by Carey Rutherford
Well, a musician’s life in the classical world must have improved in the last century, because Michael has a Cadillac. Of sorts…
“I play the bassoon: a 5000 Series Heckel instrument that was made in Germany in 1920. It’s considered the Cadillac of bassoons.”
So, there you go.
Michael Hope, the bassoon aficionado, ought to know what he’s talking about. When I mention first attending Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra concerts as a geeky teenager 30 years ago, Michael points out that he was onstage at those concerts. Which gives him a great perspective on the changes occurring in live classical performance, like repeated standing ovations and other audience exuberance at the CPO’s last concert of the 2013-2014 season.
“I’m in there everyday; I don’t notice day-to-day changes, but (audience enthusiasm during classical music concerts) has recently, say in the past 4 years, become fairly common. This is why, at this stage in my career, it’s so exciting to come to work everyday. We seem to be generating more excitement than ever, no matter what we play.”
Okay, so it WAS a ‘charismatic’ conductor, and it WAS the last 2 concerts of the season, but unless you were there, you don’t understand its remarkability. Think of the last time you were at a hockey game, and Lanny or Iginla or Hayley scored a goal: picture that crowd reaction, but put a symphony orchestra at centre ice finishing up a Mozart piano concerto.
The assistant principal bassoonist goes on: “In 2003, we were in trusteeship for a while (read: facing bankruptcy), and the way that we’ve recovered from it is one of the things we’re most proud of. We came to the realization that we needed to re-make ourselves as an arts organization, and part of that was to figure out ways to engage the audience and the community in as many ways as possible.
“That’s our brand now: not so much to play classical music for the arts’ sake, but to transform people.”
We discuss the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs conducts the opera singer while parodying the aloof demeanour of Leopold Stokowski. The soloist, the orchestra, even the audience is cowed by the superior knowledge this eminence is gifting them with: that HE will show them how music SHOULD be performed and appreciated.
“That’s what we’re NOT about,” Michael laughs. “That’s what sets us apart from most orchestras right now. We’re not presenting the art for the art’s sake, and we’re not doing it for ourselves.”
That leaves the audience to benefit, and I can guarantee that the crowd listening to the CPO perform Allan Bell’s “Serenity”,Mozart’s Piano Concerto #20, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5 in the 2014 season’s last concert appreciated the intention. They even dragged Jon Kimura Parker, the Mozart virtuoso with as many years under his belt as Michael, to come back out for an encore (Stravinsky, if you’re wondering).
Mr. Hope expands:
“On Saturday, typically, we get an audience that breaches standard etiquette, in that we often get
audiences that will clap between the movements of a work. A lot of people frown upon this, because it’s apparently NOT what you’re supposed to do.”
Yup. That’s the feeling: I’ve had it, too.
“The policy of (the CPO) and the music director is ‘Go ahead. Clap whenever you want, because we love your appreciation. It affirms to us that we’re doing something right. And I LOVE the sound of applause between movements… It’s really common in rock concerts, and even in opera, and that’s the kind of energy we want to encourage.”
But best of all is still Michael’s chance to share this music while playing it himself.
“I like to tell people that, if I had won the lottery back in 1982 when I started this job, I wouldn’t have had a richer life than I do now.”
And given the response of the listeners, they agree. There’s reason why their website is “CPO-Live“, after all.