Concert or Show?

This past week the Broadway show “Chicago,” was in Rochester. It was the national touring production, and I contracted it and also played it. It’s a great show. Those Bob Fosse choreographed dance segments are spectacular. What a genius that man was. His choreography is unmistakable. Talk about having a style! The music is 1920’s jazz, so that’s fun too. But this show is a little different, because the musicians are on stage and are part of the set—and consequently the action. We were not as anonymous as we usually are. We were set up over the back of the stage in a set that is very steeply raked with the brass section on the top row, maybe 15 feet above the stage. The actors were directly in front of us, but also occasionally among us. The cast was spectacular in all respects, and the audience responded with great enthusiasm. So we had eight performances of this show—high-energy, on your toes playing.

In the week previous to this “Chicago” run, I played four rehearsals and two concerts with the Rochester Philharmonic. We had a guest conductor, Arild Remmereit. He’s a Norwegian, on the youngish side and very talented. The concert was: Shafer Mahoney: Sparkle; Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Haochen Zhang, a 2009 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist) and Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5. I played bass clarinet on “Sparkle” and the Prokofiev. It was a fun concert too. Mr. Remmereit really gets into it.

I’m setting this up—show and concert, because, the term “show,” at least in my mind, is usually associated with non-classical music and the word “concert” usually goes with symphony, band or choral concerts. Sometimes when I’m playing a concert, a stagehand will occasionally say, “have a good show.” That always takes me by surprise. The Rochester Philharmonic doesn’t present shows on its classical series. It does concerts. And the Four Tops don’t give concerts. They put on shows. Playing in a band behind Frank Sinatra or in the pit, in this case on stage last week, playing “Chicago” is playing a show to me. Concerts are more serious.

Let’s scroll back to Arild Remmereit and the Prokofiev. The next day at rehearsal I was talking to a clarinet colleague, and we were recounting the previous night’s performance. We were both talking about how Mr. Remmereit really put every ounce of energy and enthusiasm he could muster into the past night’s performance. It was inspiring to play for him and the audience picked up on it too. They were really into it. Then Andy said, “It was more like playing a show than a concert.” It hit me. He was on to something. It did feel like a show, and that’s not a bad thing. There was lots of energy coming back from the audience as we played. I think it would do all of us (read: professional orchestra musician types) to remember that we are in show biz. That doesn’t mean that we must dress up in sparkly costumes, or present ourselves in an over-the-top manner. All we need to do is to be totally focused and into what we are doing. When you get 100 musicians firing on all cylinders, that’s when you experience chills—and the audience will too. Each time we play, let’s give them our version of “that old razzle-dazzle.”

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Ramon Ricker

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