Shelley Plays Gershwin
Who: Pianst Howard Shelley with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, Jorge Mester, music director, performing a program of Gershwin, Rachmaninoff and Brahms
Where: Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 4822 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 29
Tickets: $50, $29 for students
Information and reservations: 597-1900 or www.thephil.org
The Naples Philharmonic has to get its music, equipment, personnel and solo pianist Howard Shelley from Naples to Orlando after its high-energy Gershwin concert here next Thursday.
It could be worse: They could be hauling Shelley’s piano, too.
British pianist Shelley says he’s not one of the rarified legends who negotiate having their piano travel along. He’s not even one of many more pianists who insist on shipping their piano action — the segment of the piano with the keyboard and its hammers — with them.
“It’s a temptation,” Shelley admits. “You’re talking about subtleties shading and dynamics that are so important.”
Orchestral travel is a carefully planned adventure in which everything the musicians and directors hold dear has to move with them — or they must improvise. Shelley does it every time he sits down at a different piano. The Naples Philharmonic does it every time they must walk into an auditorium where they’re not familiar with the acoustics.
Shelley records so often with the Tasmanian Symphony in Australia, for which he is music director, that the orchestra had a sound reflector built for its piano, much like the one he carries with him for conducting-performance tours in Europe. The reflector pushes the piano sound out toward the audience and allows Shelley to simultaneously play and conduct without sacrificing sound in the hall.
He didn’t bring it to the U.S. last year when he came for a joint conducting-performance concert because the price would be prohibitive. This year Naples Philharmonic Music Director Jorge Mester is conducting, and all Shelley needs is his music.
“All” is relative, he reminds you.
“The heaviest part of our packing is my music, and you have to carry it on because you don’t want to put it in the hold in case your luggage goes missing. But it does tend to weigh you down very heavily.”
Shelley says he and his wife, pianist Hilary Macnamara, even have to weigh their sheet music to stay within limits. With Shelley’s career focus on recording many different composers, he can’t memorize all his solos. Even his recorded output defies memorization. Shelley is an enthusiastic researcher of tangential period composers and recently recorded his 100th disc.
“I’m learning literally millions of notes a year,” he said in a phone interview from his London home. “It’s impossible to memorize them all. I do have to know the music, and really there is a lot of it that I’m not depending on the music. But I don’t have it 100 percent memorized.”
For the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, General Manager Charles Gottschalk has other logistics issues:
n how many musicians will be on the bus the Philharmonic charters. Some of them will prefer to travel on their own and enjoy a Sunday at one of Orlando’s theme parks.
n where this assembled multitude will sleep.
n how many containers the instruments will require.
n what kind of general acoustics the orchestra will be dealing with.
n where they can find other instruments if any of their equipment is damaged in transit. Gottschalk must locate a music store that will supply emergency instruments.
“It hasn’t happened to me,” Gottschalk said. “But I knew a musician who told me about a time when the orchestra was traveling and there was an accident with the van equipment van and some of the instruments were damaged. The musicians were scrambling to find rental instruments before the concert started.”
Gottschalk is a former trumpet player who toured with the Montovani Orchestra and played on the Chicago Symphony’s one-day trips. The Montovani Orchestra job gave him entree to nearly every type of concert hall in the U.S.: from Severance Hall in Cleveland and Lincoln Center in New York to a high school gymnasium in North Dakota. He remembers a few hair-raising moments among the orchestras he has played in.
“In December, we were on an exit ramp on a bus when we went off the ramp and into a field. It was very icy, too. With Montovani, once we were performing somewhere in Carolinas when the power went out. We knew the piece so well we could pay it from memory. The audience thought we were the greatest.”
Gottschalk said tours are performance tours are so expensive that orchestras can’t book them without underwriter, which is what is paying for the Naples Philharmonic performance in Orlando.Gottschalk has to count on both hands all the expenses, including literal carrying charges.
“There’s the cost of stage hands transporting instruments. In our case, the stage crew will load the truck here, drive to Orlando and set them up, then load in to the stage again.” That process runs in reverse after the performance. Tours that involve air travel are even more tricky.
“Just landing at the airport and getting to hotels is one thing, Then there’s getting from the hotel to the concert.”
The Naples Philharmonic Orchestra generally appears within driving distance of home, however. It has trekked to Miami to play behind the late Luciano Pavarotti and Kiri Te Kanawa, to Daytona Beach for a music festival, and to several cities behind tenor Andrea Boccelli.
Shelley crisscrosses entire continents, and as a soloist, has to worry about performance wear. He recalls days of travel in Eastern Bloc countries, when they were controlled by the former Soviet Union, as his “diabolical tours.”
“It was hard even getting something to eat. You had to pack your own food,” he remembers. “I had to carry a travel iron because there was no place to get things pressed in a hurry.”
He has melded his experience, and the tales from fellow musicians, into a tightly constructed tour regimen, pinpointing sources for music and instruments, so Gottschalk, who once played with Orlando’s orchestra, renewed some contacts.
“We would be covered if anything happens,” he declared.