LA: It's Sunny Here at John Mackey's Blog

March 31, 2005

LA: It's Sunny Here

Greetings from downlown Los Angeles. AEJ and I arrived yesterday morning after a long but relatively stress-free flight from JFK.
Because we got to the airport so early, we managed to catch an earlier flight than we expected. Arriving in LA an hour early, we had time to check in at the hotel and head out on our search for lunch at — you guessed it — In-N-Out Burger.
I immediately learned that driving anywhere in LA takes a long time. It was noon, but traffic was crazy. In-N-Out was probably 8 miles from our hotel, but it took about 40 minutes to get there. When we did find it, it was mobbed. It seems that we weren’t the only people in LA who wanted a tasty burger for lunch.
After wolfing down our lunch, we rushed to USC for their rehearsal. Running up to the building with only about a minute to spare, I caught my breath as Sharon Lavery, the wind ensemble’s fantastic resident conductor (and the group’s unsung heroine), finished rehearsing. Bob Reynolds took the podium, briefly introduced me to the group, and explained that he’d do the piece in small segments, get my comments, move on, then run it all once through at the end of the hour.

So they started playing. And they sounded fantastic.

I had high hopes, having heard the group at Carnegie Hall in February. This was largely a different set of personnel, though, as players rotate through various groups at USC. As AEJ said, it seems that USC has an awfully deep bench.
The contrabassoon player, for example, is the best I’ve heard anywhere. Great, big, full sound. He nailed every note. You know — the kind of player a composer dreams about. So, take that guy, and multiply him by 60, and you get the USC Wind Ensemble.
Dr. Reynolds stopped every couple of minutes to get my comments, and I was left with basically nothing to say. “Um, the trombones sound unbelievable.” “The soprano sax solo is pretty much perfect.” “I can’t believe how good the contrabassoon player is.” I had nothin’.
The nice thing was that because I had so little to change other than “louder here” or “a little faster there,” we had a lot of extra time in that one-hour rehearsal. This gave me a chance to talk a little with the group. This has never happened before in a large ensemble rehearsal. I usually come to the rehearsal, make my requests, time runs out, and rehearsal ends. Since Dr. Reynolds saw that we had 20 minutes left, I’d given all of my notes, and it was only going to take 9 minutes to run the piece, he took 10 minutes to really introduce me.

He did the coolest thing. He basically interviewed me in front of the whole wind ensemble. He asked me how I started composing, where I went to school, how I got the commission for the original orchestra version, and lots of other great questions. He took questions from the players themselves — things like, how did I come to write a wind version of the piece? It was great. After 10 minutes of chatting with the group, they ran Redline Tango straight through. And it was damn near perfect. It may have been the best I’ve ever heard it. And they still have another rehearsal tomorrow!
After rehearsal, I took a 10 minute nap before AEJ and I met Bob Reynolds for dinner. The food was great (who doesn’t love pecan pie for dessert?!), and the company even better. AEJ and I had a wonderful evening, and our thanks to Bob for a perfect dinner.

Today was Tourist Day. We started by sleeping late, grabbing coffee at the hotel, showering, and heading out to lunch. We drove through Bel Air, and ate lunch in Brentwood. (We even drove down the street where Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered by a still at large killer.) After lunch, we spent a few hours at The Getty Center. I’m not a huge fan of the art in the collection — I prefer more modern works — but the architecture and the gardens were breathtaking. Check it out.
After the Getty, we spent ages stuck in traffic, and finally made our way back to the hotel. After a short nap, we went out for dinner at a great Mexican restaurant called Alegria. (Thanks to my buddy Teddy for recommending that one.) Although we were stuffed, AEJ and I stopped off and picked up some sweet treats on the way back to the hotel, and enjoyed Twinkies while we watched “Survivor” here at the hotel.
Can I just say what a difference it makes traveling with AEJ? If I were here in LA alone, it would be awfully sad and lonely. With AEJ here, though, even when I’m working, it feels like vacation.

Tomorrow, I’m speaking with the Composers’ Forum at USC, followed by a dress rehearsal with the wind ensemble. After that — anything goes! Any recommendations on how AEJ and I should spend our Friday night in LA?

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