Stern Grove: Adventures in the Fog

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I love it when we perform at Sigmund Stern Grove during what San Franciscans whimsically call the “summer”. It’s a beautiful setting; a natural amphitheater surrounded by tall trees. You have the pungent aroma of eucalyptus and pine, the bracing sea breeze and—the fog.

It’s always an adventure presenting an outdoor dance event at Stern Grove because (as Mark Twain noted) it can be very cold in San Francisco in the summer. Our dancers are contractually protected from having to perform in conditions which might make them vulnerable to injuries, including extremes in temperature. Luckily, we’ve never had to cancel an entire performance at the Grove due to cold temperatures. The Ballet brings along big space heaters to position around the stage, and our production crew keeps an eye out to see that the dancers are as comfortable as possible.

But the excitement of performing for an enthusiastic audience 14,000 strong (as a comparison the War Memorial Opera House holds about 3,200) in such a beautiful setting is worth all the challenges to be met in giving an outdoor concert. The orchestra plays on a temporary “pit” that’s set up with sheets of plywood flooring on the ground in front of the stage. This puts us in intimate contact with the front rows of the audience, who are only separated from the musicians by a rope, and always leads to enjoyable conversations.

Here are some photos I took during our 2007 performance at the Grove. First, you can see the musicians arriving for the pre-concert rehearsal. This is the only rehearsal the orchestra will have for the show. A few intrepid audience members are already there at 10am to reserve their seats.

The orchestra gathers

The orchestra gathers

Audience early birds are gathering too

Audience early birds are gathering too

Production crew members are helping the musicians get set up. Note the grey ‘carbon-fiber’ cello on the left in the photo below. Musicians are loathe to bring their best “axes” to an outdoor performance where the sun and damp can both do serious damage to expensive and delicate instruments.

Getting set up

Getting set up

Playing outdoors has other perils—like uninvited insect visitors in the pit.

“I’m not letting that thing crawl up my leg!”

Cliff Foster, Patty Van Winkle, and a BIG BUG (not pictured)

Our intrepid bass players. Note the microphone. The orchestra is amplified to compensate for the acoustics of the outdoor venue and give the audience as close to a “concert hall” sound as possible.

The bass section

The bass section

You can tell from violinist Dale Chao’s expression that it’s still pretty cold at 10am. Note the propane space heater on stage in the background.

Brrrrrr!

Brrrrrr!

The Production Team: Lefty Lefcourt, Tiffani Snow & Jane Green

Left to Right: Production Manager Lefty Lefcourt, Assistant. Stage Manager Tiffani Snow, and Stage Manager Jane Green.

The dancers begin to warm up

The dancers begin to warm up

Hats and gloves are standard dress for the musicians when they play outdoors. Note the scarf wrapped around a violin to protect it from the fog and sun.

Hats, gloves and scarf

Hats, gloves and scarf

The Grove concert is a nice opportunity for the orchestra musicians to see each other during the ballet “off season” and catch up on the news.

Robin Hansen and Patty Van Winkle have a laugh

Robin Hansen and Patty Van Winkle have a laugh

Tom Rose, the Ballet Orchestra Personnel Manager, makes sure all the musicians have signed the “Green Sheets” so their participation will be recorded with the Musician’s Union. Note the metal and plastic clips attached to the folders on the music stands. These are long, transparent “wind clips” that we use outdoors to keep gusts of wind from blowing the music pages around.

Tom Rose checks the “Green Sheets”

Tom Rose checks the “Green Sheets”

The orchestra rehearsal begins, and everyone gets a chance to warm up their fingers with some Strauss.

Music Director Martin West leads the rehearsal

Music Director Martin West leads the rehearsal

After the rehearsal the orchestra takes a break and heads over to the food vendors for some high-cholesterol nourishment. At concert time the sun still hasn’t come out, but temperatures have warmed up and the orchestra and dancers present Paul Taylor’s “Spring Rounds” for an enthusiastic audience.

The performance begins!

The performance begins!

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3 Comments

  1. avatar Dave Daniels
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Loved these photos!

  2. avatar Joline
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I cant wait to see the real performance. Will be there early! ^_^

  3. avatar Burlington Willes
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for these wonderful photographs. For those
    of us who are great fans of SFB but are unable to
    attend on Sunday, we sincerely hope you and perhaps
    Erik Tomason can post photos of the performance. It
    seems such a long time before we will see the dancers again in December.

    Burlington Willes

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