Oct 23, 2011 Journal Entries
Turtles gather outside the Holiday Inn in Lincoln to van it to the airport.
It has been a great week of traveling through Nebraska. Great concerts, lec-dems, and workshops. But now, it’s time to go home. Last night we said goodbye to our driver and guide, Ciara McCormack and our soundman supreme Brandon Ketchem. Ciara drove the whole week, and took us to amazing places such as the Scotts Bluff National Monument and Carhenge in Western Nebraska, and let’s not forget the little town of Funk.
Brandon set us up at each venue, which meant an hour more of precious sleep in many cases. Both helped make this trip easy and joyful. I hope we get to work with both of them again soon.
For now, the Turtles scatter to the wind.
Mads is going to the Bahamas for a four day cruise, Mark is back at the ranch in Novato, watching his neighbors’ horses and dealing with two teenage girls and their collective angst. Dave is home in Albany, composing, always composing. And Jeremy? No one really knows.
Our next tour stop on the Turtle Island never-ending tour takes us right back to the Midwest. We’ll be playing Indianapolis, Indiana at the Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University with the Luna Negra Dance Theater in a program called “Danzon”. Hope to see you all there! Let me know if you enjoyed this blog!
Oct 21, 2011 Journal Entries
We’re off to Holdrege to do a lec-dem and another Coltrane show. We started the morning with a “Sting Quartet Is Like A Family” presentation in Kearney, at the same hall we performed at the night before.
It sure makes it easy when we don’t have to pack up after a concert. And of course, the next morning is a breeze. After stopping at an excellent Chinese buffet, we’re barreling down highway 44, flanked by dried up corn stalks.
We arrived at the Tassel, our concert hall in Holdrege with just enough time to get the sound up before several hundred children filed in. As always, they were quite excited to hear us. Jeremy got them all riled up with his fiddle playing on the viola; he had to play extremely quietly to get them to stop clapping so loud that they all but drowned him out. I played “Julie-O”, one of my pieces for solo cello and got a good reception.
Oct 20, 2011 Journal Entries
October 17th, 2011
Yesterday was amazing. We performed for what sounded like a zillion 4th and 5th graders in the Scottsbluff area at the Midwest Theater, and then high tailed it to a local Mexican restaurant.
Home made corn tortillas were the feature, along with some very good chicken soup, tacos, shrimp, etc etc. Then we drove the 2 hours to Chadron in Western Nebraska. Our trip took us by Carhenge, an art instillation that uses junked cars in all sorts of interesting ways. We walked around and thoroughly enjoyed both the artwork and the Nebraska sunshine. It was cold in the late afternoon, but the sun was dazzling, with breathtaking vistas of the surrounding prairie.
October 19th, 2011
It’s 9 AM, and we’re taking our longest drive of the trip, from Chadron to Kearney. Supposed to take 5 hours.
We’ll see how that goes. I’ve got my own bench seat this time around, so I can spread out and get comfortable. I’m already thinking of how I’ll spend my time home before we hit the road again November 3rd.
Our first stop took us to a pretty cool gas station. Apparently the owner’s wife is into health foods, because they were selling big bags of bee pollen. I passed on it, but did take an informational pamplet. Seems a teaspoon a day will cure whatever ails you. I bought a small of scented rock salt for the bath. It was only a buck. Can’t beat that. After a hard day in the van, and then a concert, a bath will be theraputic.
After stopping in the town of Ogalalla for lunch at the Home Made Heaven Sandwich Shop, (pretty good sandwiches, great sweet potato chips) we drove onto Highway #80. Immediately, the scenery changed. It was much less interesting than the two lanes we were driving on before. There are still hills but they are in the distance where before they were closer to the road and more dramatic. #80 follows the Platte River, which flows to the east. We’ve got a tight day ahead of us. We won’t arrive until neavly 4:30, which doesn’t give us much time to sound check and eat dinner before a 7 PM show. That this is a different program than the ones we have been playing in Nebraska only adds to the tension.
Oct 18, 2011 Journal Entries
October 15, 2011
Turtle Island’s big push into Nebraska began with a flight from Milwaukee to Denver, courtesy of United Express. I always have trepidations whenever we fly on small carriers, as I never quite know how they will deal with where to put my cello, Daphne. The quartet always buys a seat for her; indeed, if I had a dollar for every time I am asked if the airline lets me bring her on the plane for free, I’d have, well, a lot of dollars.
This time around, there were no hassles with either Daphne or the other instruments coming on board. The flight was pretty uneventful, aside from the inevitable bumps coming into the Denver International Airport. I’ve been making jokes all week about our week in Nebraska, but the truth is, you never know what a tour will be like until you get off the plane and into the van, so to speak. We’ll be sitting in a large cargo van all week, instead of the preferred two rental cars, but the cost of renting one way (we start the tour in Scottsbluff, and end in Lincoln) is prohibitive. As much as I understand the “one big happy family” aspect of being in a quartet, I dislike being crammed together in one vehicle. This time, we have a driver and at least one other passenger, so perhaps the vibe will be an interesting change from the usual. The members of this particular incarnation of Turtle Island manage to get along pretty well. Everyone has lots of electronic toys to plug into, so there are lots of headphones and computers taken out at the first sign of boredom. Last night we were all listening to Eminem, much to my horror. My retort to such situations is “two cars”.
Oct 15, 2011 Journal Entries
My time in Alexandria ended with having dinner with some very good friends from Baltimore. Bonnie and Peter are friends from my Cleveland Institute of Music days. Both were roommates of mine at the infamous 1961 Ford apartment, a block up from CIM. I lived in a huge old five-bedroom apartment for two and a half years with many roommates, (Bonnie’s room was directly opposite mine) during which we watched Saturday Night Live every week, I rode my bike around the apartment (it was that big!) and even sometimes practiced my cello. Peter and Bonnie got together during that time and have been a couple ever since. At some point, long ago, they contacted me and have been coming to Turtle Island concerts and hanging out, supporting me as a cellist and friend, and just generally being wonderful friends. Joining us was cellist and long time friend, Cindy Rosenberg. I met Cindy at the first Stanford Jazz Workshop Turtle Island taught at, sometime in the early 1990’s. Cindy has driven me all around the Washington DC area, made sure I had good food to eat when I’m here, and has been a good friend. We all talked about crazy musicians we knew, and about the good old days of living in a big apartment together. I was able to share some very old photographs taken by another cello friend, David Rosen, who plays in the New Orleans Symphony. Bonnie had a good laugh at seeing picture of both of our younger selves, without all the grey hair. Seeing the photos again gave me the perspective that my CIM days weren’t all bad, and provided the proof of how far I have come in my quest to heal from my baggage of a classical music education. I hope I have truly recovered from classical music!
Oct 13, 2011 Journal Entries
This has been an amazing week. We decided to ask Tierney Sutton, the jazz vocalist non-parallel if she would join us as a special guest for our upcoming concert at the Iridium jazz club in NYC. She said yes immediately, which was extremely gratifying. Tierney will be collaborating with us on the upcoming Poets and Prayers program we’ll be presenting next season. Our first concert has already been booked, and is slated for October 27th in Tempe, Arizona, so this will be somewhat of a preview of coming attractions.
Last night was the very first rehearsal of Force of Nature. I was taken directly from the airport to the rehearsal at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia. The first surprise was meeting the orchestra’s general manager, Adrian Finlay. Dressed causally in blue jeans and tea shirt, Adrian greeted me quite amicably at the front of the hall. Adrian and I had spoken about this program quite a long time ago, so it was great to finally meet him in person. He escorted me backstage, where there were sandwiches and sparkling water waiting in the green room. After a quick look in the fridge, I made my way to the stage where the stage manager was waiting for me. Craig is a percussionist and apparently stage- manages many groups in the Washington DC area. He had really thought through many of the issues David and I usually face when performing with orchestras with Turtle Island. I was grateful to have his thinking, especially since we only have two rehearsals to get this very new program together. He had positioned the drum set used on Force of Nature centered directly behind the conductor, Kim Allen Kluge. The drummer, Don played extremely sensitively throughout the rehearsal. I had asked Craig for a Plexiglas sound barrier, thinking that the drums would be loud. I was wrong, and by the end of the rehearsal, I asked for it to be removed.
I was pretty excited for this first rehearsal! So many months of preparation and practice were finally coming to fruition. The orchestra was waiting when I mounted the cello podium. They are a really nice group. The concertmaster, Claudia is terrific, and the whole vibe of the orchestra is warm and easy going. I was able to talk easily to the whole group, and I let them know that we were excited to be playing with them and were expecting them to groove with us. If we couldn’t get it to happen, it was our fault. I think they were encouraged by the positive attitude, which extended from the conductor Kim as well. More to come!
Oct 12, 2011 Journal Entries
October 8, 2011
David, my son, Michael and I were picked up by EJ in a big Cadillac, and driven to the hall. After a brief sound check, we retreated to the green room to eat dinner and schmooze with friends. Our publicist, Amanda Sweet made her way to visit, along with her friend Michelle Pendoley from the Washington Opera. Also hanging out in the green room was Michael Fox from our agency, Baylin Artists Management. Michael is a classical bass player, and a wonderful friend to the quartet. I had a good talk with him about a range of topics which was not limited to but included playing Mozart on the bass, the joys of touring the Midwest, losing weight through working out, and of course, the joy of the booking business. We’ll be seeing Michael again in January when the quartet performs in a showcase with jazz singer Tierney Sutton. The general manager of the Alexandria Symphony, Adrien Finlay had again shopped at Whole Foods, so we dined on delicious salmon with mango chutney, chicken, steamed veggies and a fruit and cheese platter.
Dave and I cleared out the green room so he and I could dress and warm up. It was beginning to heat up, and I was beginning to get a bit nervous. Do you think there was a connection? David began the concert with his concertino, Little Mouse Jumps. David has played this piece before, but there’s still nothing quite like performing with a symphony orchestra. I found this out minutes later when I made my way out to the stage, gingerly weaving through the first violins to ascend the cello podium. I generally try not to use cello risers; they aren’t long or wide enough for me. However, I was determined to make the best of it. After getting settled into my chair, and plugging in my pickup and microphone, I waited for the conductor to raise his baton, signaling one of the percussionists to play a flam bringing me in. In seconds I was experiencing the thrill of “dancing with the elephant” as I call soloing with an orchestra. There were times when the rhythm was quite suspect, and I had to concentrate profusely to not make a mess of David’s piece. I thought I did quite well, although there was room for improvement. The performance on Sunday afternoon was considerably improved, with tempi more nearly matching those we had worked out in rehearsal. After both performances, David and I went to the lobby and signed Cds. We find that it drastically improves sales, and gives us a chance to connect with the audience in a meaningful way. We are always thrilled to meet young people; several audience members mentioned that they had heard us years ago at their elementary schools. A mother introduced her cello playing son, and asked me to encourage him to continue studying. These interactions are meaningful and fulfilling to me. More to follow!
Oct 7, 2011 Journal Entries
October 5, 2011 – My trip to Washington began with waking up at 3:15 AM. I had set the alarm for 3:45, but my body decided I needed to be up sooner. It was nice to be up with some extra time; as I lay away in the dark, I realized that the rain dictated that I allow even more time to get to the airport than I usually do, and the fact that I was being picked up in Dulles and being shuttled directly to the first rehearsal of David Balakrishnan’s cello concerto Force of Nature sealed the deal.
My wife, Barbara dropped me off at the Marin Airporter with plenty of time to make the 5 AM bus to SFO. The trip, which was advertised as taking a minimum of an hour, managed it in a brisk 50 minutes. The airport is kind of peaceful at 6 AM. Turtle Island usually flies around midday or even later; it’s been a while since I flew on an early morning flight, and it was in some ways refreshing.
My cello, Daphne scored a first class seat, while I was relegated to a middle seat towards the back of coach. I hope she enjoys her meal! The reason United in its infinite wisdom put my cello in a first class window seat (1 A) was solely due to the fact that this particular 777 has no coach bulkhead window seat that is not an exit row. I guess when they configured this plane, they weren’t thinking about cellos!
I’m really excited about today. It’s my first rehearsal with the Alexandria Symphony, and the first time I will hear David’s piece for real. Up until today, I’ve only heard it as a MIDI file. It’s going to be much different. I’ve been struggling to hear individual voices in the “orchestra”; it should be much easier to ”groove” with the band tonight.
I’ve played with many orchestras with the Turtle Island Quartet including Concordia in New York, the Detroit Symphony (we made a live recording) the Winnipeg Symphony (I am a former member of that orchestra-it was very sweet to return as a soloist) and many others, but aside from a read through of the Elgar Cello Concerto in my student days at the Cleveland Institute of Music, this is my orchestral debut as a soloist.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!
Oct 6, 2011 Uncategorized
WETA interviews David Balakrishnan
David Balakrishnan, violinist, and Mark Summer, cellist, are both founding members of the genre-blending Turtle Island Quartet, established in 1985. Mark’s playing inspired David to write the cello concerto Force of Nature, and it’s being given its world premiere this weekend when Kim Allen Kluge, music director, conducts the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. Classical WETA’s Marilyn Cooley talked with David Balakrishnan about music, both playing it and writing it.