Monday, May 17, 2010

Don Juan with Maestro Mena

Funny story about Strauss's Don Juan, which we performed this past week with Juanjo Mena conducting. When I was in college at Eastman School of Music, our excellent and funny conductor, David Effron, told the violinists that when playing Don Juan, "Be glad you are a violinist!" I wrote this at the top of my personal copy of the first violin part of Don Juan, and I always smile and take that message to heart when we perform it.

Incidentally, Don Juan is on almost every audition list when violinists audition for American orchestras. There is lots of quick shifting, difficult arpeggios, fast scales, etc. Often for an audition the orchestra will ask for the first page only, which is plenty hard. Almost as often, though, the entire piece will be required to be learned for the audition. Of course you wouldn't play the whole piece in an audition, but you have to be ready to do it.

I liked Maestro Mena's Don Juan very much this week. It was a musical roller coaster ride, though with a strange and serious end.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Musicians Around Town

One of the interesting things about being a BSO musician is the opportunity to meet other musicians who work around the area for other musical groups and/or as faculty members for institutions like Peabody and Towson University. It is always refreshing to get to know musicians who may have other interests, talents and concerns from BSO musicians. Many of our "extra" and substitute musicians are incredibly talented; in many cases they play instruments like piano or saxophone, for which there are no permanent positions in the BSO. We BSO musicians often wind up performing chamber music and other gigs with them outside the BSO. (A current favorite among many of us is Lura Johnson, pianist extraordinaire.)

A few years ago a woman named Eva Mengelkoch called me: she was setting up a new chamber music series at the Cylburn Mansion, located in Cylburn Arboretum near Sinai Hospital in North Baltimore. After many phone calls, we were able to put together an inaugural concert for this new series, lining up Ken Goldstein and Karin Brown from the BSO, along with Karin's husband, Dan Levitov. Eva performed as the pianist in that concert.

Since then (this was approximately 5 or so years ago, I think) Eva's series has established itself. My quartet, the Atlantic String Quartet, has performed there many times. This coming week, on the evening of May 12, Rebecca Nichols, Karin Brown and Bo Li will join Eva for another concert. We will be playing the Franck Piano Quintet with Eva and Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 59, #1.

Eva is a versatile musician. Just a week and a half ago, she was the soloist in a Pro Musica Rara concert at Towson University's Fine Arts Center on the fortepiano for a Mozart Piano Concerto. She is a pleasure to work with; we are rehearsing again with her this week at Towson, where she is on the faculty.