Sunday, March 19, 2006

Putting away the rosin

I'm noting an interesting juxtaposition today. This fall, the Buffalo Bills will kick off their tenth season since quarterback Jim Kelly retired, after himself playing eleven years. Except for a handful of seasons when Doug Flutie was in town, the Bills have mostly been a disappointment since the 1996 campaign ended: Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, and Kelly Holcomb have all come through here, and the Bills are still looking for Kelly's successor. (Losman and Holcomb are still here; their respective juries are still out.)

Contrast that with another local institution, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. This year, the orchestra's concertmaster (the quarterback of the orchestra, if you will), Charles Haupt, is stepping down. He's been in that chair for 37 years -- more than three times as long as Jim Kelly was under center for the Bills, longer than I've been alive, and certainly longer than I've lived in this city. And yet, the BPO will go on. Will the BPO go through a period of doldrums after Haupt lays down his bow for the final time, like the Bills did when Kelly took off his cleats? Probably not. I love sports, but the fact is that art is a lot more durable than sports.

Haupt isn't actually retiring from the violin, I should note -- just his position with the BPO. He's still going to be an active musician. Mary Kunz Goldman has a nice profile of Haupt in today's Buffalo News:

"I happen to love music," he says. "I really feel good when I'm playing."

So good, in fact, that when it came to performing, he was never afraid. Well, hardly ever.

At 17, he played Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnol" with the New York Philharmonic.

"I was peeing my pants," he confesses. The orchestra's famous concertmaster, John Corigliano (the composer's father) tried to offer comfort. "Couragio," he told the young violinist. "I missed that," Haupt jokes, "because I didn't speak Italian."

On stage, though, everything came together. "My fingers just knew what to do," Haupt says.

They didn't shake? Haupt breaks into that attractive grin. "My fingers only shake when I'm stopped for a traffic ticket."

I would like to have read more about Haupt's views on the music -- favorite works, less favorite works, other thoughts on life -- orchestral, musical, and artistic life -- in a city whose artistic vibrance seems to always outstrip its wallet. It also strikes me as odd that the News didn't assign this piece to Herman Trotter, the News's emeritus classical music critic. But Goldman's article is a nice one.

Aside from solo violin passages in orchestral works (he did the solo in the second movement of Brahms's Symphony No.1 particular justice one year), I never heard Haupt play by himself. Still, he was an omnipresent figure at just about every BPO concert I've ever been to, and reading the news of his impending departure reminds me that I've got to start going to BPO concerts again. It's been far too long.

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