Preisner, Poland and er... Personal Growth This month our hero finds himself in Cracow on a scary session in an unfinished concert hall; the leader sacks half the orchestra but Mitch makes the cut...
FOR THOSE OF YOU who have never visited Cracow, Poland’s unofficial cultural and artistic capital (with due respect to Warsaw), the city is a stunning architectural masterpiece and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. For various reasons, both The Nazis and the ‘liberating’ Russian army decided to leave the place intact. It has a long history and its recent tragic past is in evidence pretty much in whichever direction one cares to walk.
The purpose of my visit was to participate in the inaugural concerts to mark the opening of the superb new Cracow concert hall and ICE convention complex. The music had been commissioned especially for the event and consisted of about 90 minutes of new material written by Zbigniew Preisner for orchestra, choir and soloists - cello, electric cello, keyboards, percussion, solo voice and er.... Spanish guitar. That is some considerable undertaking but Preisner is some composer - you could do a lot worse with your time than checking out his website.
As these events go, it was a pretty big deal. The first concert was packed with an invited audience of Poland’s Great and Good while the second show sold out in hours. The event was recorded for TV broadcast and video use. And, as is often the way with these massive gigs, it’s a stressful business for all concerned.
The musical forces were huge. The staging was elaborate. The lighting was spectacular. The sound mix was complex. Oh... and the futuristic 2000-seat concert hall turned out not to be an avant garde work of art as I had first assumed. They hadn’t finished it! Which made for an alternative rehearsal experience. Personally, I thought that the blend of feedback, drilling, hammering and banging blended well with a minimalist orchestral mix. However, Preisner didn’t quite see it that way. He had sacked most
I thought the blend of drilling, hammering and banging blended well with the minimalist mix.
of the orchestra a couple of days before. Fair enough. The replacement band could actually play. Very well indeed.
As I mentioned, it’s inevitably a tense business at these events. No matter. I had my own practical arrangements to make. I had been asked to bring two instruments, for which two separate seats had been purchased on the plane, both in the name of Mr Guitar. To make the game more entertaining, the outbound flight had been routed from Heathrow to Cracow via a change at Warsaw, while the return leg for myself and The Fabulous Guitar Twins involved a direct flight from Cracow. Back to Gatwick. Ho hum.
My first executive decision was to perform the pieces that featured me with but one instrument, the Takamine nylon-string electro that is perfect for these occasions. My next task was to locate the hired AER acoustic amplifier and guitar stands that had been requested. Imagine my total lack of surprise upon discovering that they were nowhere to be seen and that no one knew anything about them. Luckily they arrived after a couple of hours.
By the end of the first day’s rehearsal I had organised my modest contribution to the proceedings. The Takamine signal was split so that a DI box fed the sound to the mixing board while I monitored my stage sound using the acoustic amp. I used my own headphones in order to follow the click track and the solo voice. And I listened to the orchestra and choir acoustically while following Preisner’s conducting.
The following day consisted of a full Dress Rehearsal, camera run and then the show. It all seemed to go off very well. Even I was relatively pleased with my efforts. Mr P invited me to dinner at his apartment on the first evening. He threw an after show party for us at a delightful restaurant on the last night. I was well paid. And fed. And accommodated. What’s not to like?