It was a groundbreaking way to look at the life and music of Brahms, and I am floating on air to have a chance to be part of such a historic (if that's the best word) performances right here in New York City.
The program delved into the story of the "other" Brahms- not the venerated bearded old man, but a younger composer and his influences. I had always assumed that he wrote those Hungarian Dances because Hungary was some alien, exotic land. But I never considered this: Brahms was born in 1833, and so the Hungarian revolution of 1848 came at a very formative age for him. A flood of refugees exposed him to the music, and even more importantly, his career got started by touring with a Hungarian violinist, Eduard Remenyi.
That's all well and good, but what about Alec Baldwin?
Okay, okay, I was pretty star-struck by Alec Baldwin as well. I was curious if he would be a prima donna, or if he would be some jokester. At our rehearsal with the NY Phil, he was extremely professional, and the writer/producer of the show, Joe Horowitz, gave him very direct criticism. He wrote his notes and we worked very efficiently.
The script included a VERY scratchy recording of Brahms made in 1889. It was barely audible, and it evoked snickers during the rehearsal. Alec asked if he could come up with some line, and Joe was fine with it. During the performance, the audience struggled to decipher the hiss with some music buried, and Alec said "Ahh, they don't make them like that any more." He hit the spot exactly.
To tell the truth, Alec Baldwin was only a small part of the experience. Standing between the cello and viola section was a thrill for me, and one memorable moment was when the two sections were exchanging plucked phrases. Everyone was great- the orchestra was personally very warm and supportive. The conductor, Daniel Boico, was warm and really enjoyed what he was doing. As he said to us in passing, "If you're not having fun, why do it?"
Ultimately, the stars of the show for me were my bandmates in Életfa. Alex Fedoriouk played cimbalom, and he's one of my musical heroes. When we got on stage, I realized it was just another stage, and we needed to do what we do best: Enjoy ourselves. I was so glad when we started playing and Ildiko (our lead violin) broke out in one of her radiant smiles. Playing with Életfa is one of my greatest joys imaginable.
When we got back to our room, we not only had some home-made palinka, but the Phil left a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. What a classy operation.