Last week I was in Cleveland for a three-show run of Mozart’s The Magic Flute with Apollo’s Fire. It was a “semi-staged” production with several very fine singers in the lead roles and a couple of excellent dancers who enhanced the production value considerably. There was no set to speak of, but the singers were in lovely period costumes, and there were a few of props to enhance the "decor." Interestingly and unusually, the orchestra was on stage, split in half with an aisle down the middle, which the choreography put to good use; indeed, the orchestra was often called upon to participate in the action on stage little ways. All in all, it made for a great deal of fun, and the audiences—especially the near-capacity house in Cleveland’s magnificent Severance Hall that instantly leaped to their feet at the end—were very appreciative.
I brought home many positives from the week. For instance, I’ve been practicing quite a lot recently, and my chops felt very solid on this gig. It was wonderful to feel confident in my playing, to feel sure that the music I was hearing in my mind would come out of my horn. In the last few months, I’ve been working hard on a few technical issues with my playing. It’s been a slow process of unlearning some bad habits and relearning some old good habits that I have lost over the years, but I feel I’m making very good progress, and this gig was a good barometer of that.
Playing in Severance, one of the great concert halls in the United States, was a real thrill. It’s a beautiful old hall and such a nice acoustic to perform in. It’s no wonder that the Cleveland Orchestra developed into one of the United States’ great orchestras.
But most of all, there was just the sheer joy of making music with such a talented bunch of artists. When I return from these projects, the euphoria lasts for a good week afterward. I wonder if musicians who do this full time get used to it, or do they exist in a constant state of euphoria and don’t know the difference between that and a “normal” mental state. I suppose that eventually the everyday annoyances in any job will bring even a musician down to earth, but for me, the contrast between the occasional music making and my more mundane (though, I hasten to add, very fulling) work as a translator couldn’t be more striking. As always, it’s difficult to put into words, but I feel as though making music taps into something very primal, as if I were speaking some proto-human language based solely on emotion; yet it’s no less nuanced than any modern language for all that.
It seems to me that because this language cuts right to our emotional core, some of the friendships we forge on these projects are simultaneously superficial and significant. I had never met most of the woodwind and string players in the band before, and even those musicians and singers I do know, I only see once a year at most; still, the mere fact of making great music with them makes them special to me, so it is always with a bittersweet sense of sadness for leaving behind friends mixed with joy for having been part of it that I return from these projects.