concert review: concerto for florist

George Schlatter, creator of the late 60s/early 70s classic TV show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, recently said this about entertainer Tiny Tim of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” fame: “One time we filled his dressing room with flowers and he came out crying because he said we had killed the flowers!”–Quoted in the Los Angeles Times

Well, I didn’t cry, but by the end of the world premiere performance of Mark Applebaum’s Concerto for Florist and Orchestra many flowers had given their lives in the name of art. I wrote a quick post last week about this odd little bit of music theater that was going to be played by the La Jolla Symphony with florist soloist James DelPrince. Saturday night I went to the concert.

Some of the buckes of flowers before the soloist and orchestra took to the stage

Over the course of three movements the solo florist arranged flowers manically while the orchestra plunged into a score that had some really strikingly beautiful passages as well as some butt-kicking moments. In one of the movements the strings slid around in quietly dissonant clouds of sound while tuned gongs sounded above the clouds. In another the orchestra bounced along on tricky rhythms, egged on by the percussion. And at the end the ensemble pretty much fizzled out in an orchestrated dissolution of the music. All this time the florist attacked buckets of raw floral material and stabbed the stems into bricks of green florist foam.

The set piece that was constructed during the second movement

While all this was happening I kept withing the florist would disappear so that I could just concentrate on the music. I’m sure there were others who’d have preferred the orchestra take their dissonant chords home and let the florist arrange away in peace. Whatever. In the end it wasn’t much more than a stunt. Still, the stunt pretty much filled the hall, and the piece got more applause than you’d have experience downtown at the more staid symphony.

Part of the floral creation that was made during the third movement grand finale

Before the concert the composer had a chance to speak, and said something like how he was bored of a lot of regular music and that he’d “rather fail in an interesting way than succeed at doing something normal.” So yes, I think he managed to fail interestingly.

As far as the floral creations, they were nice enough, but I think I’ve seen much more compelling avant-garde arranging done. Just think of the amazing Japanese ikebana creations that you can see every now and then. The arrangements reminded me of the monster showpiece “cakes” that you see assembled on the reality TV subgenre devoted to cake decorating and cake decorating competitions. They’re always impressive because of the sheer size and fragility, but so often the ideas behind the cakes just seem trite. Sorry. I sound like such a snot sometimes.

At the conclusion of the Concerto for Florist and Orchestra everyone with a cellphone camera had to make their way up on stage to snap some shots of the finished arrangement

So, are there any reality TV shows devoted to florists? Florists working with stressed people trying to prepare for a wedding? Or dealing with grieving families after a loved one has passed on? Or working with the hapless bachelor trying to impress the new love interest with a pile of so many dead roses Tiny Tim would be bawling? If Bravo or Lifetime suddenly comes up with one, remember you saw the idea here first.

6 thoughts on “concert review: concerto for florist”

  1. Here’s a Wikipedia quote on Ikebana: The spiritual aspect of ikebana is considered very important to its practitioners. Silence is a must during practices of ikebana. It is a time to appreciate things in nature that people often overlook because of their busy lives. One becomes more patient and tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but also in general. Ikebana can inspire one to identify with beauty in all art forms.

    So, this particular endeavor was probably exactly the opposite, with attention grabbing music in front and the audience in back, what would the florist do but fall back on the conventional?

    Still, sounds like a fun event. (I’ve wanted to take Ikebana for a long time, but minimum class length is 3 hours, and I just can’t fit it in right now)

  2. James, This sounds intriguing, but I think I too would prefer to enjoy my flower arranging and modern music separately. As you’ve described them, the two forms of art seem more at war with one another than complementary.

  3. Interesting. It sounds like it might have worked better if the composer had either approached everything more comically, or had choreographed it more – with a flower-strewing modern dancer or something; either way, with more interplay betw/ the two “contestants” in the concerto. I can’t help wondering why he kept them so irrelevant to each other!

  4. Sounds like the conductor would get lots of feedback from the audience if he was open to it, for what they would like for next time. However, that rarely happens with artists being that it’s personal expression rather than collective, they do what they do, and you can take it or leave it.

    I’ve enjoyed flower arranging ever since taking part in school-wide flower shows in elementary school, but would do it in silence like Town Mouse suggests, or with my friend, Mozart. I find it an occupation where I rarely ‘think’, as well. Nice!

  5. TM, I tried to myself something approximating ikebana out of a pile of books many years ago, but I think it’s something you need some human guidance to be able to do well. I did enjoy the quiet focus that you need to learn how to shape each of the materials to it full potential. I couldn’t imagine trying to do it to the accompaniment of gongs and sliding strings. But hey, it was fun.

    EE, I hope I didn’t make it sound TOO distasteful. The orchestra, being allied to a research university, values research in all its guises, scientific and aesthetic.

    Jean, the idea of the piece was interesting, certainly. But I think writing a great novel (or piece of music) is different from having the idea for a great novel or piece of music. Someone I knew landed a gig writing the great novel for someone who was too lazy to do it himself, someone who thought having the idea was enough.

    Stacy, the score deliberately was off in its own world. The composer even though it could be “re-scored” for many alternate soloists: locksmiths, composers…pick a profession. The composer of the piece said he’d be interested in places where the soloist and musicians suddenly came together through pure coincidence–and interesting idea, but I wish there was more of it.

    Sue, I could see that there could be dozens of ideas that people could come up with that they think would have improved the experience. Some artists listen, others just go on to the next thing. About background music, I could see myself launching the Mozart clarinet quintet for a relaxed half hour of arranging some cut flowers. I’m not sure I’d want an audience, though…

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