Musical Musings

Young Artist Competition Winner: Daniel Solowey

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!

Young Artist Competition Winner: André DeGrenier

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!

Young Artist Competition Winner: Jaclyn Evans

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

Reflections on a Week with "One of the True Masters"

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

Working with Maestro Järvi

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

Forgotten Stenhammer

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.

Bharat Chandra

What Conductors Really Do? Ask Bugs Bunny.

Several years ago I was elected to help represent the musicians of the orchestra as we searched for a new Music Director. The process brought together members of our board, staff, orchestra, and community leadership. It was a collaborative and organizationally self-affirming effort. But, to say it started the same way it finished would be a stretch. Even with the best intentions, we all undertook a steep learning curve at the beginning. Mostly, we had to learn how to understand each other’s perspectives, so that we could develop the trust needed for success. One of the most interesting (and humorous) parts of that learning-curve was the discussion about what conductors really do up there on the podium. There were some on our committee, who (naturally) were much more familiar with how a conductor appears from the audience than from the stage. And so, a dialogue began.

This is a funny conversation to have with anyone, if you can get them to be honest, because it usually involves a lot of mimicry. Let’s face it, it’s pretty funny to see someone waving their arms around and making faces at a group of people, without themselves making a sound! So, for every over-the-top performance you might get out of someone pretending, I could probably find you some actual footage of a conductor doing something pretty close to that…in front of an orchestra…for real.

To address this idea head-on in our committee, I remember mocking up a short video. It included a few clips from the 1949 Looney Tunes episode, "Long-Haired Hare, " where Bugs Bunny impersonates the famous maestro, Leopold Stokowski. Taken out of its (still very funny) context, Bugs looks like the perfect caricature of a maniacal conductor. He has all the right moves, and he even breaks the conductor’s baton in half before conducting. (Stokowski supposedly never used a baton.) Fantastic!

However, when paired up right against actual footage of the famous Stokowski (which I did for our committee), Bugs appears decidedly more dramatic, more emotional, and even flagrant. Stokowski appears closely controlled and minimalist by comparison. The intensity on his face comes from stillness –from the intensity of his eyes, not from misshaping his face.

Bharat Chandra

Lessons from Mike Ditka to Neeme Järvi

I'm showing my age a bit with this, but I remember watching the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears on our family's 19 inch TV (a decent size for the time). The Bears had been expected to "shuffle" their way to victory, and that they did. Popular players from the team, who became emblematic of the 80s in many ways, would end up making countless cameo appearances on television and be found in grocery stores, smiling happily on cereal boxes. They also had a very charismatic coach whose antics and accent would be parodied onward through many years and even decades of comedy fun.

That coach was Mike Ditka, and he taught me one of the best lessons I've ever had on the clarinet. No, not in person of course. It was something he said -something else that came out of our same TV, and it didn't happen until the season after their historic victory. He told his players, "Remember, you're only as good as you play today."

That one simple dictum forever changed my ideas about reputation and about what it meant to perform well as a musician. It meant that no matter what legacy you might create, no matter what reputation you had already earned, today would be what really matters. Then tomorrow's "today" would be what matters. And so on.

Even if an audience has already heard that they should expect a great concert, all that really means is that their expectations are up. They don't really care if the piece you're playing is hard or what status you might have as a musician. They want to be transported. They want to experience the powerful feelings of the music you play in a truly special way. For themselves! Today! And then they might happily re-assign you those lofty words and expectations. But, not before. No matter what, audiences do not want you to take them for granted.

Such is the nature of "reputation" in both athletics and the performing arts. Goodness created over countless hours of work must be proven and shared again and again. What a wonderful and terrifying prospect!

So, it was with profound interest that I watched Maestro Neeme Järvi take the podium today. This is a person, after all, who truly embodies the ideas of legacy and great reputation. But what would he be with us? Would all the anticipation end up leaving us disappointed? This would be the most famous conductor to ever conduct us. Could he really be so good still –in his older age?

Bharat Chandra

Bharat Chandra Sounds Off

I'm grudgingly impressed by Richard Strauss. Music was pouring out of him in a way that seems to have pushed everything "practical" aside. Did he even care whether what he was writing was possible for an orchestra?

Who writes "ppp" (meaning as softly as possible) for the clarinet on such a delicate high "E" near the end of this giant piece?!? Everyone's been playing for almost 30 minutes at that point, and the intensity has the orchestra feeling like it just bench pressed its own body weight in sound. You hardly have any strength left to make a sound at all, honestly. Then, Strauss asks you to be gentle, sweet, and soft in the most fragile high register of the instrument? What a monster!

It makes me smile though. It's miraculous music. In fact, I was laughing out loud as I was looking through the score. I remembered how hard this moment is to pull off (along with so many others for my colleagues). But, the audience loves it when you get it right.

So, how will I prepare for this? I've been practicing the piece "backwards" – working on the last pages first. This way I have maximum strength and flexibility available for the most transcendent moments and can experiment with different techniques and musical colors. I can condition myself to playing those phrases with beauty and openness. Hopefully this strategy will leave me with several good options for wherever the conductor wants to take the music. Will it work? It has to. The first rehearsal with legendary Maestro Neemi Jarvi is coming up tomorrow!

Neeme Järvi

The Maestro

Neeme Järvi! All of us are beyond excited over the opportunity to hear the Sarasota Orchestra under the baton of the great Maestro Neeme Järvi.

He is truly one of the greatest conductors of all time, and he is alive and working today. He's so awesome that he regularly conducts orchestras like the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic, as well as the major Orchestras in the US too.

Born in Estonia (just like our Music Director Anu Tali), Maestro Järvi moved to the US in 1980 and became an American citizen in 1987. He rose to international stature after his tenure as music directors of both the Gothenburg Symphony and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He has inspired countless musicians and composers, both Estonian and American. Indeed, he has even created his own biological musical dynasty. All three of his children are famous musicians: two are conductors (Paavo Järvi and Kristjan Järvi), and the third is the renowned flutist, Maarika Järvi.

Sometimes, renowned Maestros and orchestral musicians have a love/hate relationship. However Maestro Järvi is that rare combination of great conductor who also has a reputation for being loved by players. This has the musicians of the Sarasota Orchestra especially excited to make music with this living legend. Join us for a historic weekend in the Sarasota music scene.

2001 A Space Odessey

Strauss in Space

If only classical music were as popular as Hollywood blockbusters... Luckily for Richard Strauss, he hit the posthumous fame jackpot! Strauss and his seminal tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, were already known and beloved entities within classical music. By the time Stanley Kubrick used the piece's introduction throughout his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the two pieces are intertwined in the public's mind. It's practically impossible not to visualize a giant black obelisk once you hear that slow emerging chord rise from the depths of the orchestra.

The story of how Kubrick's movie came to be and it's connection to classical music is fascinating. It was among the first "space operas" and is of significant importance in film history. Indeed, Kubrick was thinking epic when he chose the title. He chose to reference Homer's Odyssey, saying,"[i]t occurred to us that for the Greeks the vast stretches of the sea must have had the same sort of mystery and remoteness that space has for our generation."

The film is largely nonverbal. The movie opens and closes with a total of 45 minutes of zero dialogue; the action is largely dependent on the music accompanying each scene. Kubrick had initially commissioned a score from Alex North and had given the composer a selection of preexisting classical pieces to use as inspiration.

He did the same with Frank Cordell when he decided he didn't like North's score. Cordell's score also didn't satisfy Kubrick and in the end he decided he loved the classical pieces so much that he decided to dump the original score. Hence Strauss's tone poem, as well as Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, two pieces by modern composer György Ligeti, and part of Khatchaturian's ballet Gayane. Kubrick forgot one little detail — he failed to receive permission for the use of any of the recordings featured in his film. Yikes! Ligeti was the only living composer at the time and he did enter into litigation against Kubrick, but it was eventually settled.

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