What began as a changed flight on Friday ended Saturday as a surprise engagement with the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Here’s how it went down.
Wednesday noon: I e-mail David Crane, General Manager of the Buffalo Philharmonic, letting him know I’d be in town for the weekend to rehearse the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. Might he be able to get me a comp ticket to the Pops concert on Saturday night. I want to hear the hall and experience the Pops vibe in Buffalo before I make my BPO debut on March 9.
Thursday afternoon: Hearing news of the impending winter storm, I begin what I believe is the futile task of packing my bags for my Friday afternoon flight through LaGuardia. Just as I suspected, the dreaded “Cancelled Flight” notification pops up on my phone. I call, but to no avail. The lines are so jammed that it takes me over 45 minutes to even get the honor of being on hold for an hour! Through some miracle, I get through, and the Delta agent has a good sense of humor and routes me through Atlanta on a flight that leaves the next morning at 9.
Friday, 7am: Up and out early, I forgo some of the comforts, like contacts and dress shoes. I figure with all the snow, a slightly more casual rehearsal attire would be forgiven. Besides, I was sure that I would get to Atlanta and then come right back home when it was announced that Buffalo was under ten feet of snow.
Friday, 9:00am: The flight to Atlanta actually takes off. On the flight, I review the translation of the Latin text of Mozart Requiem, which I’m conducting next week.
Friday, 11:30am: Said flight miraculously (I always think it’s a miracle!) lands. I turn on my phone right away to let Drew (my husband) know that I am safe. The phone begins lighting up and making all sorts of noises. I have voice mails, emails, text messages, and text messages telling me to check my text messages. David Crane is trying to get in touch with me (this can’t be about the comp ticket!). It turns it that Ron Spiegelman, the conductor of the Pops show on Saturday night, has a flight scheduled to arrive in Buffalo at midnight, and, well, no one is convinced that’s actually going to happen. Would I be willing to cover, if I get into town and he doesn’t? Sure, I say, and then I excitedly share the potential news with my two nice, but slightly confused, row-mates.
Friday, noon: I find some lunch at the airport, and then it hits me-I’m totally not prepared. Not only do I not even know what’s on the program, I have no suit, shoes, or contacts. I have rehearsal with the chorus in the morning, and if I’m conducting the BPO, that would be in…25 hours! While my phone slowly drains of battery, I arrange for my contact prescription to be sent to a Lens Crafters in Buffalo, and then I sit and stare at my salmon, knowing there’s nothing else I can do until I arrive (if I arrive) in the great snowy north.
Friday, 3:15pm: I land (another miracle) IN BUFFALO. The landing is a bit scary – zero visibility, some sliding upon touch down, and much hard braking. But, we give the pilot the “thanks for not killing us” round of applause, and then in unison we all turn on our phones. I let the BPO know that I’m in Buffalo, and they let me know that they still don’t know if Ron’s going to make it.
Friday, 4:00pm: I have my luggage, and my wonderful new friend, Catherine Schweitzer, picks me up from the airport. If anyone embodies all that is great about Buffalo, it is Catherine. She knows the city, its history, and its resources. She is generous and funny, and, important for the next two hours, she knows where to find clothes. We go to the mall.
Friday, 4:15pm: I convince the sales woman at Banana Republic that I don’t need this season’s latest spring pastels or cropped pants. She jumps into action, finds me a suit, steams it, and then digs up a 30% off coupon for me to use. The pants are too long, but I’ll deal with that later. At DSW, another miracle happens. I find comfortable shoes in five minutes! And, the sales clerk finds me a $20 coupon. (While at DSW, my phone rings. It’s Dan Hart, BPO Executive Director. I’m definitely on. Scores are wrapped in plastic and waiting for me on the front porch at my apartment.)
Friday, 4:55pm: We arrive at the random Lens Crafters I called while staring at my salmon in Atlanta. They GIVE me the contacts. No charge! Luckily my earlier studying of Latin mass texts (“Inter oves locum praesta, et ab haedis me sequestra, statuens in parte dextra.”) helps me figure out which lens goes in which eye. OD is the right eye, of course!
Friday, 5:30pm: Catherine and I stop by Wegmans to get food, and I purchase the latte that will get me through the night.
Friday, 6:00pm: Finally, we arrive at the apartment. Scores are there, heat is on, Latte is ready for consumption. I shovel a bit of snow to release some nervous energy.
Friday, 6:30pm: I buckle down and get to work. First things first – organize. I go through the entire stack of scores and rank each one with a 0 (have conducted it), 1 (easy, could get away with sightreading if I had to), 2 (medium, should look at it), 3 (more difficult).
Friday, 7:10pm: I begin with the 3s, and try to knock them down to a 1. Then, I do the same with the 2s. It’s not pretty. I’m doing everything I have always prided myself in not doing. I’m marking cues and dynamics before analyzing their significance. I’m listening to recordings on YouTube. (Horrors!!!). You name it, I’m breaking the rules. But, it had to be done!
Saturday, 12:30am: Bed.
Saturday, 5:30am: Up and working on excerpts from Wicked, Gypsy, and more. It’s pretty surreal to be studying an orchestra version of Gloria Estefan’s “Conga” before daybreak.
Saturday, 8:30am: I leave for my BPChorus rehearsal. The singers are so supportive of my adventure, and they are willing to work! I push them hard, and they step up. I’m grateful that there is someone to take over at the end so I can get to Kleinhans in time to eat, drink another latte, and run on stage.
Saturday, 11:45: Catherine, wonderful Catherine, drives me to the hall. I meet with the singers (Katie Rose Clarke and Julie Reiber) and try to eat a few bites of lunch.
Saturday, 1pm: On the podium, ready to go. The musicians seem supportive of the situation, and I can sense they have my back. I feel good about starting the rehearsal with the overture to Gypsy. That was one of my “0”s, so I’m glad I get to begin with it. I look at the percussionists to cue the opening suspended cymbal lick. No one is at the drum set. No one is behind the other cymbal. Um, am I being tested?
—“Gentlemen, is there a cymbal part?”
—“A set part?”
—“Okay, let’s move on to the Bizet Carmen selections. We’ll figure this out and do Gypsy later.”
The rest of rehearsal goes pretty well. We make some impromptu cuts and breaks to work with the singers, and the library gets the publishers of Gypsy to fax a part – quick thinking by everyone! I love working in situations in which every single person is on task to make it work. That’s the beauty of our profession, I suppose!
Saturday, 3:30: Rehearsal is over. One rehearsal, and we are good to go! I go home, watch some bad tv for an hour, gather my thoughts and head back to the hall. I’m meeting the wardrobe person at 6:30 so she can hem my pants.
Saturday, 6:30: At the hall. The staff has set me up with a salmon dinner (much more pleasant than the one at the airport, culinarily and psychologically), and the wardrobe person is ready to pin, hem, and press. Dennis, the back stage volunteer, makes sure I have everything I need. I work on my concert chit chat, decide just how I’m going to involve the audience (dance moves in the Diana Ross medley are in order), and I take a breath.
Saturday, 8:00: We do it! The musicians of the orchestra are talented, focused, and supportive. The soloists are engaging, generous, and versatile. The staff, board, and volunteers of the BPO are a well oiled machine. I feel at ease, or as at ease as I possibly can feel.
Saturday, intermission: I walk off the stage, and Dennis hands me a glass of water – the perfect temperature. I know that seems like an insignificant detail, but for me at that moment, nothing could have been more perfect.
Saturday, second half: Not knowing the Buffalo audience yet, I take a chance that at the core it shares with the Richmond audience a common yearning to be involved. I teach them the “Stop! In the name of love!” dance moves, and they participate with zeal!
Saturday, after the show: I finally get a tour of Kleinhans. I speak with some of the fabulous musicians. I meet the sponsors and patrons. And, I have a much needed drink!
Then, I thank David Crane for the best comp ticket ever.