.The Transition – from the Oslo Philharmonic to the Des Moines Metro Opera…..
With the final glorious chords of the finale of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony resounding in my ears, I stood behind the Hinger timpani on the stage of the Oslo Konserthus with the orchestra accepting the applause of an appreciative audience for the final time on the evening of June 4, 1998. I could hardly believe that fifteen glorious seasons with the orchestra had just come to an end – gloriously, I admit with Bruckner’s Eighth – but an end, nonetheless. For the final time, I put the head protectors on the drums, making sure the pedals were just so, and then I went and put my stick case in order.
During the week of the concert, since I knew I was leaving Norway for the States on Saturday, June 5th, I had gone through my personal cabinet in the percussion room – going through the many pairs of timpani sticks – making sure that the ones that belonged to the orchestra stayed in the cabinet, and that my personal mallets went into my timpani stick case for the flight home. The previous week, I had made arrangements with my soon-to-be former assistant for him to become the new owner of my two Leedy-Anheier cable drums. I had to divest myself of them as I did not have at the time the resources to move them to the USA or storage space for them in Illinois. In fact, “Illinois” was still of a big unknown, so I decided to keep the move as uncomplicated as possible. Trygve was only too happy to take the drums off my hands for a fair price; I shall be forever grateful to him for helping me out.
I was leaving Oslo only with the personal possessions that would fit in my suitcase and my stick bag. After making sure the drums were in good order (Trygve would use them the following week for the Holmenkollen concert), I went to the NRK recording booth to pick up the DAT tape of the concert, and the, after bidding farewell to my colleagues, went to the orchestra’s offices and dropped off the tape in the orchestra’s sound archives. I had been the sound archivist for the last two seasons, and this was my last official duty. I then walked out of the offices at Haakon VIIs gate for good. The next time I would walk through those doors would be nearly nineteen years later, when I visited Oslo in 2017. I went back to my room, still in concert attire – since it was a warm night, and I would be taking my tails with me – it seemed the simplest way to get them back to my room was to wear them. Instead of taking the T-banen, I took a taxi back to my abode. This way, I wouldn’t be getting any stares from the general public.
Back to the States
I spent the rest of that evening packing the bags that I would take with me, and on Saturday morning, June 5, 1998, was driven to the airport by my good friend Geir Gylseth. He had been my host for the past year as well as a true friend, and our families had become close knit over our years in Norway. It was hard to say good bye to such a friend, not knowing if we would ever see each other again. (We did see each other again, though is was nineteen years later, during our return family visit to Norway in May 2017.) We bid each other farewell, and then it was off to the USA. The flights were thankfully uneventful, and I arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in one piece. It was good to see the family again, and it was good to join them in our Front Street duplex in Mazon. However, for me, it was only for a few days, as I was scheduled to be in Indianola, Iowa for my first season as timpanist of the Des Moines Festival Opera Orchestra. Joy was set to drive me out there in time for the first rehearsals, and as we only had one car, I would be on my own for a period of six weeks. I would miss the family, but luckily it would be for a relatively short period of time in comparison with my last season in Oslo, and I would actually be earning something right away, even for that short period of time. How I got the job is a story in itself. I will be blogging about my nineteen seasons with the Des Moines Metro Opera in separate posts, but I’ll tell the story of how I got the job with DMMO below.
The Des Moines Metro Opera – and how I got there…
I will retell some of this in more detail in blog posts devoted to my years with the company, but the story actually begins in the summer of 1980. I had a good friend in Albany, New York, at the time, and we were both musicians. His wife at the time was a very talented singer and had been accepted as an apprentice artist with the Des Moines Metro Opera, which was in its seventh season. I joined them for a cross-country trip to drop my friend’s wife off in Indianola, and then my friend and and I would drive to Denver, where I had an audition with the Denver Symphony scheduled. After the audition (which I did not win), I spent three weeks or so in Utah wit my buddy, then we drove back to Indianola to pick up his wife before returning to Albany. Before doing so, my friend and I had a chance to attend the final performance of the 1980 season, which happened to be a performance of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.
The performances of the opera company took place in the Pote Theater of the Blank Performing Arts Center. The theater is a circular venue – seating about four hundred sixty-six people, and is intimate enough to give a good view of the stage no matter where one sits. That is one of the charms of the venue – you get the feel of a theater-in-the round. The orchestra pit was more traditional back then, and a lot smaller than it is nowadays. The pit was later renovated and increased in size, but that did not happen until 1988. My friend and I sat in the back row and enjoyed the performance. Back in 1980, one could view the stage performers as well as the orchestra, and I noted that the timpanist of the day, Kevin Wilmering, had his personal set of Hinger timpani in the pit. I enjoyed the performance immensely, and watched carefully the direction of the conductor, Dr. Robert L. Larsen, who was co-founder and Artistic Director of the Opera Festival. Little did I know that twenty-four years later, I myself would be the timpanist in that pit, playing the very same opera under that same conductor.
Fast-forward ahead to winter of 1998. These were my last months in Oslo, Norway. I had heard of an opening for timpanist with a company called the Des Moines Metro Opera through a combination of it being brought to my attention through a notice in the International Musician, the musician’s union paper and my host. I had apparently either missed it, or he picked up my mail before I could get to it and noticed the advertisement and brought it to my attention. He knew that I would need some kind of income – even it was only seasonal and he wasted no time in letting me know about it. My memory of exactly how it came to my notice is a bit sketchy after twenty-five years, but as far as I can remember, that is how I came to hear about the vacancy. The notice specified taped auditions, and the place where the submissions were to be sent as well as a deadline. Of course, one needed to send one’s resume in as well. It took me a little while to recall that this was the same company that I visited nearly eighteen years previously. After discussing this thoroughly with my friend, I sent a letter of inquiry and a request to the company for more details. They responded promptly with the required information, and I soon found myself practicing the repertoire list, and preparing to record my audition.
I was most fortunate in having the resources of the orchestra at my disposal. There were several separate large practice rooms in the basement of the orchestra’s office building; they were large and spacious and almost ideal for my purposes. I had the orchestra’s set of Light Metropolitans put in the largest of them, and that became my practice “home” for about two weeks. I borrowed a special DAT recording device, and was able to put together an adequate audition recording, including all of the required excerpts. Since I did not have a recording of me performing solo repertoire, I was able to add a performance of the finale of Mahler’s Fifth from our 1996 BBC Proms appearance. Once I had played the tape in and assembled it in a coherent fashion, and having played the audition to several colleagues both beforehand and after it was taped, I sent it off to Indianola to await results. It was several weeks before I heard back from the opera, and the result was positive. They apparently liked my tape and credentials enough to hire me for the 1998 Summer Festival. Once I returned to the USA, I was Indianola-bound!