what a week!

When a few days go by and you haven’t heard from me here, it’s because I’m so wrapped up in the ‘doing’ that I haven’t had a moment to sit down and talk about it. That has definitely been the case over the past week.

Last Wednesday afternoon I departed for NY City to attend the annual AMPPR (Assoc. of Music Personnel in Public Radio) conference. It’s held in a different city each year, and this year the host station was WNYC/WQXR. In past years the conference has included music hosts, music directors, program directors from all music public radio formats, and recording label and programming reps from all over as well.

Things have been changing in the radio world in the last few years, particularly in the almost-decade now since September 11th when the need for news and information has driven both format changes and audience numbers at stations throughout the US. Changes and downsizing in the recording industry have also significantly lessened the number of  record reps who show up now at these conferences: the plain fact is, it’s not as easy or compelling to hand out mp3 samples of new recordings as it is CDs.

So these days the AMPPR conference is a smaller affair – yet in many ways, more relevant than ever. I do miss the variety of people in past years’ meetings, it used to be just as likely to stike up interesting conversations with jazz, blues and world music programmers as those who specialized in classical music. Now that public radio stations have primarily concentrated their focus on news and classical music (and both, in mixed format stations), the faces and names at the conference are fewer and more familiar. Public radio is a relatively small community of professionals. When you add that to the fact that migration seems to be a given part of public radio jobs, the degrees of separation between all of us are in the lower single numbers at best. I think of my own 25-year career history: from Denver to Northern Colorado, back to Denver, and then on to many years at stations in Los Angeles and Vermont. You get to know people after a while when you get around like that.

The guest speakers for this year’s MPC (Music Personnel Conference) #48 included:

– Bill McGlaughlin of Exploring Music, talking about working every minute of every day to make a personal connection with listeners

– American tenor Thomas Hampson, speaking inspirationally about his new Hampsong Foundation; the critical link between poetry and music; and the vitality of today’s classical music scene

– composer/writer Greg Sandow, with acute observations about how classical music doesn’t help its own image by allowing dusty and irrelevant conventions of language and presentation to represent it

– and Performance Today host Fred Child, sharing suggestions on building effective hosting skills

On Wednesday night after the conference opening night wine (nice!) reception, many of us took the subway to Lincoln Center for a performance with guest conductor Valery Gergiev and the New York Philharmonic. The concert was the first in the Philharmonic’s planned Stravinsky festival, and it was introduced by Zarin Mehta, the Society’s President and Exec. Director. His opening line sent a ripple of laughter around :”So, how was YOUR week?” With that, Mehta continued by apologizing for the night’s last-minute program change: the main piece on the night’s bill was Stravinsky’s cornerstone choral work, Les Noces (The Wedding) – except with European travel being hindered by the Icelandic volcano, many members of the Marinsky Theatre Chorus had been stranded in cities as widespread as Vienna, Tel Aviv, and St. Petersburg and couldn’t get to New York for the show. On to Plan B: the Philharmonic substituted Stravinsky’s Jeu de Cartes (the Musical Card Game), a work that wasn’t scheduled to be played at the festival until Friday. I was looking forward to Les Noces, it’s a difficult large work that one rarely has an opportunity to hear/see performed live. I haven’t heard, but I hope the Marinsky chorus made it for the performances later in the week so at least those audiences could enjoy it.

Thursday began with a light breakfast at WNYC’s newly built performance studio, the Greene Space, followed by two consecutive sessions there with instruction by top audio engineers on doing setups for live performances. Then, box lunch with a presentation by WFMT (Chicago) on the programs they’re offering, followed by the two afternoon coaching and discussion sessions with Fred Child and composer Greg Sandow. The end of the day held a music showcase with the married violin duo Adele Anthony and Gil Shaham with pianist Akira Eguchi, and several other musicians.

After a quick run to the hotel room to change clothes, I was on to the evening’s activities: Rossini’s “Armida” with soprano Renee Fleming at the Metropolitan Opera, and then a late-night CD release/Earth Day party at SOBs with Madagascar’s Razia Said. (Her newest album “Zebu Nation” has just come out on Vermont’s Cumbancha label. How could I not support that – especially once I found out that SOBs was just two blocks from my hotel in Soho!?) Yeah, it was a late – LATE – night following a long day, but how often are there all of those great options for musical entertainment? I hate to miss anything, so usually my approach is to do it all and rest up later.

On Friday I went to the morning AMPPR conference session, which was a presentation by WNYC/WQXR staff on all of the changes they’ve been through and considerations they’ve had to make in the last 8 months or so since the two stations merged. Amazing story. Then it was back to LaGuardia for the return flight to Burlington. I had to leave the conference a little early to get home Friday afternoon for the workshop/pre-concert talk and performance that evening with the Bowed Piano Ensemble, at the UVM Lane Series. Our staff have been involved in the Ensemble’s appearance (everything from planning, to hosting, to arranging for the Ensemble’s Friday night lodging) over the last year or so, since they were contracted to appear here as part of the Series. I couldn’t miss their performance – and it did not disappoint! The 9-piece Ensemble prepares a grand piano by popping the lid off and then adding everything from pencil erasers and fishing line to popsicle sticks and duct tape to transform the piano into making an amazing sound. This is called “expanded technique”, not musical “experimentalism”, as the effects are very much planned and intentional. See the photos below, and then check out the Ensemble here to put the visual and audio pieces together. It is extraordinary:

Yesterday (Saturday) I got up early to head to Brattleboro’s Vermont Center for Photography to take a workshop on pinhole photography. April 25th (today) is World Pinhole Day, with photographers from all over the globe participating. The Saturday workshop included extensive information on the technique and practices of pinhole photography, we built cameras, and then spent the rest of the day using them to shoot various scenes around the VCP building before heading into the dark room to develop them. It would have been a different experience if there had been more participants, but since I was the only one I had the Center’s two excellent teachers to myself and we had such fun! After a couple of busts (one foggy shot, one completely black – part of my expanding ‘Opaque’ series!) I was able to produce a few credible shots. It’s a fascinating process, with many variables (light source, light strength, exposure length, paper position, pinhole size, camera stability, internal camera darkness) all possibilities for affecting the outcome. It’s around a three-hour drive, 130 or so miles from my house to Brattleboro, but I can tell already I’m going to want to become a regular in some way with the various VCP programs.

At the end of the day yesterday I had lunch with three of my new photographer friends, and then hastily hauled myself back to Burlington for a special 400th anniversary performance of Monteverdi’s magnificent Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610) with Bill Metcalfe and the Orianna Singers. The concert got started around 7:30, so I had enough time to find a quick dinner but not enough to run home and change out of my jeans and t-shirt, and wash the black spray paint off of my hands (from painting my pinhole camera earlier in the day)…ah well. No one seemed to notice.

That brings us today, where I’m unpacking, catching up here, downloading the 200+ pics on my (non-pinhole) camera, and getting ready for the week to start all over again tomorrow. The photos below are from the AMPPR conference and my other adventures in New York over the last few days; from the Bowed Piano Ensemble workshop/performance on Friday night; and from the Monteverdi Vespers concert last night. I’ll share a few pics from the pinhole photography workshop in a separate post.

Cheers! Happy Sunday. It is just about naptime now for yours truly.

PS – Look for the Met Opera’s “Armida” in HD movie presentations at participating theatres on May 1st, with encore performances thereafter. It’s a really nice production.

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