Thursday, October 21, 2010

This Week's Events

As promised, here's a (mostly) musical continuation of the last blog.

As most of you know already, our BSO/Peabody conducting fellow, 17-year-old Ilyich Rivas, made his subscription debut last week with a wonderful program of Brahms (Academic Festival Overture), Beethoven (Second Piano Concerto with a very elegant pianist Marcus Groh), Mahler's devine Blumine movement from his First Symphony, and Shostakovich's powerful First Symphony. I'm not planning to turn this blog into a place for concert reviews (I'll leave that to professionals), but my impression is that Mr. Rivas has great potential to become a wonderful conductor. His score memory is obviously strong, and he has great, deep feelings for music that he is not afraid to share with the musicians in front of him. Any other possible shortcomings can be easily corrected with the right guidance and invaluable experience that will come with many more hours on the podium. On the trivial side of things, we have all seen many a baton fly out of hands of conductors (both forward, into the orchestra, and back, into the audience). However, Mr. Riva's cufflink that flew a few audience rows back last Thursday night in a dramatic arc during one of his particularly demonstrative gestures in the opening Brahms piece was a first! It was cordially given back to him so that he could start the Beethoven Piano Concerto in full gear (and he is an elegant dresser). As my violinist colleague Greg Mulligan joked, that was a true Off the Cuff performance!

This Tuesday morning we were treated to a masterfully run rehearsal by Gilbert Varga, a conductor new to us. We rehearsed the Stravinsky Petrouchka, and a complex and exciting piece that is full of traps (mostly rhythmical) out of which it's hard to climb. Mr. Varga showed us, from the first few seconds of the rehearsal, that he is so in control of things, we have little to worry. He is a very organized, energetic conductor that knows exactly what needs to be rehearsed and how, and orchestras always appreciate that. Wednesday, we are rehearsing the rest of the program which includes Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla and Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1. It's sure to be an energy-filled week!

Concerts are Thursday at Strathmore, Friday and Saturday at Meyerhoff, all at 8pm. Get your tickets now, and don't forget to contribute to BOLT for the BSO (see last blog), so you can get your tickets free and join us for a lobby party after Friday's concert. I'll be there with some of my family, and would love to meet some of you, so you can tell me in person what you'd like to read about in this space.

Talk to you next time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Running like a BOLT of Lightning

Dear blog readers,

No, the reason I haven't written in a while isn't that I needed a long break after my first blog. I did, however, need some prep time and the rest after my first ever running race.

After grasping the whole concept of recreational running this summer (up until then I only ran after buses, and, when I was younger, girls (: ), I ended up running the Baltimore Half-Marathon on Saturday. It was an amazing experience, and I achieved my two goals: to finish and feel good about it. For those that care, I ended up with a time of 1:57:39, which is a lot better than the time I decided I'd have been happy with, somewhere between 2:00 and 2:15. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the wind only started getting really crazy after the finish. The city looked amazing, especially from some vantage points along the course that I haven't been to. And the people along the race were simply amazing: from all walks of life, ages, races, in suits and pajamas, holding cats and dogs, sitting on steps and looking through their windows. Many dancing, some in silly costumes, playing pots and pans or some serious music, holding personal and general signs (my favorite: "no one made you do this!"), handing Natty Boh beer to racers (not too many takers, most preferred water or Gatorade), and generally helping us keep pushing.

What made the whole experience even more special was the face that one of the BSO's biggest supporters, Governing Member Cynthia Renn, organized a fundraiser named BOLT for the BSO, which, as of this afternoon raised $13,500 toward your favorite orchestra. My fellow violinist Ellen Troyer, her husband John Troyer and I, plus several of our Administration and Board members, participated in both the race and the fundraising effort, adorned with very visible lime-green (it's the new black!) BOLT t-shirts. Here's what Ellen, John, and I looked like right after we finished:

I loved when one of the race organizers, standing along the race course somewhere around Lake Montebello, who was reading shirts and signs and encouraging such individual efforts, yelled "Go Marathoner for Music!" as I rounded the bend by her!

If you're a runner, or just inspired like so many of your fellow BSO fans to contribute, the BOLT website is still open for just a few more days, and it is a very simple, fast, and easy way to show your support. Please click here for the site where you can contribute (I suggest my name (: ), and then join us for a BOLT party this Friday after the Meyerhoff concert for a celebration. After you contribute, you'll receive an invitation to the party, and we might even be able to swing some tickets for you for the concert!

My great friend and colleague, BSO Concertmaster Jonathan Carney, was nice enough to replace me for some coaching I had missed that morning at Peabody (where I spend most of my Saturdays teaching at the Preparatory Department), but after the race was over and I had caught my breath, it was time to head on foot (cars were useless in the traffic jams of that day) to Mt. Vernon for more teaching. My race support team (my wife Jennifer had brought our three boys Sebastian, Luka, and Tristan for some coaching and rehearsals of their own) adorned in the BOLT t-shirts, were happy to see me in good spirits and with a medal around my neck. After an afternoon of some great music, it was time to be whisked away in my family van (logistics of parking two cars that day took a few days to figure out!) to the bus awaiting to take the BSO to Strathmore for a concert. What a day!

That should do for today, I promise to continue tomorrow with a review of Ilyich Rivas' concerts and a preview of this week's with Gilbert Varga.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Changing of the Blog Guard

Hello everyone, this is Ivan Stefanovic, BSO's Assistant Principal Second Violin (don't you just love our titles?). I'll be happy to share some of my thoughts on things musical and otherwise in this space, so please visit often and tell everyone you think might be interested in a bit of an insider view into a life of a BSO musician. I've always enjoyed writing (as little as I have done so) and I like to think I may have gotten the bug from my Dad, who was a journalist (an Associated Press Chief of Bureau in Belgrade, Yugoslavia for many decades, now retired). So, here she goes. I hope it'll be a fun ride for you (and I am already enjoying it).

A note to self: do not take a rabbit stew on the Strathmore (or any, for that matter) bus again. The bones are way to small, and the whole ordeal, even if tasty, is just too messy. Oh, and my apologies to any non-meat eaters out there; you have my utmost respect! But, that is now history, as is Gotta Dance, our first Pops concert of this season, the week of which we just finished this Sunday afternoon. It was a fun affair, as it always is with Jack (Everly, our Principal Pops Conductor): many different styles of music, and many different types of dance, one of which was most (if not all) of us in the hall had seen before. These twins from Argentina danced to their country's counterpart's music (the ever popular Piazzola) with so much energy that it was difficult for us not to take our eyes off the music we were playing. And their dancing style bridged tap, disco, modern, and even some of the late Michael Jackson's moves. Quite a treat! It was also a great week for the fans of our Associate Concertmaster, Madeline Adkins, who, in spite of a nasty cat bite that had her in a hospital emergency room after Friday night's concert, handled her many solos with her usual elegance, style, and virtuosity.

Now I am looking forward to, first of all, another week of incredible weather (hasn't it been just brilliant?). I'm especially hoping it will hold until this Saturday, when I am running in the Baltimore Running Festival (a long name for a Marathon, don't you think), where I'll be running the Half-Marathon (a fancy name for "those who can't make it"). Cut me some slack though, I just started running this summer and I absolutely love it! That should make the third of this week's concerts rather interesting for me--my plan is to concentrate REALLY hard that evening at Strathmore (previous two nights are at the Meyerhoff).

The program this week features a 17-year-old conducting a first Symphony written by a 19-year-old! Namely, Ilyich Rivas, a 17-year-old BSO-Peabody Bruno Walter Assistant Conductor and Dmitri Shostakovich, the famous Russian composer, who made his feelings against the oppressive regime at the time known through his art (all the while fooling the officials into thinking that he was just writing patriotic music). Rivas, under whose baton we've only had rehearsals so far, is a brilliant and very amicable young man, and he makes his subscription concert debut with an American orchestra (that would be us) this week. I can't help but wonder how intimidating it must be for someone of his young age to conduct and demand things of a big group of people, most of which are all much older than him! He will be joined by a rising young German pianist Markus Groh, in Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto. Don't miss this one, it's a such winner!

So much for now, more as the week unrolls. Have a good one!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Musicians' Picks :: Emily Skala

Each of the musicians who makes up the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is a talented artist in his or her own right with unique musical tastes and ambitions. While they have a voice in repertoire selection, there are some pieces our musicians would love to perform that usually do not find their way into the BSO seasons. This year, Music Director Marin Alsop and the Orchestra have identified and programmed six selections that we call Musicians' Picks. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we will enjoy performing them.

Emily Skala is the principal flutist of the BSO (since 1988). She received her Bachelor of Music with Honors from the Eastman School of Music in 1983 and within five years of graduating was affiliated with six major American orchestras. Emily regularly appears as a soloist and recitalist in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West regions, has performed at the National Flute Associations’ Annual Conventions, as well as at many of the world’s most prestigious music festivals.

Emily has granted us a look into her thoughts on the Musicians’ Picks of this season.

Mahler: Symphony No. 7

Mahler 7 was especially intriguing because I last played it over a summer break during my years at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. I had been called to sub with the RPO (Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), led by David Zinman. I played fourth flute alongside my teacher, Bonita Boyd, who was Principal Flute. I remember how exciting the sonorities were. This same excitement arose when, at 16 years old, I played my first Mahler Symphony (the 3rd) with the Aspen Festival Orchestra led by Sergiu Commissiona. For me, and many fellow musicians, there is nothing more thrilling than playing a Mahler Symphony. Perhaps it is because his use of percussion and bass are so visceral, or because more teamwork is required than in most works (the melody is passed back and forth between instrumental groups or players causing the phrase to take shape through the broad collaboration of the orchestra – you must therefore be attentive to what your colleagues have made of the thread before picking it up and continuing on!). The fact that his music is so programmatic, even if it is not declared outright to be, makes it so engaging it is bound to stimulate the imagination! As Marin says, “Who doesn’t love a good story?!” During the performance with my teacher, she had a terrible flu that week which caused her to leave the stage mid-performance. She returned just in time for one of her solos which she played beautifully. I was so very impressed with this feat; the Mahler 7 remains one of my favorite pieces to this day. It will be a special reward to play it again after all this time.

Barber: Essay No. 2, op. 17

Barber Essay #2 was one of the first pieces I played and recorded with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra shortly after joining the group in 1988. It is wonderfully written, evocative, and under played. The audience surely needs to hear this piece again, as do I!

Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra

Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra is a work that music students study in Conservatory. It was a ground-breaking work of its time because of its innovative use of tonalities and technical demands. Although I reluctantly admit, I do not remember the specific points my teacher made, I do remember the feeling my classmates and I experienced while we listened to it for the first time as amazement and awe fell over the room. We then compared several different orchestras handling of the concerto. Like Mahler, it is a tour de force for the entire group and we enjoy a good challenge here at the BSO! Unfortunately for me, it is a week before my concerto appearance and I will be home practicing the Pied Piper instead.

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6

Prokofiev wrote some of the most difficult for flute in the entire repertoire. The week of the 6th Symphony is also the week of the notorious Classical Symphony, a frequent contender for placement on flute audition lists everywhere. If the 6th Symphony has anything in common with the 5th then we are in for an awakening – a true enrichment of our musical horizons. In all my years of experience specializing in symphonic repertoire (since about 14yrs old), I sadly admit that this is a piece I have never performed. I look forward to the opportunity to bridge this gap in my repertoire – perhaps this is why it has made it to the Musicians’ Picks.

Walton: Symphony No. 1

The William Walton Symphony No. 1 puts me in a similar situation as the Prokofiev. The only piece I know by William Walton is his Shakespeare Suite and potentially another whose title has escaped my memory. I would like to know more of this compose and I am glad that one of my colleagues thought to suggest it! I think it stands to reason we should be an even better orchestra after this season as we shall be much better-rounded!

Shall We Dance?

I really enjoyed last week's concert of Adams/Mendelssohn/Dvorak. I think Marin did a nice job combining the three pieces into a compelling program. The New World Symphony, warhorse that it is, wears very well, at least for me. It is so original in its harmonies and so vital in its rhythmic thrust. And then there is the constant stream of amazing melodies. I remember that the beautiful English horn theme in the second movement became a Methodist hymn, "Going Home," one of my grandfather's favorites. My grandfather lived his whole life in Kansas, and of course Dvorak spent some time in Iowa, which led to his writing the symphony.

Stefan Jackiw was his usual amazing self as our soloist. His playing always has such beauty; believe me, it isn't so easy even for us professionals to produce a consistently great tone, but no matter what the music is that he's performing, Stefan always shines with that gorgeous sound.

I love John Adams. I truly think he is the most amazing late 20th/21st Century composer- my favorite, at least. I didn't know the Dr. Atomic music before last week; maybe one day I will be able to see the whole opera! I think Marin has a special feeling for Adams' music, and I enjoyed her interpretation of the Dr. Atomic Symphony.

Looking forward to Jack Everly's return this week. His program is called "Gotta Dance," and I bet it will be tons of fun. Jack can really put a good show together, with lots of variety and pizazz. Come out and join us!