Musical Musings

The Sarasota Orchestra Blog

Frédéric François Chopin

Just how well do you know Chopin? A pianist of legendary skill, Chopin wrote pyrotechnic piano pieces that still astound music lovers today (and give budding pianists ongoing consternation!).

Born in Poland, he later settled in France. He had oodles of messy affairs. Here are a few, hopefully surprising, facts about Chopin.

  1. His father was a Frenchmen who married a Polish woman made a living by teaching French and French culture first to the children of rich Polish aristocrats and later at the Warsaw Lyceum. Nevertheless, Chopin's dad loved all things Polish and insisted that they speak Polish at home.
  2. Chopin was a child prodigy. You probably know this. But did you know he was performing publicly and composing by the age of 7?
  3. He had a Parisian posse. Members included. Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Ferdinand Hiller, Heinrich Heine, Eugène Delacroix, Alfred de Vigny, Julian Fontana, and of course, his on-again, off-again lover George Sand. #SquadGoals
  4. Chopin rarely played publicly: The musicologist Arthur Hedley wrote: "As a pianist Chopin was unique in acquiring a reputation of the highest order on the basis of a minimum of public appearances - few more than thirty in the course of his lifetime."
  5. Chopin and Liszt were close pals, but at times, professional jealousy stood in the way. Chopin wrote to a friend, "I should like to rob him of the way he plays my studies."
  6. Chopin didn't only write for piano. In addition to his many piano pieces and two piano concerti, he also wrote several song sets and chamber music pieces. His most famous non-piano work is his G Minor Cello Sonata, which was also his last composition before his death in 1849.
  7. Over 230 works of Chopin survive; some compositions from early childhood have been lost. All his known works involve the piano, and only a few range beyond solo piano music, as either piano concertos, songs or chamber music.
Kalevala

We've all heard of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but have you heard of the Kalevala? In the tradition of rip-roaring national epics, the Kalevala is a collection of Finnish tales that are filled with drama, lust, romance, kidnappings, adventure, and more.

Jean Sibelius, a Finnish composer, fell deeply in love with the Kalevala. Indeed, we could say he was obsessed. He even spent his honeymoon in Karelia, which is considered the birthplace of the Kalevala. Further, he wrote not one but MANY pieces inspired by the epic tale.

In fact, the Kalevala and the Finnish countryside would become Sibelius's two greatest muses. A love of all things Finnish wasn't innately taught to Sibelius by his parents. He discovered it. Sibelius was born to Swedish-speaking parents, and it wasn't until his later school years that he was sent to a Finnish language school where he first read the Kalevala. And thus, the obsession began.

Sibelius' masterpiece, Legends, began as an opera based on the Kalevala but he changed his mind and turned it into a four-movement orchestral work instead. Like its inspiration, the piece is majestic. The plot of this epic tone poem centers around the hero Lemminkäinen, whose exploits come across as a sort of mash-up of Don Juan, Achilles, Siegfried, and Osiris.

Watch out for the übermensch, Finnish style!

Johannes Brahms

Wouldn't it be nice to have a composer for a friend?

It's wildly common for composers to write music for friends and loved ones. Mozart, for example, wrote many of his concertos for people he knew. Johannes Brahms likewise wrote his Violin Concerto in D Major for his friend Joseph Joachim (1831-1907).

The year after the premiere of the Violin Concerto in 1880, their friendship was on the fritz. Joachim tried to divorce his wife of almost twenty years, mezzo-soprano Amalie Weiss, on the grounds that he was not the father of the youngest of their six children. Brahms ultimately made a testimony in Amalie's favor, severing their friendship.

Brahms's Violin Concerto illustrates the mutual respect and collaborative spirit that existed between these two musicians. Brahms started work on the piece in the summer of 1878 while vacationing at Pörtschach, an Austrian summer resort on Lake Wörth. He sent the manuscript of the concerto to Joachim on August 22, writing, "Naturally I wish to ask you to correct it. I thought you ought to have no excuse - neither respect for the music being too good nor the pretext that orchestrating it would not merit the effort. Now I shall be satisfied if you say a word and perhaps write in several: difficult, awkward, impossible, etc."

By the time of the concerto's premiere in Leipzig on January 1, 1879, it had been considerably altered. The correspondence between Brahms and Joachim shows an interesting paradox: while Brahms incorporated many of Joachim's proposed orchestral changes, he didn't adopt many of Joachim's alterations to the solo part. Brahms's resistance to Joachim's interventions sets his concerto apart from other Romantic examples of the genre. Instead of casting the violin in the starring role and leaving the orchestra to the wings, Brahms integrates soloist and orchestra much more than other virtuosic concertos.

Aaron Copland

It's always fascinating when art imitates life. That is definitely the case in Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938. Our Town follows the fictional American small town of Grover's Corners through the everyday lives of its citizens.

The play's wild success and great acclaim on Broadway took Wilder to Hollywood to write a screen adaptation. Aaron Copland (1900-1990) had recently written music for the film version of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men -- and seemed to be the perfect fit to compose a score to Wilder's Our Town.

It's even more fitting that Copland is often called the "Dean of American Composers," and was instrumental in forging an American style of composition. His music is truly American, while Wilder's Our Town is a small town story that is also distinctly American.

After the premiere in 1940, Copland quickly arranged a ten-minute concert suite that was aired on the radio. A few years later, he created the definitive version, which he dedicated to Leonard Bernstein. The suite premiered in 1944 in Boston, Bernstein conducting.

Daniel SoloweyDaniel Solowey is 15 years old and a freshman at Pine View School. He has been playing the clarinet for four and a half years. Daniel’s private teachers are Bharat Chandra, principal clarinet in the Sarasota Orchestra and Laura Stephenson, second clarinet in the Sarasota Orchestra. Daniel attended the Sarasota Orchestra Summer Music Camp for three years and also attended the Luzerne Music Center in up-state New York last summer. Daniel has been an All-State musician for three years and was first chair clarinet in All-State band and orchestra, respectively, for the last two years. He is also an ambassador for PeaceJam, an organization devoted to inspiring young people to become involved in world peace through meeting with Nobel Peace Laureates. Daniel would love to study music performance at a school like the Curtis Institute or Juilliard.

When did you first start playing an instrument? What drew you to music/your instrument?

I first started playing the piano around age five, but wanted to try something new. Both my parents play in the Sarasota Orchestra, and that is what first involved me in music. After the piano, I began to grow interested in the saxophone, but the music store clerk advised me to start on the clarinet.

What was it like when you learned you were going to be a soloist with "Thrill of a Lifetime"?

On stage that afternoon, I just felt like I needed to thank everyone who listened to me play, even though it was only the judges who had any say in the competition.

What's your favorite part about being a musician? How has music enhanced or impacted your life?

I like being able to play the music itself, and that I can express exactly what I'm feeling with absolutely no words at all, just through music.

Thrill of a Lifetime will take place Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 7:30pm in Neel PAC. For tickets and more information about this special concert, click here!

André DeGrenierAndré DeGrenier is currently a junior at Booker High School and studies with George Nickson, principal percussionist in the Sarasota Orchestra. Some of André’s career highlights as a percussionist include attending the Interlochen Arts Camp this past summer, receiving multiple superior ratings at Solo and Ensemble, as well as performing with the Tri-State Band Festival this past December as a principal player. At Booker, he takes part in a multitude of ensembles from jazz band, to playing in the pit for musicals, to being a featured soloist in the program as a part of the Shinning Stars Honors Ensemble.

In his free time he composes a wide variety of music. André plans to pursue a career in percussion performance, working towards winning a job to play in a professional orchestra or performing as a soloist around the world.

When did you first start playing an instrument? What drew you to music/your instrument?

When I was 12 years old, I was always inspired by the visual aspect of percussion.

What was it like when you learned you were going to be a soloist with "Thrill of a Lifetime"?

It was amazing. It had been a dream of mine ever since I started playing to perform with a full orchestra.

What are your longterm plans? Will music be a part of your life as you grow older?

I plan to major in percussion performance, on composition, playing and writing music for the rest of my life. Hopefully, I'll be able to play in an orchestra or as a soloist.

What will you be playing at the upcoming concert with the Sarasota Orchestra? How are you feeling about the opportunity?

I’ll be playing Sejourne’s Tempo souple from the Marimba Concerto. I'm thrilled for this opportunity!

Thrill of a Lifetime will take place Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 7:30pm in Neel PAC. For tickets and more information about this special concert, click here!

Jaclyn EvansJaclyn Evans is a 17-year-old homeschooled senior. Since the age of four, she has studied piano with Carmen Conway. She has been awarded ratings of Superior and Superior Plus for 12 consecutive years in the National Federation of Music Junior Festivals. Jaclyn is principle trombonist in GCHFA advanced band and is drum major for the Northern Lights Marching Band. She enjoys watercolor painting and writing stories and songs. As a dual-enrolled student, Jaclyn is on the Dean’s List at SCF.

When did you first start playing an instrument? What drew you to music/your instrument?

I first started playing the piano when I was two years old. Since I was that age, I didn't really have a say in it. But, I'm glad my mom had me do it. As for trombone, I chose it when I was 11 because I thought the slide was cool and the man who introduced it said, "Trombones are for weird people." So, I figured it was perfect for me!

What was it like when you learned you were going to be a soloist with "Thrill of a Lifetime"?

I had been dreaming about this opportunity for two years, so winning the compeition was seriously a dream come true. I have never worked harder for anything in my life, so it was incredible to see all of it pay off.

What's your favorite part about being a musician? How has music enhanced or impacted your life?

I love being able to sit down and play the piano. No matter what is going on in my life, I love having that outlet to all of my emotions. Music has helped me be more organized and has taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to as long as I work hard enough.

What are your longterm plans? Will music be a part of your life as you grow older?

I am planning to double major in music education and piano performance at Olivet Nazarene University. I would like to be a private music teacher, as well as teach in school band/orchestra programs. I will also accompany soloists and ensembles.

What will you be playing at the upcoming concert with the Sarasota Orchestra? How are you feeling about the opportunity?

I will be playing the Second Movement of Chopin's Concerto No. 1 in E minor. Words cannot express how ecstatic I am for this opportunity to be playing with the Sarasota Orchestra.

Thrill of a Lifetime will take place Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 7:30pm in Neel PAC. For tickets and more information about this special concert, click here!

Bharat's Thoughts

Now that a couple of days have passed since our weekend of concerts with Maestro Neeme Järvi, I wanted to finish this mini-narrative of sorts with a look back.

The first thing I remember is fun. Järvi set us up all week with the most miniscule gestures (in a seated position) on the podium. In concert, he stood tall and alternated between that same small-scale and very grand movements, as if throwing the energy of the music to us. He also made it a point that we should expect anything. While traditional to let the entrance-applause die down before starting a concert, Järvi threw downbeats almost immediately after stepping up onto the podium. Different tempi in the Brahms Tragic Overture produced three different versions over three different nights. The same happened for the Strauss tone poem, and the piano concerto had spontaneous moments as well.

Possibly my favorite moments of these concerts, however, were the Sibelius encores given by our string section. For some reason, I just found myself smiling through the whole thing, each time. I think it was the lushness with which our string section sang out its melodies and counter-melodies. But, it was also (definitely) watching Järvi. I didn’t have to worry about playing anything, so I could really study what he was doing to motivate the music. He alternated between ultra-basic timekeeping and sweetly humorous gestures toward the orchestra, leaning in armless or just bouncing with his belly toward the music. It was unbelievably endearing because no matter what “move” he made, it felt just like the music did. So, the strings spun along happily, and if the phrasing ever stood upright he would just make big paintbrush gestures at them, and it would all go quickly back into place.

Masterworks Maestro Concert

For my own part, things went pretty well. I had a few little solos throughout the concert, and they were always set up well and/or accompanied by my colleagues throughout the series. My dreaded high E’s all came out nicely (though Sunday’s felt like it scooped for a millisecond), and I had a strong clarinet section down the line, with Laura Stephenson doing gorgeous solo work in the piano concerto and “duetting” with me beautifully in the Strauss. Calvin Falwell really dug into his bass clarinet lines, singing out his melodies, and Jon Holden wailed on the Eb clarinet (which is what one does with an Eb clarinet –that or run a cord through it to make a nice bedside lamp). So, I had strong support. I would take a few more shots at those high E’s if I had my way, just to get more and more comfortable performing them in the grueling physical context of the piece, but these were effective performances, I thought.

If I’m going to honestly reveal the mind of a performer during an experience like we had last week, I also have to point out that there were learning moments as well. I was reminded that we, as an orchestra, are still morphing from being (what I would call) overly-dependent on the conductor’s baton to being comfortably independent of it. Knowing how intentionally oblivious to conductors other orchestras can be, I always wonder what guest conductors think of our still hyper-attentive reliance on their beats. I would hope they find it flattering, as it must surely empower them (getting to feel like we’re paying that much attention).

Bharat Chandra

One of our musician leaders mentioned to Neeme Järvi that some of the people in the back of the string section could not see his beat. "Good. Then they will listen even better," he jovially replied.

In my last couple of "rhapsodies" I briefly wrote about the nature of reputation and the nature of conducting. I mentioned that musicians work in a field where reputations are constantly re-earned or replaced, and I asked whether it is really the job of the conductor to inspire the orchestra.

Today I want to share with you the experience of working with Maestro Järvi from the very middle of the orchestra. That's where I sit. I'm in a "box" of woodwind players with the principal flute in front of me, principal bassoon to my left, and principal oboe diagonally forward (to my left). Our second and auxiliary players branch out from the sides of our sections, and we all get to look straight upon the faces and gestures of every conductor who works with us.

Järvi is what I like to call "a minimalist." His baton gestures are generally very small. He's precise, but he doesn't make a huge effort to display his pattern of beats unless something starts to come apart within the music. I think he believes that the less musicians try to look at him, the more they will listen to each other (which is a good thing for most orchestras). He's soft spoken and direct, but he's also quite witty, using his healthy jowls to hide his expressions and keep from telegraphing his humor even an instant too soon.

Today, a question was asked about whether our piano soloist (the very musical and affable Per Tengstrand) planned to move without pause into the final movement of his concerto. Järvi and Tengstrand replied at the same time, offering slightly different answers. Tengstrand indicated that there would be almost no pause, and Järvi said there would be "just a bit" of a pause. (In cases like this, the soloist generally determines what will happen.) Sensing the humor before we did, Järvi added dryly, "Yes. But you cannot start without me." The orchestra burst into laughter.

Moments like this have happened enough in our three rehearsals that they're now almost expected. And, that's a good thing. Järvi has made his share of constructive criticisms to our various players as rehearsals progressed. But, there was always a sense that we were doing something fundamentally joyful together. And that meant other little jokes from him, along with a very endearing laugh, where his face actually takes the shape of a frown and his shoulders lightly bounce along.

When Järvi wants you to pay attention, or do something dramatic, you know immediately. His eyes get big or his conducting gets big or he stands up and looks your way. That's the benefit of conducting with smaller gestures most of the time. It gives the conductor greater range and an element of surprise. After all, a person can only reach so far with his or her arms. But, this is not an indictment of "maximal" conducting either. Seiji Ozawa looked like a ballet dancer when I worked with him at Tanglewood years ago, and (though not a tall man) he seemed to find impossible new heights with his reach, effecting wonderful musical results.

Neeme is also an amazingly natural musician. This is, of course, part of his incredible reputation, but (as I'd mentioned) everyone still wanted to see this for themselves. It's there in the way that he uses his hands to preempt any ambiguous phrasing and in the way he allows the music to sing slightly differently every time. (This is something our own Estonian conductor, Anu Tali, is also especially talented with, by the way.) Conductors like this do not insist upon a choreographed template of the work to be installed and played. They guide the energy of the music, and they also react to what the players do instantaneously. If there suddenly appears a direction that's new (and worthwhile), a great conductor will recognize it, acknowledge it, and guide it the rest of the way with his or her fellow musicians.

In this way, conducting is as much about the art of listening as anything else. One of my many non-musical inspirations is an author, the late Stephen Covey. He once wrote:

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

Wilhelm Stenhammar

Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871 - 1927) has become a bit of an unknown. A Swedish composer and arguably the greatest Swedish pianist of his time, his popularity didn't grow much outside of his home country. Stenhammar was mostly German-educated, which is apparent in his early music. Bruckner and Brahms are easily audible voices in this period too, which includes his first Piano Concerto. He later became enthralled with the music of fellow Nordic composers Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius and subsequently wrote more nationalistic music.

Indeed, almost like Stenhammar himself, the original orchestration of his Piano Concerto No. 1 was thought lost when his publisher’s office was bombed during WWII. However, a copy of the complete original score was found in the Library of Congress in 1983. Go American librarians!

While it is an early work and you can’t help but notice connections between the great piano concerti of Brahms, Grieg, and even Tchaikovsky’s own B-flat concerto, the work, "swerves between the enormity of epic and the intimacy of [Norse] folk song, " as one commenter described it. Written when he was just 22, this majestic work signals the Norse voice to come with its gorgeous third movement and nostalgic final movement.

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Reviews

Written byHerald Tribune

 There's no doubt, audiences are thrilled by the Sarasota Orchestra's new music director, Anu Tali. She's brought an intense energy from the orchestra in previous performances and we found this yet again in a downright thrill ride of an encounter...  

Written byHerald Tribune

 Literally gripping the arms of my seat, I was not the only one propelled on this rollercoaster of delightful music.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 Every section and soloist within the orchestra played their role with strength and beauty; every tree proud and tall. Tali served as an excellent guide leading the forces with assured confidence. The overall sound was lush and, yes, intense just where it needed to be.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 The Sarasota Orchestra was brimming with bubbling energy...  

Written byHerald Tribune

 A lifetime of musical moments, cinematic in scope, gave every section of the orchestra a leading role at one time or another. Chief among them was the virtuosic solo of concertmaster Daniel Jordan.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 It was a thrill ride resulting in an explosion of audience enthusiasm.  

Written byHerald Tribune

 Tali conveyed a clear vision for the dramatic outline of this symphony, carefully pacing the darker, searching character of the music with pastoral conversations among voices in the orchestra.  

Written byThe Observer

 If you haven’t seen Tali yet, this will be a great introduction to the skyrocketing conductor who’s quickly becoming a household name around the world. You’ll see why we feel we’re lucky to have her here.  

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