October 29, 2008

Trick or Treat? Dr. Frankenstein's violin???

Ever wonder what lurks inside all the pretty varnished wood of the string instruments you see on stage? Or ever wonder how some of these relatively fragile instruments have survived for so many centuries? Seeing as it’s Halloween, I thought I’d share some “scary” pictures of the inside of my violin. (Warning – it’s quite a frightful sight and not for the faint of heart!) :) First, a little background info: Earlier this summer, due to its age (over 300 years old!) and some old repairs that were starting to come undone, my violin had to make a visit to a repair shop for some major “surgery”. Much of the work needed was very intricate rebuilding that required the removal of the entire back and neck (long skinny part that stretches above the body of the violin). When I purchased my instrument, I was aware that it had undergone many many repairs over the years, but I was still quite surprised and shocked to finally see what it looked like on the inside! As you can see, there are numerous types of repairs, patches, cleats (little patches of wood used to keep cracks from opening up – kind of like stitches I guess), linen strips (similar to band-aids?), etc. that are keeping my instrument in “one” piece (at least it looks that way from the outside).

These pictures are of the underside of the TOP of my violin – the part that looks the scariest and has had the most repairs. What a mess!!

This other picture is the BACK of my violin - the very light colored wood on the left side is the area that had to be rebuilt.

Well, that's it. I'm glad to say that the "surgery" was successful and my violin is pretty healthy once more. I'm thankful for all the skilled luthiers out there and their amazing skill in keeping our instruments sounding and looking good! Happy Halloween everybody!

The Drama Behind the Composers this Weekend...

I joined the RPO just a few months ago - with a true love for their work - but admittedly I've never been trained in anything musically.

OK, sure, there was that elementary school venture where I played the flute for a few years. Let's just say I could see the first chair from across the stage. Clearly, I wasn't meant to perform. Rather, to just help out in another way.

So, with each new weekend, I get to read up on the background of what is being performed. It's fascinating. This weekend, with Brahms, Borodin, and Tchaikovsky pieces - there's no exception. Click here to read up on the performance and 'listen in' to a preview.

Our Concertmaster Juliana Athayde will lead us in the Brahms Concerto for Violin in D. The technical demands of this piece are formidable. Brahms had apparently composed this piece for his friend - violinist Joseph Joachim, pictured here.

Both he and Joachim actually wrote a manifesto in 1860 against the "progressive music of the 'New German School'" - from which Liszt and Wagner's music is based. Wow! (By the way, we're playing Liszt next month with pianist Andrew Von Oeyen. Click here for a preview.)

One other piece of information I thought was pretty fascinating. The orchestra is also performing Alexander Borodin's Symphony No. 2.

Borodin was the illetimate son of a Georgian noble. In fact, his mom apparently registered him as the son of one of the noble's serfs. He grew up to be a chemist by trade. Between the chemistry - and I've read "difficulties in his home-life," he found solace in composing.

October 24, 2008

The tent is up!

The tent people arrived at 1 a.m. this morning and worked all night to get the tent set up on Gibbs Street. It's the largest frame tent in the area, and extends from just outside the Eastman Theatre entrance all the way down to Java's! Volunteers are already at the Theatre putting up decorations and then will start on the tent - setting up all the tables and chairs, decorative streetlights, and 40 trees.

The Red Carpet Spectacular gets underway at 5:30 pm with a special culinary event by Wegmans, and then Jeff Tyzik, RPO musicians, and other dignitaries will walk the red carpet at 7:00 pm. Stop by with your camera to get pictures of our local celebrities, just like Hollywood's glamorous Academy Awards!

After the concert tonight and tomorrow night, the tent will be the site of the Stars and Streetlights Soiree, where concert attendees can enjoy dessert, cash bar, and live jazz. Come party with the RPO for Jeff's 15th! For more information, click here.

we're up early!

Today marks our celebration of Jeff Tyzik's 15th anniversary as Principal Pops Conductor of the RPO. We're up early for the festivities... and both Channel 13 and R News are with us.

These are a couple of pics we just took. Jeff with Diana Palotas and Christopher Seaman, our Music Director, with Doug Emblidge.

We'll have more entries later from the Red Carpet...

October 16, 2008

How do you see the RPO?

We're busy planning your RPO of the future. And, we can't do it without your feedback... so we've created a survey (it's anonymous) that we hope you'll consider taking.

It's pretty short, and will help us get a sense of what you think about us. The great stuff... and the opportunities ahead.

Click here to take the survey. Once you're finished, you'll be directed to an RPO web page that will give you a discount on tickets to select holiday performances.

Thanks - and we look forward to hearing from you!

October 10, 2008

Opening Night

I have been waiting for this night. I have been waiting almost three months for this night! You spend so much time as an orchestra administrator at the RPO in meetings and planning and budgeting and just working in an office - you can start to forget what you’re working for. And then this night finally comes. Opening night at the Phils! And for me, it's not the hoopla leading up to it or the pre-concert parties or the post concert reception...it's the moment that the lights dim and you hear this orchestra fire up those guttural emotions inside you that remind you why you LOVE THIS MUSIC (and the RPO with it).

Shostakovich Festive Overture. It was a great way to open the concert. I can't help but start to smile hearing our brass section punch those opening chords. My smile gets bigger when I hear the galloping percussion that could give William Tell a run for his money and when the full orchestra marches in at the end of the piece it's just elation for me.

The Beethoven Emperor Concerto is a great piece, just not actually one of my favorite piano concertos (it's my blog and I can write what I want to). Don't know why I have never loved it but nevertheless the RPO and Andre Watts danced together so well during the grand waltzing in the third movement.

But the moment I was really waiting for honestly was hearing Dvorak 9. One of my favorite pieces...for me the symphony never gets old. I agree with Christopher Seaman in his program note...calling the piece a "warhorse" is such a stodgy way of hearing this awesome music. The history behind the piece is so interesting...but the music...wow. The first movement, when the brass and timpani quietly roll in, gives me goose bumps; the beautiful ensemble work by the winds in the second movement, and hats off to our new English horn player Anna Stelthenpohl. Second week on the job and she has to play that signature theme in the Largo movement, while switching back and forth to her oboe. You could tell how great the orchestra played when in between the movements you could hear a pin drop…for a second….and then the audience erupted in their own symphony of coughing, fidgeting and laughing at the sounds they were making. The strings in the third movement were incredible – just driving and driving and driving. But the forth movement: heart wrenching. When Christopher stirred the strings into a frenzy followed by the echoing brass and timpani, I could not stop feeling my heart race with them. It makes all that craziness in the office and that time off from the live performance worthwhile.

I have been waiting for this night and it was worth the wait.

October 4, 2008

New faces from familiar places...

With the 2008-2009 season of the RPO beginning this week, it's always nice to come back to work and see our wonderful colleagues and friends. Like most years, we have a few new faces this year. But for me, it's great that a couple of them aren't new faces at all! Two of our new members, Alex Rosenfeld on horn and Anna Steltenpohl on oboe, are friends of mine from a few years ago.

Alex Rosenfeld, our new assistant principal horn, is a fellow alumnus of Northwestern University, where we were both students of Gail Williams and played in a horn quartet together. Infact, we even bought the same new horn together back then and we're both still playing it, as is our second horn player here in the RPO, Jennifer Burch! Alex won the one-year position after Matt Annin won the Assistant Principal Horn position with the Cincinnati Symphony. Matt is also an alum of Northwestern University and he and Alex were there together - small world. I missed Matt by one year at NU but always heard great things about him...he's a great player and while we'll miss him here, we all wish him the best in Cincinnati.

Anna Steltenpohl, our new second oboe/English horn, is a fellow native of the Chicagoland area. Her hometown, Barrington, is about 25 minutes from my hometown, Crystal Lake. Anna and I played in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra together under the baton of Rossen Milanov, now the associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Anna and her twin sister, Lisa, a violist, even came to my high school senior recital at my church! I have a lot of fond memories of our youth orchestra and all of our time in Chicago - it really was CYSO that helped me realize how much I love performing.

The music world really is a small world a lot of the time. Though I don't previously know some of our other new members, there are definitely some current RPO members who do. Other new members this year include Lars Kirvan on cello (who came on a very last-minute call to Vail with us this past summer - thanks Lars!), Benjamin Krug on cello, Andy Parker on clarinet/bass clarinet and Colin Corner, our new principal bassist. We're excited to have all of them as new colleagues in the RPO.

Come check out all the faces of the RPO this fall - we'll see you at the concerts!

October 2, 2008

African Safari Engagement

RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde and Principal Oboist Erik Behr returned from their September trip to Cape Town, South Africa with more than just the wonderful photos from their safari at a luxury game reserve. Juliana also returned with an engagement ring!

They travelled to Cape Town to visit Erik’s family. This picture was taken the morning after their engagement (the two giraffes are cuddling too!).

While there, they also played a duo recital that benefitted a local charity that provides housing and work to people with disabilities; and Erik researched and interviewed South African composers in connection with writing his doctoral dissertation for Rice University where he is a doctoral candidate.

The RPO regular season starts this weekend with the first orKIDStra concert. Be sure to check out Juliana’s ring (she’s very excited about it!).

Back in the saddle (sort of...)

Well, the 08-09 season has started, and the Nances are trying to get in a groove for the year. While Shannon and I aren't the only married couple who both play in the RPO, we are (at last count) the only ones with 4 kids!

As some of our colleagues have noted, the layoff (as we call it) at the end of the summer is a double sided thing. Lots of free time, but not a lot of income to fund that free time! We had a lot of great time with our kids, and when school started a few weeks ago things got really busy! All 4 kids in piano lessons, then some in cello, violin, horn, etc., taekwondo, plus homework, etc., etc. We were trying to figure out how our regular jobs were going to fit into all this when RPO started- and now here we are!

If we could just take school out of the mix, our mornings would be much easier! But, when you take 2 musicians who aren't morning people (we have to be at our best sometimes playing past 10pm on concert nights) and their 4 kids, who, no surprise given their genetic makeup, aren't morning people either, things can get interesting.

So, we have to get everybody up, (ages 5, 8, 10, 13), fed, lunches made, etc., and then drive them to school, making sure that all backpacks, clothes, and said lunches actually make it to the car, and then again from the car to the classroom, no small task. I get back home again around 8:15, and then we have roughly 45 minutes max to get out of the house and down to rehearsal by 9:30. This may not seem like a big deal to you other parents out there, and I admit, many of you are doing the same sort of crazy in the morning, even earlier than us, *but* the one problem we can run into is we have to be warmed up and prepared to play the hardest of repertoire right at the first downbeat at 9:30. No easing into the work day for us, we either play the music well or we don't!

So far we are 2 for 2, kids have been on time for school at 8am, and we have been on time for rehearsal, even getting in a decent warm up, although Shannon is out sick today. We'll see if we can keep things going smoothly as we get used to RPO being up and running again.

See you at the concerts!


And speaking of politics...

Like nearly everyone else, I'll be on the edge of my couch tonight, watching the VP debates, furiously munching something satisfying. It got me thinking that we have some perfect election season repertoire coming up. Check out the opening Phils concert -- Shostakovich's Festive Overture celebrated the 37th anniversary of nothing less than the Bolshevik Revolution, and Beethoven's Emperor Concerto was written against the backdrop of Napoleon’s power grab, with artillery wreaking havoc on Beethoven’s hearing. And on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, Tchaikovsky's Marche Slav used three Serbian tunes to express support for that country, at war with Turkey. Wow.

Blog me away.