Circus Maximus in Disney Hall

My friend and former teacher John Corigliano was in LA last week for a performance of his masterpiece “Circus Maximus” with the USC Thornton Wind Ensemble, conducted by H. Robert Reynolds, performing at Disney Concert Hall. I decided, for old time’s sake, to stalk Corigliano while he was in town.

See, I did this before — back in 1993 when I was a junior at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I was a huge Corigliano fan, and Corigliano came to Cleveland for a performance of his Clarinet Concerto (my favorite work of his). I attended the rehearsals of the concerto, sitting a few rows behind Corigliano. When he spoke at the composer forum at CIM that afternoon, I sat in the front row. When he offered scores of the concerto to follow along with his music, my hand went up first. When I saw him walking down the hall of CIM with my teacher Donald Erb, I circled the other way (CIM’s halls were a loop) just so they would walk past me so I could say hello. I went to the pre-concert lecture each night, and two of the three performances of the concerto. I still have one of the ticket stubs. All of this somewhat-creepy stalking was sincere, though, so I don’t think John minded. I mean, I never received a restraining order.

John and I eventually became actual friends after I got over the hero-worship, but that took a long time, and sometimes — like when I hear Circus Maximus — I regress back to being a 19 year old stooge again.

First stop on the Corigliano Stalking Tour of ’08: The composer seminar at USC. John was speaking about Circus Maximus to comp majors at USC on Friday, and of course AEJ and I snuck in. It’s always exciting to hear John talk about his writing process, and he described in great detail — for nearly an hour — the way he planned the structure of Circus Maximus.

Here, John recognizes me — and the camera — and wonders why I’m still following him around.

This is a diagram of Carnegie Hall — and where John would put all of the players around the space for the premiere performance.

We sat next to Bob Reynolds, the USC conductor, and we followed his score while we listened to a recording of the piece. (It was cool to see how H. Bob marked his score.)

After the seminar, Corigliano speaks in the lobby with Reynolds (left) and Frank Ticheli (center).

And then we all went to lunch. I had mini-burgers — that weren’t quite mini-enough to fit into my mouth as I wasn’t able to unhinge my jaw.

From lunch, it was off to rehearsal in Disney Hall.

The band was sounding great. And note to musicians out there: if you’re asked to play with “bells up,” don’t do some lame thing where you raise the bell of your instrument 6 inches higher than usual. Here, the USC clarinets show you how it’s done.

Corigliano listens and takes notes during rehearsal. (Next to him is composer Mark Adamo.)

Bob Reynolds conducted the snot out of the piece. Holding together an ensemble of this size — with a dozen trumpets, several horns, clarinets, the sax section, the double bass, and a marching band all playing from around the hall and not even on the stage! — is no small feat.

Here’s that sax section and double bass player — positioned up in the Disney organ loft.

Corigliano gives notes to the ensemble, which requires a microphone, since so many people weren’t actually on the stage.

Here, Bob conducts, apparently under the light of god.

After rehearsal: dinner! Here, atop a menu, is Bob Reynolds’s baton collection.

We ate at Nick and Stef’s Steakhouse. AEJ had a nice fruity salad.

My salad had roasted beets.

Tom Lee of UCLA (whom I’ve written about before) had a big ol’ steak.

Having eaten those mini-burgers only a few hours before, I opted for crab legs.

Mmm… dessert.

The concert was phenomenal. It was a total who’s-who scene, and felt like a New York new music concert. Or maybe it felt like a national band conference, with conductors and composers everywhere — including everybody from Steven Stucky (winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize) to Jack Delaney (Director of Bands at SMU). In fact, the packed Disney Hall crowd felt a lot like a music conference — except for the odd celebrity who would be unlikely to be at a band conference. I’m looking at you, Kristin Chenoweth.

The LA Times ran a great preview piece for the concert in Saturday’s paper. If you wonder what the deal is with “band,” this article is a great read — complete with quotes from Bob Reynolds, Jerry Junkin, and Corigliano. It’s definitely worth clicking that link.

It was a fun weekend of music, food, and stalking. And one hell of a great performance of a true masterpiece.

If you want to see more pictures from the rehearsals and such, check out the gallery.


Carey says

wow--this day looks amazing!! I'm jealous...

Jonathan says

Besides being jealous of everything that you did, I'm jealous that you got to meet Kristin Chenoweth. I

Jonathan says

love her.

Mark S. says

the clarinet concerto is funny. I laugh everytime I hear it, because it's so cool.

Travis Taylor says

I guess I'm doing an awesome job, you haven't noticed me stalking you just yet... Keep a look out, I'm as stealthy as big foot, and just as big.

I would stalk Corigliano too, but you seem so harmless. I'm 6'3, fat and hairy. I think I'd scare people.


Susie says

Great pix of my dad, the event and the beet salad....yum! Thanks, John.

Montoya says

Does he own any other shirts?


John says

Montoya, you realize all of those pictures were taken on the same day, right?

Montoya says

Kirsten says

You met Kristin Chenoweth?? Forget all these band geeks (esp that H Bob character) - she must have been the coolest person there! I'm super jealous!

Cellist Caroline says

That looks like Donald Crockett in the photo between Roberts and Ticheli.

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