There’s always a bit of added stress to waking up on the west coast; two dozen emails already awaiting response from people who’ve been up for hours. It gives mornings a certain frantic quality, a burst of super-productivity followed by an over-caffeinated lull. Luckily I’m staying in a fairly secluded and quite beautiful house in Hollywood, with a kind host, friendly dog, and a nice Czech piano.
I’ve been in L.A. since Monday, rehearsing for this weekend’s concerts with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Wild Up. There is much to do. Of primary concern is my new piece, Old Keys. Rehearsing a brand-new orchestra piece is a process fraught with worry, all the more so in this case because I’ve tried a bunch of new things. There are sections that sound a hundred times better than I’d imagined, but in equal measure, sections where I’m beginning to puzzle over my own intentions. There are couple of parts that become crazily dense, almost like Ives; I adore Ives, of course, but should one really look to him as an orchestrational model? Perhaps it’s OK to be willfully dense at times. At least it would be reflective of me, personally.
Wild Up is absolutely fantastic. They’re playing my “election septet” Some Connecticut Gospel tonight and tomorrow afternoon. I took great pains to get to a late night rehearsal in Pasadena, to find that they didn’t need my help at all (rest assured, Andrew, Missy, you’re in good hands). It was, however, worth going to the rehearsal simply to observe the Wild Ups in their natural habitat: the top floor of a soon-to-be-defunct furniture store, partially finished but equipped with an upright piano, kitchenette, several mattresses, (possibly stray?) dog, not a single window, and more space than a New Yorker could even imagine. It could have been alarmingly David Lynchian if not for the resident musicians, friendly and convivial and happy to stay up late playing together.
I’ve had a lot of cause this year to practice my Coronation Concerto remix, and it does get a little better each time; it’s a frustrating not to be able to go back and apply that progress to the recording we did in September. There are always new things to bring out, hand-crossings and fingerings to improve, timings to adjust.
I like concertos that start with a solo passage. But the Coronation starts with a big orchestral tutti, as was standard in a Classical concerto. There’s something about sitting silently at the piano while the orchestra plays for two or three minutes that I find intensely nerve-racking; I’m not nervous up until this point, when my entrance begins to approach inexorably and I start to contemplate all the things that could go wrong. Because of this, inevitably, I flub something. It’s diabolical! Just give me something little to do first thing, like the opening bars of Beethoven’s fourth, and I’m happy. It’s the sitting there waiting that kills me. I don’t know what to do with my hands! This is similar to my feelings on pre-concert activities. That is, I need to have them. Ask me to give a pre-show talk, greet people in the lobby, iron your shirt, take tickets, anything to get me out of my dressing room, where I’ll sit and repeatedly check my email (which at this point in the day has mostly ceased to arrive), getting progressively more jittery. If I did yoga, I might at this point do yoga, but I don’t.
Cabbage is lately taking a more prominent role in my life. For so large and vegetable they are easily overlooked in the grocery store; this even seems to be true for the violently purple ones. My friend Tamar Adler’s excellent book An Everlasting Meal has a number of brilliant ideas about cabbage (among many other things) and inspired me to pick up one of the curly green ones called Savoy. I cooked it to the brink of its life in the anchovy-garlic-chili base I’m so fond of, with some spicy sausage and pecorino over some short, chewy pasta. And a couple of excellent meals I’ve had this week in L.A.‘s Thai Town have integrated cabbage excitingly: an almost Flintstones-esque plate of sausage chunks served over a giant wedge of pale green, raw cabbage, accompanied by peanuts and ginger; and a brilliantly refreshing salad of shrimp, lemongrass, and shredded cabbage dressed with a lot of lime and fish sauce. What a versatile thing!