Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Larry's Weill Hall history with SSQ - a stormy relationship, and a stiff drink

This March, a couple weeks after we've left the stage of Weill Hall, I will be celebrating ten years as cellist of the Serafin String Quartet. A decade in an ensemble is notable in itself, but I find a return to Carnegie Hall at around the same time to be a particularly fitting event, and one that brings back wonderful, if harrowing, memories of my first two appearances in Weill Hall as a member of SSQ.

When I read with the quartet to auditIon in late March of 2006, I was delighted to be offered the position. What seemed a little less delightful, in the same phone conversation in which I was being offered the job, was the following conversation:

KATE: So, we'd like you to join us as a member of SSQ. 
ME: Wow! That's fantastic! 
KATE: And, we were wondering if you'd be able to finish the current season with us instead of waiting until next season. 
ME, small lump forming in throat: Well, sure, I think so. What all is left? 
KATE, after listing a few concerts: And then, on May 7th, we're playing Weill Hall.  
ME, lump growing bigger: Um, what's on the program? 
KATE: Mozart K. 575 [known as one of the "cello" quartets], Bartók 3, Ravel Quartet, and this [really hard] world premiere. 
ME: [complete, lump-throated silence]

So, in about a month, I prepared this really hard program with my new SSQ mates, with just a few preparatory concerts along the way. Now, I had played at Weill Hall before - I did my New York recital debut there in 1999. But for that concert, there was a lot of lead time, and, you know, time to rehearse and practice. Needless to say, this new experience was trial by fire, particularly when that Mozart quartet was first on the program. I have been fortunate to have played a lot of concerts in my life, including the opportunities to perform major concertos home and abroad, and recitals in major arts centers like London and Vienna, not to mention that NYC debut years ago, but I have never felt as nervous as I did walking out on stage with the quartet to start the concert with Mozart K. 575 in May of 2006. Luckily, all went well, we got a pretty good review, and I had a stiff drink after the concert.

My second appearance at Weill Hall with the quartet, while not as nerve-wracking as the first, had its own hilarity. As I usually do when I play in New York (especially when I have an afternoon concert like this one was), I went up the day before to stay with old friends who live downtown in Manhattan. This time, I was able to go with my family (it is fortunately a very big apartment my friends have!), which I thought would be wonderful. I didn't bank on my son and my friend's son deciding to stay up and wander around the apartment until after 1:00 AM, somehow making more noise whispering and shuffling around than they would have just talking normally, or perhaps even shouting and stomping, it seemed. I figured "Okay, 1:00 AM, I'll still get decent sleep." Then 2:00 hit, and the bar across the street closed. Under normal circumstances, I might have been amused by the profanity-laced, many-decibeled banter of the well-watered now-ex patrons out on the street. But with sleep becoming a desperately precious commodity, I found myself more frantic than amused. Then 3:00, or 4:00, or something like that (it was a bit of a blur at this point) hit, and the NY Fire Department, apparently having been called by someone in the apartment building, did what the fire department does in a city - they kept ringing apartments until someone would let them in. Having almost settled down from the reveling drinkers, the sudden and quite loud buzz of the apartment intercom system jarred me into unrecoverable consciousness. I think I did finally catch an hour of sleep or a little more, and found myself dozing backstage shortly before the concert, but it made the performance more of a struggle than it otherwise would have been. But, like the first time, the concert went pretty well, we got a decent review, and I had another post-concert stiff drink.

At least in terms of external weirdness, I'm hoping the third time at Weill Hall with SSQ will be the charm. It is always such a treat to play in this amazing space, with my wonderful colleagues, that I'll take it even if all sorts of crazy stuff happens before. And there's always that stiff drink after the concert, if necessary.