC and the time signatures change nearly every measure, and the work is incredibly complex and about 70 minutes long. Our hats off to you, Ms. Plitmann!
There is quite a bit of dissonance in this piece, especially when the queen is yelling, “Off with her head!” but there are also some GORGEOUS melodies; and Ms. Plitmann is such a FANTASTIC singer! I consider it a great pleasure to perform with her again.
There is also a theremin in this piece; the theremin is one of the very first electronic musical instruments, named after its Russian inventor, Professor Léon Theremin, who invented the device I think in 1919. It is used in “Final Alice” when Alice begins to grow larger & larger, and a couple other places where a mysterious mood is needed. The instrument is owned by Duquesne University and is played by pianist Suzanne Polak. She and I played together ten years ago when the Duquesne University Contemporary Ensemble performed Paul Hindemith’s “Kammermusik No. 1.” There were some problems in the amplification of the theremin, but I think they have been solved.
Our folk group of 5 musicians is also amplified, but only during one section when the orchestra is especially loud. When I first came to the rehearsal, the microphone was placed ABOVE my music stand, but I quickly moved it BELOW the stand, so it can be closer to my instrument.
After the symphony rehearsal was finished at 4 pm, I stayed on for a special overtime rehearsal with Maestro Slatkin, Ms. Plitmann and the five members of the “Folk Group.” We worked for maybe 30-45 minutes of problematic sections of the piece, and then went home. I joked, “I was quite surprised we played so well during some especially difficult sections.” Maestro Slatkin, quipped, “Well, don’t tell anyone that we’re PROFESSIONAL musicians!”
Then Ken joked with Maestro Slatkin, something like, “I’m taking my music home, but don’t expect me to practice!” Of course, the point was: we’re professional; we don’t need to practice! :)
Actually, we DO PRACTICE, but NEVER more than necessary! :)
I was impressed with Maestro Slatkin. I’ve never performed under his direction, but he seems to be, from my observation, an excellent conductor. His beat is precise; which is VERY IMPORTANT for me; I can follow his direction very clearly; essential in a complex work such as “Final Alice.” And also, he appears to me to be a humble man. He is not filled with great ego. I noticed that sometimes when he was speaking, a few orchestra members sometimes had a conversation; and he ignored the distractions and proceeded with his message. I am sorry to say that sometimes Ken and I were whispering to each other about sublteties in our parts while Maestro Slatkin was speaking to the orchestra. I am sorry that I might have caused a disturbance to his work.
When I was leaving, Cynthia DeAlmeida, oboist for 22 years at the PSO, came over and said to me, “You’re fantastic! You’re fantastic!” Cynthia is so sweet. I was simply doing my job; learning the music so that I could do justice to the composer & conductor & soloist & orchestra & audience. But I’m really happy that she appreciated what I was able to do on the accordion; make beautiful music, and hopefully, touch peoples’ hearts.
Part 3: A Comedy of Errors
Thursday, May 05, 2011: Today was, from the get go, a day full of laughter for me, but that’s only because I laugh at my mistakes where some other people might cry in the same circumstances. Granted, the day was bright and sunny—a great change from the recent weeks of heavy rain, but things started to go downhill as soon as I got downtown and tried to find a parking space.
Yesterday my saxophonist friend Terry Steele told me to go to the 7th Street parking garage and tell the attendant that “I’m playing with the symphony,” and they’d let me park. I did just that, and the attendant replied, “Sorry, leases only!” I backed out and pulled into the elevated garage on Penn Avenue. No luck, leases only. That’s okay, so I drove a mile or so to the lot I parked in yesterday at 15th and Smallman just past the I-579 bridge.
After driving up and down a half-dozen aisles, I finally found an empty parking space, and I could see why no one parked there; the spot was in a depression and with all the rain we had lately, the parking place was more like a small lake. I looked at my watch: 9:30. The rehearsal starts at 10:00 and it’s a 15-minute walk. I better take this spot.
It was no trouble for my car to submerge its tires in 4 inches of water, but when I opened my car door and looked out, I decided that I didn’t want to spend all day with soggy sneakers, so I stood up on my running board and hopped up onto my car’s roof. No problem! I can easily shut the door and slide down the rear window to the back bumper and jump off onto dry land.
However, after shutting the car door, I discovered that my jacket had been hanging down and now was gripped tightly by the shut door! I couldn’t stretch my arm down low enough to reach the door handle; I was trapped! sitting on top of my car with my jacket stuck in the door! so I took off my jacket, left it on the roof, hopped off the car, and somehow got the driver’s door open and my jacket freed without soaking my feet. hahahahha! Well, that was fun! But little did I know, the fun was just beginning.
Our morning rehearsal (and perhaps the afternoon rehearsal as well) was, in my opinion, a comedy of errors! First of all, when we got to section 30, the difficult part where the orchestra is in 2 and I’m in 3, I completely blew it! Couldn’t find the beat! hahahaha!
Eventually I figured it out, but when we got to 33, then Ms. Plitmann sang in the wrong tempo, and Maestro Slatkin stopped the orchestra. It is possible, that I THREW HER OFF, because the accordion, for much of the piece, serves as her personal accompanist. hahahahha, again! Anyway, stuff happens, and it did this morning, but there’s more: I’ve just started to scratch the surface.
We started from the top, and when I got to section 20, I missed my entrance, eventually figuring out where I was and jumping in to play. We went over it a few times, and then Maestro Slatkin said to me, “That’s the wrong chord! I hear a B flat!” He’s got good ears. Just a few minutes earlier I thought I’d found a reasonable shortcut. Accordionists will know what I’m talking about. In my score I’ve got a measure of A bass and A7 chords followed immediately by Bb bass and Bb7 chords. This is a LONG LEAP in the left hand from A7 to Bb7. I thought I’d try a clever short cut by playing the counterbass of F (A) and then the Bb dim chord button, which is almost like an A7th chord, except there is a Bb in it. This would make the jump to the Bb in the next measure more of a puddle jump than a long jump. But his ears were too good! I had to go back and do it the way as written, and pray that my fingers would land on the right buttons! hahahahha! yet again.
Oh, but we weren’t finished! When we got to section 35, I completely lost my left hand! The tempo was faster than I remembered, and although I managed to keep my right hand going, the left took a long time to catch up! Wasn’t it Jesus who commanded, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing?”
I’m happy to report that my presto solo at section 151-159 went very well, but my happiness was short lived, for when we got to 209 (at least I THOUGHT we were at 209) I started a triple forte passage about 8 or 16 measures early! And my banjo-playing partner came in with me once I started, as we both play that section together! After a measure or two, I started to wonder why doesn’t this sound right, and after we had played a half page of music, the full tutti orchestra came in at the 209 Grandioso section and I yelled over to Ken, “We came in early!” hahahahha! again.
In all fairness, I was not the only musician to have troubles today. It seemed there was dozens and dozens of goof ups by some of the other musicians. I talked to one of the oboists and he said there were some passages in his part which are unplayable. I told him that there are a couple sections in the accordion part which I also consider unplayable as written, but I just play what’s important in the music. (Truly no one can tell the difference, at that time the orchestra is at fff anyway.) A violinist chatted with me and said that they were having great difficulties. Even Ms. Plitmann came in early a few times and Maestro Slatkin gave a couple inaccurate cues. I guess the stars were not aligned correctly, or something.
On a positive note (get the pun?!) I had delightful lunch with Ken, Terry & Jason and we told our favorite accordion jokes. I learned a great one from Terry, which I’ll share in another note.
The afternoon rehearsal wasn’t much better. Luckily we were finished at 3:15 and could leave early. I borrowed Maestro’s score for a few minutes and searched through the sections preceding 209 to see if I could find any solid cues from other instruments, but my search was difficult as the music is very complex. I left my accordion at Heinz Hall; I’m too tired to practice anymore today. So maybe tomorrow I’ll get up a little early, and practice for a half hour on the Heinz Hall stage before our 10:00 am rehearsal. Maybe....
Anyway, I had fun today; if only by laughing at my own laughable mistakes. I expect tomorrow will be better. Wish us luck!
Part 4: Dress Rehearsal—Everything’s Looking Good!
Friday, May 06, 2011: When I woke up this morning I knew in my bones that today was going to be a great day; and it has been, so far, not like yesterday’s comedy of errors.
I managed to get a parking spot in the 7th Street garage, and sat down on stage with my accordion a full hour before the 10:00 am rehearsal. Nobody was there on stage except me. I could hear only a janitor vacuuming in the hall. I worked on some tricky passages in my part for a while, and then Irvin Kaufmann, our mandolinist appeared and chatted for a few minutes. Gradually the hall filled with musicians.
One violinist came up to me and said, “You should photocopy your part and pick it up from time to time to keep it in your fingers. I suspect that Maestro Slatkin will program this piece again, and considering the dearth of classical accordionists in this country, I expect you might be receiving a phone call in future; something like, ‘Henry, we need you in Oklahoma or wherever!’” I thanked her for her encouragement. As will be seen later, her advice was prophetic.
After a while my partner-in-crime banjo player Ken Karsh arrived, and immediately we started cutting up. We played through a few sections of the music and once our soprano saxophonist friends Terry & Jason appeared, the four of us rocked through our part at 108. This section is really a lot of fun and I put a lot of body motion into it, accenting with the bellows, stamping my foot. It’s like a hoedown!
A few minutes before 10 am we (the 5-man folk group) had to vacate our seats, as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” was scheduled first today. Ken & I hung out in the musicians’ lounge and practiced counting out the nasty section at 211. We finally figured it out! It was great. After maybe 30 minutes Peter and the Wolf was finished, and we went back out on stage. At 11:46 we began our dress rehearsal (no stopping) of “Final Alice,” and we were finished about 70 minutes later. The lighting crew projects images on a huge screen (white sheets I think) behind the stage. I believe the images are original illustrations from Louis Carroll’s book.
I was very pleased with my playing, and it seemed everyone else was in top form. Ms. Plitmann mostly sang sotto voce to conserve her voice for the opening concert this evening. We had a lot of fun. David Del Tredici’s piece is really a masterpiece, in my opinion. I think he very nicely captures the various moods of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland.” The music ranges from sweet and sublime to raucous and cacophonous! And Ms. Plitmann is such a great singer, and actress. She’s the star of the show; she narrates the story and sings the arias; such an amazing talent. Maestro Slatkin is great, and all the PSO musicians are great. I am privileged to sit in the company of such great musicians.
The next 6 photos were taken by my daughter Sunita on opening night.
Musicians warming up before opening night concert
Musicians warming up before opening night concert
Musicians warming up before opening night concert
Part 5: Opening Night and the Sonic BOOMs! :-(
Friday, May 6, 2011: The program for tonight’s 8 o’clock concert was (1st half) Prokofiev: “Peter and the Wolf” and (2nd half) David Del Tredici: “Final Alice.” I arrived at Heinz hall around seven and got my accordion and set up in the musicians’ lounge, where I hoped to warm up. My buddy Ken Karsh was already there strumming on his old banjo. I walked to the stage to get my music off my stand, and saw composer David Del Tredici and WQED-FM station manager Jim Cunningham sitting on stage presenting a pre-concert interview for about one or two hundred people in the audience.
I couldn’t get my music! So I just decided to sit in the audience and listen to the discussion. I found it interesting, and when the discussion ended a half-hour later, I walked front and left to pass through the doors which go backstage.
Coincidentally, Mr. Del Tredici and Jim were also walking on stage to the left and we saw each other. I have known Jim for fifteen years, having performed on radio many times, and I waved to him, but somehow it was Mr. Del Tredici, not Jim, who saw me wave, and Mr. Del Tredici waved back!
We happened to meet exactly as we entered the backstage area, and Mr. Del Tredici stopped, looked at me with a smile, and said, “I know you from somewhere.” I smiled in return and said, “I played accordion in “Vintage Alice” in Cleveland ten years ago.” We shook hands and then gave each other a warm hug. He appears to be a very affectionate man, and I like him. We chatted for a minute maybe, and then I excused myself, “I think I should go get my music from my stand so I can warm up before playing your piece!”
I played through a few passages, and then got a phone call, my daughter and her boyfriend had arrived at Heinz Hall after driving to Pittsburgh from Morgantown, West Virginia, so I went out again in the audience to chat with them. I decided to sit with them for the first half and watch “Peter and the Wolf,” a delightful and charming piece which everyone knows and loves. The narrator, Pittsburgh actor David Conrad, added some funny comments about Pittsburgh in the narrative which got a lot of laughs.
During intermission I went backstage, grabbed my accordion, set up at my stand onstage, and played through some of the more difficult sections. Soon the audience lights dimmed, the musicians tuned their instruments, and maestro Leonard Slatkin appeared on stage and spoke to the audience, introducing the piece. The moment was magical, and off we went!
All in all, I thought it was a very good performance, although personally I felt I played better at the rehearsal in the morning. However, there was one very unexpected and horrible problem: Ms. Plitmann’s head-set microphone had a bad connection and began creating huge sonic BOOMs in the massive speaker system at random moments. I think the BOOMs began about half-way through the piece. At first I didn’t know what it was, and after a half-dozen BOOMs, I realized “Yikes! The sound system is *%$#@ up!”
It really got bad at times. She’d be singing such a gorgeous delicate and lovely aria when all of a sudden “BOOM!” “BOOM!”
It went on for such a long time, I don’t know how many minutes, that I wondered why the soloist or conductor didn’t just stop the piece and ask the sound technicians to fix the problem. My daughter told me that Ms. Plitmann removed her earrings in an effort to eliminate the BOOMs. Finally, a Heinz Hall sound technician handed her a hand-held microphone and the volume on her head-set microphone was turned off. I suspect some heads are going to roll. This is unforgivable, in my opinion, for a professional symphony with an annual budget of more than $30 million.
After the concert, Ms. Plitmann received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience; Maestro Slatkin indicated that the five of us in the “folk group” stand and acknowledge the audience applause; then he gestured to the rest of the orchestra to stand also. It was a great thrill for me to play with such a superb orchestra. I wish there was more symphonic work for a classical accordionist. This is a real treat for me. I wish it wouldn’t end!
The 5-man "Folk Group" gets some recognition
Part 6: A Fantastic Finale—Our Final “Final Alice” Performance
Sunday, May 08, 2011: Wow! What a GREAT concert! FANTASTIC! EXCEPTIONAL! TERRIFIC, with a capital T!
After playing organ and piano and directing the choir, musicians and vocal soloists in two services this morning at Grace Lutheran Church in Rochester, Pennsylvania, I drove straight to Heinz Hall, where I promptly lay down on a sofa in the musicians’ lounge and took a 45-minute nap. And I NEEDED THAT NAP! Normally playing those two services is tiring enough, but then playing this MONSTER piece “Final Alice” by David Del Tredici with the PSO demanded that I be well rested and in full strength.
Before the concert, I again sat out in the audience to listen to the pre-concert discussion with WQED-FM station master Jim Cunningham and composer David Del Tredici, and while walking backstage after their discussion, I happened to run into them again. Mr. Del Tredici called me over and mentioned how he enjoyed my performance yesterday and said it was the best accordion performance of this piece he has heard in many years. I told him I would play it even better today (and I did).
I felt REALLY GOOD, and my fingers were accurate and fast during my warm up. I KNEW this would be a great performance, and it was. Ms. Plitmann was FANTASTIC, the sound system people got their act together, and all the musicians were in top form, including my stand buddy and partner-in-crime banjo player Ken Karsh. You were great too, Ken! In fact—I normally try not to toot my own horn too much, but I can’t help it today—I think it was the best performance from both of us; we were right on today. It was magical.
When the last note of the oboe died out, the audience burst into thunderous applause and Ms. Plitmann got another standing ovation. David Del Tredici came up on stage and acknowledged the audience, and shook hands with all five musicians in the “Folk Group.” It was really a fantastic feeling for me. Not every day I get to play such great music with such great musicians with a great soprano under the direction of a great conductor. In fact, it doesn’t happen often at all. But times like this make all the suffering of practice worthwhile. Certainly great accomplishment does not come without great endeavor, and we all paid our dues and the exhilarating result was something I won’t forget for a long time.
While leaving Heinz Hall I bumped into my old Duquesne University Professor of Music Composition, David Stock, who remarked in a jovial voice, “Henry; my favorite accordionist!” It was good to see him again. He is an outstanding composer and has had many works performed by great symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles.
In the Heinz Hall parking garage I saw several black limousines with three-piece-suited drivers standing by. I assumed these vehicles were to take Maestro Slatkin and Hila Plitmann and her family to the Pittsburgh International Airport. I stopped briefly to chat with one of the drivers, and then I noticed Maestro Slatkin, dressed in jeans and casual jacket with a cap on his head, walking up from the inside of the garage to one of the limousines. He saw me and called me over. He said, “I will program this piece next year with the Detroit Symphony and I want you to play accordion.” I replied, “Thank you, maestro, I would like that very much.”
Then I met my Facebook friend and fellow accordionist Paul Elliot Merenbloom and his wife Cynthia who flew in from Louisville, Kentucky, to hear the concert. We walked a couple blocks to their hotel, the Fairmont, and had drinks and dinner in the Fairmont restaurant. Cynthia is a talented folk musician and Paul is getting back into the accordion again after a hiatus of several decades. We had a great time.
So now, I can relax maybe for a day; then I have to get back working on all the other projects that I set aside for the last month while learning the music and rehearsing for these two performances. I’ve got to (1) record a CD of Latin music for Santorella Publications, (2) write a book of music for accordion “Songs of the Sea,” also for Santorella Publications, (3) write a 1000-word article on the accordion for the Encyclopedia of American Music and Culture, (4) get my accordion arrangement of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” published, and (5) finish installing the hardwood floors in my house, not to mention the weeding that has to be done in the garden now that spring is here. No rest for the wicked, I say.
Part 7: Readers' Letters
I really enjoyed reading your 'Accordionist with the Symphony' notes, which I found both greatly amusing and engaging...I think your account of this exciting experience offers an interesting insight into the world of a professional performing musican, which young aspiring musicans (such as myself) may find inspiring and educational. I find your candor entertaining and your obvious enthusiasm is great -- keep up the good work! —Hannah Elizabeth Tilt, Trossingen, Germany
I loved your notes, and am honored to be a friend, Henry! I think about your preparing your music, perfecting and performing it and am humbled. —Paul Woeger
good commentary!!!!!!!!!! —Joan Gilyeat Moyer, Indianapolis, Indiana
Read the whole thing! Great story. Stuff happens to the best. I read that Rubenstein had a memory lapse during a Shostakovich concerto and proceeded to completely improvise for several measures. Very few knew what happened. —Robert Stead, Detroit, Michigan
I enjoyed reading your detailed report of your unusual day!! —Rita Davidson, Orange, New Jersey
Oh Henry, I wish I could have seen your antics in the parking lot; I was laughing at the mental picture. Rehearsals rarely go well on day one, be it music, theater or any other type. —Janet Ramella, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania
Thank you for your work in improving the image of our beloved accordion. —Dennis Raffaelli, Schaumburg, Illinois