Beethoven, the Dude and Me

Last Wednesday I was in Sunset, eating lunch with Dave at Kingdom of Dumpling when I got an email from the artistic director of Cal Performances. It read "Can you come to rehearsal tonight at 7pm? Will explain later." I had recently been the pianist for a number of chorus rehearsals for Beethoven 9 but since today was the day that the orchestra was taking over I thought I was off the hook. So I wrote back "Ok, I can be there - but what will I be doing?" 

"You'll be on stage with the Maestro and the chorus for the rehearsal."

Upon reading those words I suddenly felt kind of faint and I lost my appetite entirely. No more dumplings for me thanks. (However, I took them home and they were super good for lunch the next day. Yum yum yum. Anyway....)

The Maestro in question that I was going to be working with that night just happened to be Gustavo Dudamel. I had been hired to play for the rehearsals leading up to the concert but the actual show was going down with Dudamel and the Orquesta Sinfònica Simón Bolívar.  I didn't think our paths would ever cross but suddenly it looked like I would be working with him very about six hours to be exact. My lazy-no-work day eating dumplings and walking the dog had suddenly turned into an intense, omg I have to work with some insanely famous conductor so I'd better be in the type of mental space where I'm ready to bring the house down kind of day. As you might guess these days are typically quite different.  

I have a tendency to freak out and worry about things.  Over time and with a lot of experience performing I've become really, really good at keeping myself in check and getting through things with the minimum amount of hassle but that doesn't mean that I'm not aware of the adrenaline shooting through my body or my brain screaming things at me that I don't want to hear. Seriously, if I watch myself on video of any given performance I am always surprised by how calm and composed I look because that's really not what's going on at all in my head.  But that's for another blog post I think.

So it's normal that a gig like this would paralyze me in certain ways and I have to admit that for that first hour after I found out about it - it did.  All of sudden there were so many things that could go wrong. But then I realized, wait a minute! There were so many things that would go right. I had worked on the Beethoven pretty carefully with the time I had. I learned all the voice parts and had properly beat the orchestra part into a very fine ten finger submission. I'd had three rehearsals with the chorus and a conductor already and even though this would be my first time with Dudamel I knew that because he knows the orchestra part inside out he would actually make my job easier rather than harder. Armed with this reality I suddenly I felt relaxed and started looking forward to 7pm.  

When I got to the hall there were people with instruments onstage so I thought, oh, I guess the situation has changed and the orchestra is going to play after all.  I am no longer needed!  I looked around for the director but not finding her I thought that it would be a good idea to join the altos during the rehearsal and in that way still get to work with Dudamel.

I was standing at the back of the risers surrounded by slightly overexcited singer-type people when I thought to look at my phone. I had four missed calls and a number of emails.  Hmmm, that's not normal. At this point, it was about 7:15pm.  I looked at the first email:

"When can we expect you at Zellerbach?" I sent back "I'm here."

Then I looked at who had been calling me and that's when I realized that maybe I shouldn't be standing in the risers with the chorus anymore. Shoving happy singers out of my way I pushed and swore my way down to the stage where I found the director and others heaving out the piano. And here comes Dudamel with a big smile on his face so I guess this is where I sit down and do my thing.

The next hour and half was spent going through all the chorus parts of the symphony. Dudamel did not work from a score. Instead he would say, ok, let's start here where this happens, or let's start four bars before the next entry. Once I realized he wasn't going to use bar numbers it was actually easy to guess how he was going to move through the score. He was great with the choir, making them laugh and putting them at ease but also not letting them get away without first achieving what he wanted to hear. What I liked best was that he commiserated with them about just how difficult it is to sing Beethoven. "One minute of Beethoven is equal to singing three hours of Verdi" he said.  That's how hard it is. In this way, he made you feel that he was on your side and that every effort that you were making was more than worth it and not only that, you should be trying even harder. Inspiring n'est pas? A musician's approach to music can communicate many things about them and what I got from Dudamel was a feeling of complete comfort with what he had in his hands and a desire to share his knowledge and understanding with the people around him. This is the type of conductor, in my humble opinion, that will get the best out of the people he's working with. 

After the rehearsal he came over and shook my hand, smiled and thanked me. We bantered a bit but I can't remember about what. Maybe I was slightly star struck in that moment? Probably, he is rather charming. I stuck around to hear the run through with the orchestra and I've posted a video of the very last few minutes of the symphony. Sorry - it's shaky at the start but only until I find a comfortable place to set the phone. I think posting this might be some shade of illegal so if someone orders me to take it down I certainly will but check it out while you can. Since I recorded it with my phone the sound leaves a lot to be desired but you can still get a sense of what it was like. My favorite moment is the last fifteen seconds of the video where the orchestra gets to finish everything off with a huge exclamation point - I love the horns, the tempo and the absolute energy and power of the orchestra. This was an incredible experience on so many levels for me - enjoy! 

Happy (but also sad) Anniversary

Today would have been my parent's 54th wedding anniversary.  Even though my mom isn't here anymore I know that my father's heart is still very much with her and I'm sure this day isn't an easy one for him. The trouble is, should I wish him a Happy Anniversary or is it better that I just not bring it up?  I remember that last year I didn't say anything and since I'm not quite sure what to do today, I will wish them a Happy Anniversary from here. Here they are in all their cute, wonderful and together glory:

Mira and Aldo, July 2013


The Mission, Op. 1

The neighborhood of San Francisco I live in is known as The Mission. It's a great part of the city but unfortunately I know that we won't be here for that much longer. Dave and I would eventually like to buy something - we both really hate renting even though our landlords are fine and we like the apartment we're in. I find it's a completely different mindset towards your home when it's rented, it just feels unsettled to me. And after having owned our place in Montreal for seven years before moving here it's been an especially hard transition.

Unfortunately, real estate in San Francisco, and especially in The Mission, is ridiculous and we would never be able to afford to buy what we need which is a place where both Dave and I can work.  Meaning, I need to be able to make a lot a noise at any hour without worrying about pissing off neighbors and we need a room for Dave's painting studio. And this is on top of bedrooms and living rooms and all that usual space. So forget finding anything like that at a reasonable price in this part of the city.

Knowing that at some point in the future, be it in the next six months or the next year, I won't be living in this neighborhood, I've decided to start taking shots of stuff that I don't want to forget. It could be something that made me laugh or a house I particularly liked the color of or a favorite restaurant or a person (I like how person came last in that list...). 

So first up - if we didn't have laundry in our place I'd go to Mr. Burbujas on 24th and Florida just because I love the name and the sign. Look at the little waves underneath 'wash and dry' - subtle and effective don't you think? This sign makes me want to scream "MR. BURBUJAS!!!!!" at the top of my lungs every time I pass by.  But I contain myself even though I'm pretty sure no one would bat an eye.  I just wonder, who is this Mr. Burbujas?  Does he still own the store and if so, what's he like? Does he have a family? Is he kind or a crotchety jerk?  I guess I could go in and find out but honestly, I prefer the mystery and my own imagination.

I love you Mr. Burbujas!

Shirt with a bridge on it.

I haven't bought much since I arrived in San Francisco. I constantly spend money on food and wine but in terms of clothes or shoes....nah. I just can't care enough to take off what I'm wearing in order to try something on that I might never wear out of the house anyway. So I've been wearing the same things for years and this is not a new thing to San Francisco. Seriously, if I look at photos of myself on various trips in the last ten years I'm pretty much always wearing one of three shirts and a pair of jeans.

However, the other day I was in the Richmond and I walked by this little store called Covet and I actually bought something there. And funny thing is, it's an I love SF shirt - like the one thing some weird tourist would buy when they went on that lonely trip to Paris. I asked the owner of the store if it was strange that I was buying this shirt as a local and she said no, just as many locals as tourists snap them up. So I tried it on and loved it. I wear it down the street and love it.  People comment on it and I love that. So it seems I like San Francisco enough to wear a shirt that beams this vital information out to the world around me. I guess this is what civic pride feels like? What a novelty!

look at that cuteness!

A San Francisco year in the life recap

As of today, I've been in San Francisco for exactly one year.  And what has happened in this time?  Let's see - I've eaten a lot of good food, travelled to L.A. twice (never have to do that again thanks), Portland once, Iowa of all places, Castlegar, BC, countless times and also just hung around the city getting used to a new environment.  I got my O-1 visa, made a few new friends, met lots of musicians, played a number of concerts and learned a bunch of new repertoire.  I guess that's not so bad for a first year in a new city.

In the wake of this new year I received some exciting news - I got hired at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (pre-college level) to coach piano duos.  So that will keep me busy on Saturdays. Seriously!? A job......for real? Ok thanks, I'll take it. And, a tango group in town is losing their pianist to Taiwan in about two months so they've asked me to join them in her place.  Exciting - especially since I haven't played tango since 2007. I'm more than happy to get my tango-back-of-beat playing and glissando chops back in shape.  I'll post more about that when it actually starts happening.  Oh, and there's also this gonzo opera I'm doing called Too Much Coffee Man and then I've got the RossoRose Duo and my piano seems there's a lot to look forward to in the next year which is SUCH A RELIEF.

And coming up in September Dave and I will celebrate sixteen years together -  yes, we got married last year but I'm not starting over again, we started this thing in 1999 and no little wedding is getting in the way of that. I guess I bring this up because I wouldn't be here in this amazing city doing all this fun stuff if it wasn't for Dave and his creative and technical genius-ness. He has changed my life in so many incredible ways and nothing that I've accomplished here in San Francisco in the past year would mean anything without him cheering me on.  

This post was supposed to be about my year and it's ended up being about Dave and I guess that's because he has been the most important part every minute I've experienced in the last sixteen years. And this is especially true in regards to the whole Montréal uprooting and San Francisco replanting.  I was terrified about this move and having to start from zero all over again but it's now obvious that it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. To put it simply, I am so grateful my life has brought me to this point in time and well, I love my man.

We don't normally look like this.

ideal music in ideal settings is just.....ideal

Sometimes, the settings in which I have to perform are not always the best. It could be that I don't like the music I'm playing or the person I'm playing with (yes, that happens and no, if you're reading this, it probably wasn't you). Or maybe it's already been a super long day, I didn't eat or sleep enough and someone wants to rehearse the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (for the record, I haven't played the Mendelssohn in over two years and I hope to never have to revisit it ever again). Whatever the case I'm used to it and I'll get through it, it's just part of the job. 

However, sometimes it just so happens that everything falls into place and you've got it all - good music, great players, you're well fed and rested AND you've had time to practice.  These opportunities are gold and oh-so-cherishable and I will never take for granted that the last month has been this and only this.

I've been rehearsing for a house concert happening this coming Saturday with my new piano quartet (tentatively dubbed the I.O. Piano Quartet - I.O. for the color international orange, the color of, you guessed it - the Golden Gate Bridge, how local of us!).  I also just got back about a week ago from The Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival where I hastily rehearsed and performed two piano trios with two really fantastic guys.  

One of the things I liked about being in Iowa was that I had the opportunity to just focus on the music at hand. I got up in the morning, ate something and we would start rehearsing. Then we'd have lunch, practice or rehearse some more, take a walk by the lake, eat more probably and then I'd go to bed looking forward to the next day full of the same. When you take away the stresses of a normal day, however small or large, it leaves you more creative space to focus on what really matters in your work. I don't have the type of job that I can leave at the office, it's always with me. So when I get to leave the rest of my life at the office and just focus on the work, well, exciting things happen.  Like.......let's add a cadenza to the final movement of the Beethoven! Let's Glenn Gould these dynamics and do the opposite of what's written the second time we play it in the trio!  Or let's play this part slower just because we've already heard it the same way eight times.  Oh the horror!  So we did and left things to chance and spontaneity and it was the most fun I've ever had performing Beethoven. And of course this had everything to do with Thomas and Zach's willingness and I love them all the more for it.  After experiencing this wonderful type of group dynamic I think I can't go back to rules and regulations. Why would I want to?  Just look how happy we were!

And while my piano quartet at the moment may not be as experimental it's just as rewarding.  The string players are fantastic and beautiful musicians that already bring so much to the music at hand that I feel like I just have to step in and we all lead the way together. That's the bonus of working with people more experienced than you are and I certainly don't mind being the baby of the group, it's a welcome change. The work never feels like "work" and I'm often disappointed when our rehearsals end. Although with this group, the end of a rehearsal means wine and food and lots of dissing conductors so I can't complain too much.

So here you find one happy pianist at the moment. More of the same please!

4th of July

Yesterday was the fourth of July, a first for this Canadian girl and all I can say is, it was LOUD. A family that lives across the street from us decided to make the most of the holiday and shot off fireworks for about four hours straight. And they weren't just little piddly fireworks like the kind I would shoot at passing cars when I was a teenager. No, these were big and blinding and right at our doorstep. Sometimes it sounded like Death was knocking at the door (no joke) and Roscoe of course was terrified but hey, happy belated 4th!

Yes, those are children playing amongst the fireworks....

one year.

Over the past weeks I've been trying not to think about June 15th too much but I've come to accept the fact that this day will forever arrive and it will always be the day that my mom died.  

It's been a year since I lost my mom to cancer and let me tell you - grief is not fun.  It doesn't help you get work done or meet people. It doesn't make you want to leap out of bed and face all the challenges of your day.  Food is suddenly boring, reading is a chore, movies are meaningless and even music can't clear your head. And that's the easy stuff. Nothing could have prepared me for the struggle to find myself again after losing someone so important to me. Or the anguish that grips my chest when I think about her.  

My mom was crazy. And good. And loving. And giving.  She couldn't sing in tune but she sang loudly anyway and she cooked a mean bunch of Italian food that my friends grew up coveting. She would have yelled and laughed about me posting this photo of her but it's the last one I ever took and it kind of encompasses her mild insanity and sweet humor.  That's bread that I had just baked and she wanted to bite it. Go figure.

My mom took a lot of me with her when she left but she gave me more than I could have ever hoped for while she was here. Love you mamma.

La Pevera at her finest.


noise and neighboUrs (I'm still Canadian eh?)

I had it really good in Montréal, all the years I lived there I had neighbors that never complained about the piano.  If anything, they complained when I didn't play.  

Enter San Francisco.....

When I got here in August my piano had already been delivered.  Our apartment now is smaller than what we had in Montréal so I don't have my own studio anymore. We had to put the piano in the living room so my studio shares the space with the TV (kind of weird) and neighbors on the other side of the wall as well as underneath me.  But this has been ok, except for lately.  I have a lot of new repertoire on my plate at the moment - on top of the more general (read stuff I don't practice) work I have I'm also learning the Dumky Trio, Beethoven's first piano trio, the Fauré C minor piano quartet and Schumann's piano quartet.  That might seem like a lot of work but actually, compared to what I used to juggle in Montréal it's kind of slim.  But the trios and quartets are all new to me so there are lots of notes to get under my fingers (especially the Fauré wtf was that guy thinking).  Hence more hours of practicing, on top of some other rehearsals in my apartment.  

And so, I get the news a few days ago that my playing "while pleasant, can still be irritating sometimes and my frequency has seemed to increase as of late."  Commence terror.

It is notoriously hard to find an apartment in San Francisco, let alone an apartment that allows pianists AND their awesome pugs.  I don't want to go anywhere near a reason for our landlords to evict us and I'm not sure that piano practicing would be a viable reason but I certainly don't want to test it.  But that's not the only reason for the terror.  Imagine you have concerts coming up quickly that you suddenly can't practice towards. And it's new repertoire. UGH!!!

So yes, I had it good in Montréal.

I did some research and came across this extremely helpful blog post of another pianist living in San Francisco that DIY soundproofed her piano studio.  Lots of good advice.  So I've bought the materials and booked the piano movers and we'll see.  After we move the piano down the hall I'll be sharing one less wall with a neighbor and hopefully the soundproofing under the piano will help with the sound transmission to the apartment below me.  But man, this is so stressful - I had a terrible day yesterday envisioning my playing deteriorating and not being able to feel ready for everything I have coming up.  But today I've taken it in stride.  It could be a lot worse, my neighbours could be completely unreasonable people (which they aren't in the least) and also, Dave and I won't be here forever so we'll deal with it for now and then see.  

However, the piano move is displacing Dave's office/painting studio and that makes me really sad.  I'm hoping we can figure out a solution to that as well that doesn't add too many more dollars on top of the already ridiculous rent we're paying.  Ah San Francisco, gotta love you.

But to all you musicians out there that have a place where you can practice and rehearse unfettered - heed these words: you have a goldmine and don't ever take it for granted.  Not being able to work when or how I want feels like being in some sort of invisible prison.  

And now for a photo (as you can tell I am not a photographer and I have an old iPhone!) I took a couple of days ago - a lovely Victorian with a witch's hat perched on a bush out front for some reason. Why not?

What We Do in the Shadows...

I watched What We Do in the Shadows a few weeks ago on a Friday night and thoroughly enjoyed it.  And on this Friday evening I sit here and contemplate just what I'm might be doing by adding a blog to my website. Hmmmm. This is definitely not in the shadows. And this website is very new by the way.  I could only live in San Francisco for so long before having to add myself to the fray.  It was easy to avoid while I was in Montréal but it's an entirely different thing here.  So hello!  And welcome!  

I'll be writing about stuff from time to time. Not necessarily all about music but probably a lot about music.  But hopefully also about the people I'm meeting, the traveling I'll get to do, this amazing city I find myself living in and maybe food, yeah, there might be some stuff about food too.  À tantôt mes amis!