Category Archives: Monostatos

Lahti-da…yet another grand tour? :-0

As Monostatos’ Orchestra settles in briefly across the pond, thanks to yet another $1M+ check from possibly their largest current donor, is there any possibility that they will take stock of the problems they may have left at home? Hmmm…I’ll have to think about that…maybe not…

Now the MO happens to have yet another person ’embedded’ with them…(at one time it was Monostatos’ wife-at-the-time)…this time a woman who blogs under a title not dissimilar from this one…

Will anyone actually tell the truth about what they are hearing, or will music-lovers be encouraged yet again to listen with their heads instead of their ears?

And will there be — oh goody! — more Sibelius? (Even though everyone else also seems to be performing Sibelius right now)…

Guess we’ll have to wait and see…:-0

Don’t sell yourself short…

Long ago I found myself in a very strange predicament; one that has had a lasting influence on my life.  I wanted to study the flute seriously and was looking for a good teacher.  By chance I was offered a ticket to a Minnesota Orchestra concert.  During the concert I found myself listening to some gorgeous flute-playing.  At one point the beauty and sonority was so compelling I found myself standing, in the front row of the first balcony.  I was mesmerized.  As the friend who had given me the ticket tugged my hand and I sat back down I thought ‘who is this person who can play like this?’  I learned that it was the orchestra’s Principal Flute, Sid Zeitlin.

Could I study with him?  Not likely, I told myself.  Someone at Orchestra Hall gave me his phone number.  I called him.  He wanted to hear me play.  I grabbed the piece I had been most recently working on, the Telleman Suite in A minor, and went to see him at his studio at the home he shared with his wife, who also played with the Orchestra.  They had a beautiful music room — very airy and spacious.

Sid barely came up to my shoulder.  I recall that we stood and looked at each other for a moment.  He had a round face, dark hair and a scowl that I soon learned was a frequent expression.  I played for him, not sure what to expect.  “Well, I’ll take you on, but that isn’t a very good piece of music.  Try this.”  He gave me the flute part to the Bach Second Suite, which I later learned was one of his signature pieces.  A bit puzzled, but obviously elated, I left.

During the next lesson he asked to see my flute.  It was a Haynes closed-hole model.  “You can’t use this,” he said.  “I’ll show you some open-hole flutes next lesson.  You can try them out.”  And so, before too long, I found that I had traded in my Haynes as partial payment for one of his Louis Lots, because I loved its sound.  However, I quickly found out the the issue for me was not open v closed-holes, but that the aperture on the mouthpiece was small, and it was not easy to hit the center of each of the notes.  It did not occur to me until much later that Zeitlin was, of course, aware of this and perhaps using it to test me.

I was surprised, as lessons progressed, that he did not recommend my working on any other pieces.  Nor did he talk about exercise books.  So I brought in what I had and he seemed uninterested in them.  Something didn’t seem quite right by that point, but I had no idea what it was.

Then I received a phone call from someone at Orchestra Hall, telling me that I would not be able to take lessons with Zeitlin, as he had suffered a major heart attack while playing tennis at a Northwest Racquet Club.  He was lucky to be alive.   I was shocked and concerned.  I let go.  I had no choice.  (In hindsight, I can see that I should have let go for good, as what followed became something of a nightmare for each of us.)

By this time I was starting to ask myself ‘if not him, who else would teach me?’  I also began to wonder where, other than this negative and combative orchestra environment that he was involved in, could I go to perform?  There seemed to be no alternative.

In short, I did call him some six months or so later and began to take lessons again.  But he was a changed man.  He seemed depressed and bitter.  He snapped at me.  He sent me on rabbit trails.  He refused to teach me orchestral excerpts (which was one of the main reasons, of course, that I wanted to study with him).  But he did teach them to the young woman whose lesson was before mine, I realized one day when I arrived early — so I sat in the hallway and learned second-hand.

Some time later Zeitlin called me to say that I would need to take my lessons at his new apartment downtown.  His marriage had fallen apart.  I felt uncomfortable at this, though I said nothing.  Soon after that he changed the lessons to a practice room at Orchestra Hall.

By this time I had learned that Zeitlin was a long-time heavy drinker, and that this could have contributed to all his problems.  I offered to go with him to an AA meeting, as I was in recovery myself, but he declined.  And then I came to realize that everything really had come to a dead end.

Not long after that I learned that Zeitlin had messed up a recording session and was likely to be fired.  Somehow, he survived.  Later I heard that he was definitely going to be fired, and for some reason I felt compelled to call the Music Director’s office and plead for his job for him.  (I am sure others did as well.) The stay did not last long, however, and then I learned he was out.  The next thing I learned was that he had died.  I still cannot describe just how I felt — this great dream I had for him and for myself had been brought to nothing.  The extraordinary tone and exquisite technique — with notes shaped like petals of a flower — had shriveled and died.  To Zeitlin’s credit, he had made sure I acquired a good headjoint for the tricky Louis Lot flute he had sold me, and so I play it to this day in his memory, and to honor the gifts that he was once so blessed to have been given.  But I carry a greater sorrow, that of accepting when there is nothing more one can do and the outcome is dismal.  I know that is an alternative I do not want for myself or anyone else.

In hindsight, I think the problems Zeitlin was facing really stemmed from the false mindset held by many (maybe even most) professional musicians – that they have to beat themselves up in private in order to ‘play with conviction’ on the concert stage.  When I would try to describe the beauty of what I was hearing him do, he would snap at me.  He could not accept appreciation, no matter how well deserved.  Nothing was good enough.  I learned he had more insecurities than I did.  The orchestral system at that time had forced him into a box.

Flute players are especially picky.  They often end up with what I call ‘poodle flute-playing’ — they are so concerned about the superficial technical aspects of their playing that they miss the depth of playing that could be available to them. This is a horrible environment.

As I am, as it were, the flute player on the outside, in the fresh air (hence ‘Rossignol’)  who is free from those constraints I can say, (while heaving a great sigh of relief), that constant self-criticism only tends to block the unique gift and voice (or muse) that each musician has.  We have to go from ‘good’ to ‘better’ in order to keep that channel open and to be honest.  We need to be in competition with ourselves, not our colleagues.  We need performance opportunities that are fresh.  We need music that is alive.  Hence, in my case, improvisation.  This is our alternative — the one that works…:-)

 

 

 

A new “Nash Equilibrium”? …

John Forbes Nash was one of the most eccentric and troubled people ever to make significant contributions. Despite a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, characterized by hallucinations and terror, he, with the help of his wife, Alicia, managed to come to grips with his issues and live by all accounts an odd, but in many ways successful, life.

Nash was a mathematician — a codebreaker of the highest order, by his own estimation initially, and then by others. Burdened with a big ego and a sarcastic wit, he frequently found himself excluded from jovial and productive environments. He charted his own course — one which could have led to an early death or even suicide.

Per the interesting movie about his life, “A Beautiful Mind”, (which ignores significant aspects of his life and paints a more attractive picture of his circumstances than was probably was the reality)and the book it was based on by Sylvia Nasar, Nash seems obsessed with a compulsion to find an ‘original idea’ that would give him the prestige he sought, and allow him to make a significant contribution to mathematics. He did that on more than one occasion, earning the Nobel Prize in 1994. In fact, when he and his wife were killed in an automobile crash on the New Jersey Turnpike (in a cab, it was not their fault) a year ago they were returning from one of many more award ceremonies, where his contributions were gratefully acknowledged by his peers.

Yet there may be at least one more contribution that John Nash made to the human family. It comes, not in the field of mathematics, per se, but in his character as a human being. In his own way, with help from his wife, doctors, and at times medication and even shock therapy, he managed to confront the particular characteristics of his own illness and deal with them in a constructive manner. Although voices apparently remained in his head, he decided to stop listening to them. He managed to starve their power to terrify him or direct his life simply by being able to sidestep them. John Nash broke the code of his own illness, and in doing so may have paved the way for a new generation of understanding of what constitutes mental illness and how it can best be treated.

http://books.simonandschuster.com/A-Beautiful-Mind/Sylvia-Nasar/9781451628425

Minnegeddon — one day when ‘Monostatos’ (almost) told the truth…

When the person I call ‘Monostatos’ came into our lives, it was a very puzzling time.  What possible interest could this person have in us, I frequently wondered.  Something seemed not quite right, but I could not put my finger on it.  I grabbed a hint the first time I was asked to play the flute for him — he played accompaniment to a movement of a Bach sonata.  He kept looking up at me from under his prominent eyebrows.  He seemed to be lying in wait.  But why?  As soon as I flipped a page, he pounced, claiming I had ‘missed a beat’.  What is going on here, I wondered?  Why do I have the impression that it is either him or me?

In hindsight, of course, I wish that I had trusted that impression, for it defined the reality of the following 666 or so days.  Stealth, deception, hidden ill-intent were the norm.  Early-on, they were so far hidden as to be almost invisible.

And so, with helpful and gentle smiles, he enticed me to practice on the stage at Orchestra Hall after rehearsals, which I was invited to attend.  How could anyone resist?  So out came the Mozart flute concertos, and two of the Mozart violin concertos.  The Khat, the Nielsen, Bach, whatever I was working on, soared through the hall and, so he said, through the rest of the building, as i practiced on the darkened stage.

We were the oddity of the orchestra at the time — the concert master called us “Beauty and the Beast” — the gangly young man with the flute player and her three adorable children.  It seemed that everyone knew what was going on except me.

Well, that is not entirely true, as I had been studying with the Pricipal Flute player for a while before that.  This argumentative little man, in addition to sandbagging my practice, practically accused me of being responsible for the name change of the orchestra.  At the time, that seemed completely bizarre.  But again, he knew more than I did.  So I did have a heads-up — I just didn’t understand it.

But Monostatos agenda seemed to run afoul one day, after a very simple event.  On the stage, once again, he asked me to play the Mozart D Major Concerto.  He would accompany me (in a general way, as he was not a keyboard player).One of my favorite pieces.  The first one I had performed, in fact, when I was in High School.  It was, of course, astonishingly lovely to hear the flute in the acoustics of the hall.  Afterword, he seemed nonchalant as usual, but there was a glint in his eye that meant trouble.  I had done something again that had upset him.  I waited for a verbal attack to come — or worse.  But there was none.

Subsequent to that he slipped into a profound depression, spending his days in the darkened room I had long before abandoned, knees to his chest, clutching the sheets.  I tried to help, but was pushed away.  One day he walked into a psych ward and admitted himself.  A few days later he left.  Then he admitted himself to an in-patient treatment program (though he did not drink) and then left about a week later.  I felt helpless and bewildered.  I began to accept that nothing might ever work again, and that I had to prepare to take care of my children.

He would not talk, would not share.  But, one evening, after going out for a bite to eat, leaving the children with a sitter, we drove to a new construction area on a street called Smetana Drive. I parked the VW beetle and tried to talk with him.  What is going on, I pleaded. And then he whispered, in the dark — “I don’t know if you are an amateur or the most exciting musician since Mozart.” I was baffled, and stunned.  What possible connecting thread could there be to all of this?

From that moment on, there was nothing but emotional and spiritual war in the house.  He ended up running out one night, never to return.  I was so relieved that the war was over I didn’t bother to ask what had motivated his becoming involved with us in the first place, much less the traumatic events that followed…