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Hannes Kling doesn’t get frazzled.
Once, an electrical problem snuffed the stage lights for a solo piano recital. Kling, the production manager for the La Jolla Music Society, helped rig up a portable light so that the soloist could see the keyboard.
Another time, a visiting orchestra arrived with a damaged trombone that couldn’t be used at the performance. Kling borrowed a trombone from his father, an amateur musician.
Electrical troubleshooter, instrument procurer, bouncer: Kling has even protected performers from over-zealous fans by blocking the door leading backstage.
Kling is the offstage conductor of details, the maestro of such matters as contracts and venues, sound systems and lighting equipment. He helps orchestrate the nomadic life of the decades-old organization that presents music and dance programs.
They star some of the most prestigious performers in the world, and only a handful of San Diego organizations have the wherewithal to bring them here. But it’s not as simple as booking the talent and selling tickets. When Kling does his job well, it means that the performers might one day want to return to San Diego. It also makes it more likely that local audiences will have the positive experiences that the music society wants them to have.
“Hannes knows exactly what to do,” said Christopher Beach, the society’s president and artistic director. “He’s totally unflappable.”
One recent Saturday afternoon, Kling, 47, crouches in his office at the music society, folding metal music stands into a large tote bag. The stands are for that evening’s sold-out concert by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, an offshoot of the famous English orchestra.
Grabbing the tote bag with the music stands, he walks to another room at the music society’s office and picks up the bulky portable sound system that will be needed at the evening’s pre-concert lecture. Then he drives his Nissan a half mile to the concert site at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla. He parks at the loading dock near the museum’s 492-seat Sherwood Auditorium.
“On concert days, this is part of my life — hauling stuff,” Kling says.
Unlike a performing organization with its own venue, the music society is a presenting organization that hires outside performers and uses a variety of sites. The current season includes orchestras, chamber groups, soloists, jazz, and dance events that are split among six venues: Copley Symphony Hall, Civic Theatre, Balboa Theatre, the Birch North Park Theatre, the Neurosciences Institute, and Sherwood Auditorium.
The organization’s budget this year is $3.5 million, which is modest compared to the budgets of such organizations as the San Diego Symphony, about $18 million, or San Diego Opera, about $16 million.
Kling is at just about every performance, wearing a shiny nametag. Tall and bearded, he’s unfailingly gracious and has an Old World demeanor that would suit an administrator at a 19th-century German concert hall. (Hannes, after all, is short for Johannes, as in Brahms, the composer.)
But before the nametag goes on, most people won’t see Kling. Much of his work happens in the hours, days, weeks, and months before concertgoers arrive. On the day of a concert, he’s the one to ask about just about anything.
One task is making certain that touring performers have everything they need, in accordance with their contracts. Forget outrageously demanding pop or rock stars. The society’s performers are much more reasonable.
But in the case of symphony orchestras, the catering requirements are substantial. The society’s next big show is Friday night at downtown’s Civic Theatre. The society’s guest for that performance, the mighty Vienna Philharmonic, requests at least 120 bottles of water in addition to coffee, tea, snacks and sandwiches.
Back in La Jolla on this particular Saturday afternoon, Kling spends about two hours working with the museum’s events technician on the stage lighting. Kling is thoroughly familiar with the lighting design; he uses the same setup during SummerFest, the society’s annual festival.
One of the 32 lights has burned out and is replaced. Adjusting them all is crucial. If the lights shine in the musicians’ eyes, the musicians will have blind spots when they look at each other or at the pages of music on their stands. If the illumination is too dim, the audience won’t see the performers well. And if a 20-pound lighting fixture is loose, it could fall onstage, causing serious injury.
By 5:30 p.m., the lighting is all set and Kling has traded casual attire for a suit and tie. He confers with the stage manager and others involved in the performance. Because the weather has been windy and rainy, he checks to see that debris has been swept from the outdoor walkway and that the concession stand will be moved inside the lobby.
“Even if there’s an empty toilet paper holder, I’ll be notified,” says Kling.
At 5:45 p.m., the musicians arrive to rehearse in the hall before their program of works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Shostakovich. The four violinists, two violists, and two cellists tramp in with the confidence of globe-traveling pros. They find the lighting a bit too bright and Kling has it turned down. Snacks and beverages await the musicians downstairs.
Kling, however, is getting hungry. He dashes to a nearby café but says he doesn’t have time to eat there. He orders a hot vegetable sandwich to go, and returns to the auditorium. During a talk before the concert about the featured composers, Kling spends a few minutes standing and eating his meal in a backstage corner so that the smell of his sandwich won’t permeate the stage.
The 8 p.m. concert goes smoothly. The musicians display energy and precision. The audience enthusiastically applauds. There are no mishaps requiring Kling’s attention. Nevertheless, he hovers in the wings, keeping close watch on the stage.
During the final piece in the program, Mendelssohn’s “Octet for Strings,” Kling finally has a chance to relax and listen to the concert he has worked so hard to make possible. Melodies sing, rhythms dance, and vibrant sonorities add to the ear-tingling immediacy that a recording can never duplicate.
“It would be fairly easy to get jaded in this job,” says Kling. “But when the musicians play, it makes everything fresh again — the music and artistry are so wonderful.”
After the end of the piece, the audience applauds so long that the musicians come back onstage for an encore. They play Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Then the audience departs and the musicians pack up their instruments and return to their hotel.
Kling folds the music stands, helps stack the chairs, and wheels them into a storage area.
At 10:29 p.m., the stage is bare; the auditorium, empty.
After more than 10 hours, Kling reaches the end of his work day. He leaves the lights for the security staff to turn off, and makes his exit.