Running on MTT

September 25th, 2006

So it was Sept. 1, the first taping day of our new (second) season, and I strolled into the KQED building with a selection of the shirts my wife makes for me, along with a couple Tupperwares of cookies that my sister-in-law Nancy had home-baked for my guest, San Francisco Symphony maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, and our crew. Slung over my shoulder was a case containing the oboe that I had borrowed from the Symphony's soon-to-retire English horn player, Julie Ann Giacobassi. The idea was that I was going to play a bit of oboe for MTT -- though, after a lesson earlier that week with Symphony principal oboist Bill Bennett had reminded me of why I'd long ago given up on becoming a professional musician (I lacked talent), the idea was filling me with a certain amount of dread. Then again, dread is the constant friend of performers everywhere (not to mention Jews), so I guess I was feeling pretty much at home.

MargariteUpon my arrival on the third floor, the workday began for me as it normally does -- by chatting with the lovely and enigmatic Margarite Jackson da Silva, who seems to bestow upon our floor a kind of beneficent watchfulness. She's way cool, and I suspect she understands many of the secrets of the universe, though if so she's not telling. Officially, Margarite provides all kinds of support for my executive producer, KQED programming director Michael Isip; when I first came to interview with Michael for this job, she instantly relaxed me by pointing out the postcard in her workspace from Haiku Tunnel, the neurotic secretarial movie I'd made with my brother Jake.

LoriA short walk among the cubicles and I reached my own, which, conveniently, is just opposite that of my series producer, Lori Halloran. I showed Lori my shirt selection, we decided on one, and then we talked over how we were going to try to approach the interview. Each on-air conversation is an improvisation between me and the guest, shot pretty much in real time, so of course you can't predict exactly what's going to happen. But since I was going to be playing the oboe for MTT (who, as it turns out, had studied the oboe himself, and so is well aware of the instrument's sadomasochistic effects on those who try to master it), there were certain matters of staging to work out. Also, I was going to be doing my little opening monologue with my guest already in the studio (something we didn't do in our first season), making reshoots inadvisable -- so we wanted to figure out how I'd get myself, and my oboe, from a downstage stool over to MTT on the couch, in a relatively smooth fashion (or at least with nobody getting killed, and no oboes damaged).

KevinAs if on cue, as Lori and I discussed this stuff my director, Kevin Kastle, ambled over. Kevin always seems to be happy and relaxed -- which ends up relaxing me (no mean feat). Kevin and Lori speak to each other in the secret language of people who actually (unlike me) know how television works -- listening to them talking in technicalese, I feel kind of like I did as a little boy when my maternal grandparents spoke Yiddish to each other and I wondered what in the world they might be saying. (Though I think it's fair to generalize that Kevin's and Lori's interactions are a lot less fraught with bitterness than grandma and grandpa's were -- maybe it's because neither of them came from Russia.)

VictorEventually Lori and Kevin headed down to the second floor, to brief the crew on the approaching taping, while I swung around the corner to say hi to our new intern, a talented young filmmaker named Victor Tran, who was deeply focused on logging the footage from a "Wandering Josh" shoot. (Nonetheless, I did manage to elicit this action photo of him.) Victor's done a hypnotic and cool short doc, titled "The One Inch Punch," that's become a cult hit on YouTube; watch it here, if you dare. It's great to have him around this season, and I can tell it will be a challenge to break his spirit (the ultimate fate of all interns everywhere), especially given his martial-arts background.

Josh plays for Michael Tilson ThomasFinally, it was showtime. I went downstairs to the studio, got miked up, poured myself some very strong coffee, soaked my oboe reeds, and chatted with our wonderfully warm crew. (The studio itself, by contrast, is wonderfully cold -- I love it that way, and the crew members, huddled in sweaters and shawls and such, are kind enough to indulge me.) MTT -- taller than I'd expected, and with a disarming graciousness -- came in and took his place on the couch. Clutching Julie's oboe, I took my place on the stool, reminding myself not to try to force anything -- to let the interview unfold however it may (though I knew I'd be taking at least a few minutes to rave about the San Francisco Symphony's extraordinary new public-TV series, Keeping Score: Revolutions in Music, which MTT hosts). The countdown ensued, and about a half-hour later the taping was over. What happened in between remains, as always, quite hazy in my memory, but can be witnessed tonight on our season premiere at 7:30 (and on Friday night at 10:30). I do recall that I played the oboe and that nobody died -- so I'd have to guess that, all in all, it was a good day.

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  • 1. noelle  |  September 25th, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    did you get a new cameraman? It seemed wobbly.

  • 2. GEO  |  September 25th, 2006 at 9:05 pm


    I’ve seen your show a couple of times. I’ve always thought you were a bit of a nudge.

    Dude, take a ‘lude. You are a bit too anxious.

    But then, I’m not a mentsh all the time at all, though my shviger loves me.

    I was about to turn the TV off when then, shazaam!, MTT appeared. Talk about channeling Lennie. Whew!

    A little history here. My BIL and his wife are both professional oboe players and Fred teaches oboe. My wife is a professional flautist who teaches as well. I enjoy classical music but jazz is my calling, and I ‘m a hack bass viol player. I grew up on Lennie’s kid’s concerts in NY but classical music just could not reach into my darkest recesses and draw me out. Enough already.

    I enjoyed your interview with MTT. You must have been schvitzing playing your oboe for him. Very mutek.

    MTT is the hottest thing at the symphony since Seiji Ozawa, but then I came back to Califas in 1970.

    As they said at the Fillmore, “Rock on!”.

    Catch ya on the flip side.


  • 3. Julie Bernstein  |  September 27th, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    Bravo Josh! The Firebird is one of my very favorite pieces. It must have been quite a thrill for you to be conducted by MTT himself.

  • 4. Gordon halloran  |  October 9th, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    Personally I liked the part about your great producer – Lori Halloran…such a talent! such a talent!

  • 5. Josh Kornbluth  |  October 17th, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    Gordon: I am delighted that you appreciate the fine work of your daughter! (And by the way, we should have you on the show sometime, to show and talk about your amazing artwork.) … Julie: I feel the same way about “The Firebird” — and yes, it was a thrill! … GEO: I’ll start taking ‘ludes as soon as they make a version that tastes and acts exactly like coffee. … And Noelle: We were using the same (great) camera operators — what made the images more wobbly was that we were using two handheld cameras, as an experiment.

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