Alfred Savia takes questions from the audience in a pre-concert chat prior to his conducting gig with the Lexington Philharmonic. (Below) Moderator Joe Tackett finally got an answer he liked on the bass concerto question. Copyrighted photo by Rich Copley | Lexington Herald-Leader.
Think Alfred Savia was scared last night, conducting a concert with the Lexington Philharmonic that was essentially an audition to become the orchestra's new music director?
Well, consider this from early in Savia's career: At 22, when he was in graduate school, he conducted at a festival of Leonard Bernstein's music, with Bernstein in attendance.
"One of the first public performances I ever had was conducting one of Bernstein's pieces with him in the audience, looking over my left shoulder," Savia recalled at last night's pre-concert chat. "No pressure."
Are you talking about this Lexington gig? Because, you know, conducting Lenny for Lenny would seem to raise the bar for pressure pretty darned high. Like all his predecessors in the search for George Zack's successor, Savia sat for a chat with LPO bassist and librarian Joe Tackett to answer questions before the concert. Out of this season's five contenders, he came across as the least scripted, pulling memories from a career that only appears to be confined to the South and Midwest.
"Tell us about your studies in Siena," a member of the audience asked.
"Ah, now you've tapped another one of my passions, which is Italy," Savia responded. "It's one of those great Tuscan hill towns."
He went on to talk about the Siena, its history and his work there in terms as clear and concise as the concert he conducted an hour later, even drawing a comparison to the town he's vying to become a part of: "The one thing Siena has in common with Lexington is horses. You have the Kentucky Derby, and you raise all these horses here. And at the Piazza del Campo, which has all these cobblestones, they pack dirt around the whole perimeter of the piazza, which is a huge piazza, and they put barriers around the inside of the piazza, and on the outside are all the buildings. And on that pathway, they have this horse race. But it's more than a horse race. It's medieval pageantry, and they dress as they would have in medieval times, and its opulent costumes . . . The race only takes a minute or two, but there's all the pageantry."
In our compressed American sense of time, it sounds somewhat akin to donning a seersucker suit or a wild hat sipping a julep.
On the podium, Savia cut the figure of the football player he once was before a coach told him to choose between the gridiron or clarinet. He usually worked the edges of the stand toward the orchestra, rarely spending more than a second in the middle as he conducted. Make sure to read Loren Tice's review at LexGo.
Savia proved to have the best solution to the question of when to talk to the audience, utilizing the stage changeover time between the first and second pieces on the first half of the concert. He relayed some interesting information about the configuration of the orchestra for Ralph Vaughn Williams' Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and gave the Niles Quartet the recognition it richly deserved. Using the changeover, when we're usually left to watch stagehands work, was an effective approach to talking to the crowd. But if Savia is hired or comes back, he and the orchestra might want to choreograph it better. Giving the hands room to work made Savia prowl the dark edge of the stage. Some people I was sitting near seemed oblivious to the fact someone was in front of the crowd with a microphone and kept on chattering with each other. A spotlight may have highlighted that Savia was back out front.
There was one great moment for pre-show emcee Tackett. After a season of being stymied on his question about how many bass concertos each candidate will program, Savia said, "Ask who my first soloist was in Evansville, this season."
The answer was bassist extraordinaire Edgar Meyer, who played two concertos. Regardless of how anyone else felt, Savia undoubtedly earned some bass cred last night.