Sunday, September 27, 2009

Diversifying Your Musical Portfolio

After hearing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's season opener, with special guests, Time For Three, I have become a full supporter of the prevailing philosophy that classical musicians should do more than just dabble outside of western classical music. In other words, they should diversify their "musical portfolios" to include folk music, jazz, bluegrass, and other such similar genres to appeal to a wider audience.

I went to a lecture by Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker Magazine, a few years back during National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland that advocated this same message. The more versatile you are, the more likely you will be able to succeed in the classical music climate of the twenty-first century.

Just take the group, Time For Three, for example, who performed Jennifer Higdon's Concerto 4-3 with the BSO Saturday night (and held a jam session in the lobby following the concert). The group is composed of three talented young musicians who were classically trained at The Curtis Institute of Music. While at Curtis, they began meeting after orchestra rehearsals to let loose and play some bluegrass music. Their casual jam sessions developed into a group with a sound that bridges the classical and bluegrass realms. Time For Three has gone on to produce two successful albums and they maintain a busy touring schedule. (Higdon composed Concerto 4-3 specifically for them.)

There are many other classical musicians that have had enormous success specializing in different genres, such as the group, Pink Martini (most of their "little" orchestra are former top tier symphony orchestra members ), and don't forget, Wynton Marsalis has a degree in classical music performance from Juilliard. In the end, it just makes the musician more desirable when they possess an expanded musical pallette.

And sticking around for a bluegrass crossover jam session in the lobby following the powerhouse Tchaik 4 is always an added bonus:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Opening Night!

Today we start rehearsals for the piece by Jennifer Higdon, "Concerto 4-3." I'm looking forward to seeing what it is like. I almost always enjoy learning and performing contemporary music, and Marin does a nice job of finding interesting, accessible music of today. It is a different experience to learn and perform a new piece.

When we play something familiar, there are certain expectations that most of us have when we go into the first rehearsal: the tempos should be so and so, we will slow down in this spot, etc. etc. When we attack an entirely new piece there are fewer expectations. This can free us to make music in a different way. In one sense there is more risk to us as performers. We don't know how well we will perform the piece, or even which sections might prove to be most difficult. We don't know whether or not the audience will enjoy the piece.

On the other hand there is less risk. Since there aren't 15 recordings by famous conductors and orchestras that we and the audience may know of the piece, it is "ours" to make what we will of it, both from the performers' and from the audience vantage points. And if we miss a few notes here or there, will anyone but us know?

Enjoy life's little surprises. Come hear the Higdon Concerto 4-3 this week. And by the way, we are playing great standards by Tchaikovsky and Brahms, too!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

BSO 2009-2010 Season Kick-off

After several weeks break, I am looking forward to playing the violin with the BSO this weekend for the Gala concert. Lang Lang will be the pianist. He is a big audience favorite, and he hasn't been here for awhile. The Tchaikovsky Concerto should be a great piece to hear him play.

I have been practicing hard for the last many weeks, even though the orchestra hasn't performed since late July. It is essential to keep up my skills, and this quiet period for the orchestra gives me a chance both to prepare repertoire for the upcoming BSO season and also, to work on pieces that I will perform this year as a soloist and a chamber music performer.

One piece I have worked very hard on the Sibelius Concerto, my favorite romantic violin concerto. I will perform it December 11 in New Haven with my son, Stephen, conducting the Berkeley College Orchestra, a student orchestra at Yale University.

There are lots of great programs to look forward to this fall. Hope to see you all at JMSH and Strathmore!

Click here to view the season.