Though I’m sure he’ll hate me for titling this post thusly (and by way of explanation for those of you who don’t already know), “Loafy” has long been my pet name for my “little brother” (it feels weird to say “little brother,” when I’m over 40 and he is approaching birthday #40 this year).
But it felt even weirder, this past weekend – in a good way, to see him begin a new phase of his career. This past weekend (Thursday, actually), I flew out to California to see my “little brother,” Loafy, stand in the very place Mozart himself stood as he raised the baton for the very first time and conducted Opera San José’s Friday, April 27 performance of The Magic Flute.
How many people can say that? I truly wondered that, as a little thrill ran through me as I sat in the audience and watched him enter to the applause of a nearly-full, paying house of opera aficionados. Mozart’s operas are among the world’s most popular, obviously, and they’ve been played nearly constantly since he wrote them. And there’s usually an opera company in most major cities in the world (at least European ones, or ones descended or colonized by Europeans). So a fair number of people have been involved in a lot of productions of The Magic Flute over the years. But even being able to play in an orchestra for an opera of any size is a huge accomplishment – years of training, practice, and a genuine love for the form are merely the entrance exam to get an audition. To actually get the seat, you must be good. And even then, there are dozens of musicians who comprise the entire tonal palette of an opera’s orchestra, just as there are with a symphony.
But in every production, there is only one conductor.
Mozart, as the author of the works was (obviously) the first. And now, after only 217 years, my little brother takes his place as one of the very few others since Mozart who are good enough to stand in the very spot the master once stood, and direct an entire orchestra full of some of the world’s best musicians in his stead, and in his legacy.
Though the online program in the link above lists his role as Assistant Conductor, there is really no such thing as an “Assistant Conductor.” There is no way to “assist” a conductor; “Understudy” would be a more accurate word, because at each performance, there is only ONE person standing on the podium with the baton in his hand. The other conductor listed is Opera SJ’s usual conductor, but he and Bruce had to learn the same amount for this performance, had to study equally, just as an understudy for a role has to practice as much as the lead, for the times when they are on stage in the performance.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m more than just proud enough to burst, I’m literally amazed by and honored to be present at that kind of achievement. Bruce has been beetling away on his career since before he left college (his undergraduate and Masters’ degrees were both in music), so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. However, it’s one thing to know that your brother or someone you know is making progress in a certain field, has worked in it for a long time, and quite another to sit in a theater and see the house lights dim, the curtains part, and watch that person (seemingly) effortlessly lead such a complex process with such amazing focus and a small occasional smile which left no doubt about its meaning: “behold,” it said (though Bruce himself would never use such language to self-describe), “THIS is what my life is about; this is (in part) what I am.”
Indeed. Though the online CV posted for Bruce at Opera SJ lists him as “Chorus Master,” a job he’s held for a couple of years now, he’s worked very hard to learn the conductors’ art, and it was both a joy and an honor to be there for his first performance. We drank champagne after the performance on Friday night, and of course we toasted Bruce’s very first success at conducting…but most of you weren’t there, either to witness the performance or to partake of the toast, so this is my way of shouting from the rooftops what deserves to be thusly shouted.
I love you, Bruce; it was a joy to watch you in your element.