Saturday, August 06, 2011

I'm the fluffer + disturbing bonus info

This morning, as I was preparing for a meeting with Kristian Järvi, I remembered someone once explaining the concept of a 'fluffer' to me. You might think it's some sort of cute disney character, but you are wrong. Basically, a 'fluffer' is a person who gets adult movie stars ready for 'action' before the camera starts rolling for real.
Why did I think of this? 
Because, next week I'm preparing the Cph:Phil for a concert with Renée Fleming (conducted by said Kristjan Järvi) by rehearsing the program for two days before the main protagonists themselves show up. The comparison might be a bit...stretched...but it struck me that I was very much in the the 'fluffer'. 
Ok, enough with the cheesy double-entendres.

The program consists of several Richard Strauss songs to be sung by Mrs. Fleming (including the mindblowingly gorgeous "Vier Letzte Lieder") and the two 'Peer Gynt' suites by Grieg. I have to two 4-hour rehearsals to walk the orcestra through the pieces, smooth out the kinks and check the material for incosistencies. 
This is pretty standard practice, and I've had quite a few gigs like this in the last couple of years; the orchestra needs to be well prepared (that is, by modern standards) and the stars of the classical world don't have much time for rehearsing. 
Last summer, I prepared the same orchestra for a concert series with the San Frasisco Ballet for example, earlier this year I ran the Danish Radio Sinfonietta through Beethovens 3rd and 5th symphony in preparation for Adam Fischer, and I frequently rehearse operas at the Royal Danish Opera before the 'real' conductor shows up.
We weed out the misprints, check the string section bowings (if prescribed by the arriving maestro - otherwise I will keep it as neutral as possible), give the general tempi and simply let the musicians get more familiar with the pieces.
Now, if I can also awaken the orchestra's interest in the piece, inspire them, I'm an even better fluffer, but that is very tricky, since I can't really start to superimpose my own interpretations on that empty - if prepared - canvas that the concert's conductor is coming to work on. 

 !! This art of being a neutral conductor is near-impossible, but I'm getting the feeling that there's something in my phlegmatic nature that makes me suitable for the work. If I want to develop further, perhaps I need start to worry less about the technical aspects of conducting, and more about the art of conducting - it's food for thought anyway. I certainly don't wanna spend my life being that guy who everyone thinks is good enough for rehearsals but too boring for concerts. This is my personal nightmare. Who want's to be a neutral artist anyway?

On the other hand, I don't mind this kind of work, as long as it's resonably payed and the repertoire is worth investing the time in. Realistically, the 'Vier Letzte Lieder' is probably not a piece I will get to conduct anytime soon (in a professional context) if not for this type of work, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to get my hands dirty and get some experience with this masterpiece. In January/february next year, I will work as assistant conductor on 'Parsifal' for the same reason; to conduct the opera in rehearsals is invaluable experience that you just can't get in any other way. 
Of course, one thing is even better than that, and that's conducting the actual performance...patience my young padewan, patience.

The worst aspects of OrchestraFluffing© is when you prepare diligently, only for the 'star' to show up absurdly unprepared and not give a sh*t. Yes, it happens. Perhaps they thought this specific production wasn't really worth their talent, perhaps their agent booked it for them (he most likely did), perhaps they have personal problems, who's to say. Just don't reap the benefits of my work if you're not a better conductor than I am, is all I'm saying. And it doesn't take that much effort really, I can't even figure out how to conduct the beginning to that goddamn famous 5th symphony.

I really don't think that will happen this time around. I've heard only good things about Kristjan Järvi and look forward to meeting him in just a few hours.

Now for the disturbing bonus info:
I have what is probably one of the most specialised educations in the world. I have over 5 years of professional conducting experience + another 10 years in the professional music business . Yet, when I go to work on Parsifal next year, I will be paid what is effectively under the minimum wage. To me that suggests I'm either:
  • in the wrong business 
  • an idiot
  • really underpaid
The answer is probably a combination of all three options. Feel free to comment.

As usual, here's a quote to end things:
"All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind".
- Jesper


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