October 24, 2011

The Mahler experience (from the back)


That was pretty much my reaction as I was leaving the stage after performing the Mahler 2 concert last Saturday night to a sold out house in Kodak Hall. It's hard in my 25+ years playing in the trumpet section of the RPO to remember very many houses that were quite that full or quite that enthusiastic! The ovation lasted over ten minutes, and as Maestro Remmereit asked each section of the orchestra to stand, the audience roared with a cheer usually only reserved for the famous soloist of the evening. It was a very exciting moment for the musicians in the orchestra that we will not soon forget.

As I was leaving for the night, I thought about how different my experience of Mahler 2 was from those out in the audience. This is something that most people don't think about when they come to hear the RPO, but I've heard mentioned often when we get visitors in rehearsals who sit in the back with the trumpets:

"Wow, this doesn't sound like the RPO at all!"

No, it doesn't. Not from my chair!

And if you were in my chair last week for the Mahler, and turned around, do you know what you would have seen? Trombones. Lots of trombones, up on a riser, pointed straight at you. Usually we sit next to the trombones in one line, so this was a different setup than normal, made necessary by the sheer numbers of musicians that had to fit on the stage.

Let me make one thing exceedingly clear at this point- I love the trombone, it is an awesome piece of acoustical engineering, and is (I believe that has been proven with a decibel meter) the loudest brass instrument in the orchestra. It can also be breathtakingly beautiful at a soft dynamic, especially in a chorale, like in Brahms 1, or yes, Mahler 2. I love the sound, it's a great instrument, and our trombone section is populated with really nice people- not an axe murderer in the bunch. Mahler 2 uses 4 trombones and tuba (that's one more trombone than usual) and in our case we used another bass trombone as our extra, bringing our total to 2 tenor trombones (the regular ones) and 2 bass trombones (bigger, and they would argue, better.)

My chair was more or less centered between these two bass trombones (let's call them Andy and Jeff), sort of an acoustical sweet spot of armageddon. The sound was at once completely awe inspiring, and completely debilitating! When I went to play my own part during the loudest passages of the Mahler in the first rehearsal all I could hear (and feel) was the bass trombone parts. I could have written their parts down from memory after a few passes, and I knew which was Jeff and which was Andy, but couldn't really tell which one was me- how loud was I playing? What was the quality of my sound? To be honest, I sometimes couldn't tell what notes I was playing, I was completely baffled! I could sort of hear the other trumpets, and maybe a hint of percussion off in the distance, but no strings, no winds, no horns, etc. You get the picture! It was a challenge. My world pretty much consisted of me, Mahler, Jeff, and Andy. My wife was jealous, she wanted in, but she was over in the violin section. I had no idea that she existed or was playing at all.

As the week went on, I think my brain adjusted to the new sound and started to filter out the trumpet sound from the trombone sound a bit, and I began to have a little more success. I felt like I could hear my colleagues in the trumpet section a bit more, which improved our blend and intonation. I didn't want to wear ear plugs, which does happen on occasion when things are just too loud to bear or one is concerned about hearing loss, as I didn't feel I was at that point. But if you think about it, there are several instruments in the orchestra besides trumpet and trombone that can be incredibly loud, especially at close range, like the piccolo, snare drum, timpani, cymbals, french horns (if you end up behind them), etc., all packed in a very close space on the stage. We all try to work together and be sensitive to each other, but sometimes the music demands something at a dramatically loud volume, and you've got to protect your ears. (My most intense experience in recent times besides the Mahler was last year's rehearsal for the opera Pagliacci. The Italian tenor stood up right behind me during the rehearsal because of a lack of space at the front of the room, and as soon as he began to sing I knew I was in trouble. His voice, which was huge and beautiful from a safe distance (around 100 yards), was so piercing at point blank range that I had to double over with my fingers in my ears (not the most elegant way to react to an opera singer) until a compassionate and prepared colleague (in the trombone section, actually) passed me some ear plugs before I passed out.)

Anyway, I felt like the sound situation in the Mahler got better as the week progressed, and the concerts continued to improve, so it worked out in the end. But, to get back to my earlier point about how things sound different from the back of the orchestra: In the final climax of the last movement of the Mahler, the 200 members of the chorus who were seated at the front of the hall dramatically stood up, turned around to face the audience and sang their hearts out while the entire orchestra joined in at full power.

The picture of this happening (photo: Kyle Schwab) is incredibly inspiring and exciting. From my seat, however, not only did I not see the choir as they stood up, I couldn't hear them *at all* with 8 trumpets, 4 trombones, 9 horns and a tuba in my immediate vicinity! I can imagine that the choir sounded great, but I *know* that the trombones sounded great, because I was the first one to hear them- they only got their sound to the audience by first getting it through me! And a great sound it was. . .

October 23, 2011

The Dichter Duo Performs Poulenc!

"One was struck not only by the synchronism of their musical impulses, but also by the vigor and elegance of the execution." -The New York Times

Pianists Misha and Cipa Dichter met at The Juilliard School as students of the legendary Rosina Lhevinne and made their first joint appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1972, four years after their marriage. Since then, the Dichters have performed in recital and with major orchestras throughout the world and have brought to the concert stage many previously neglected works of the two-piano and piano-four-hand repertoires. Now, hear these fantastic musicians in their first performance together with the RPO! Thursday, October 27 and Saturday, October 29 in Kodak Hall.

Born in Shanghai, where his Polish parents had fled at the outbreak of World War II, Misha Dichter came to Los Angeles with his family at the age of two and began his piano studies a few years later. While still a student at Juilliard, he launched his international career with a stunning triumph at the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Cipa Dichter was born in Brazil of Polish-Russian parents and had her first piano lessons at the age of six. She made her professional debut at 16 with the Symphony Orchestra of Brazil and came to the United States to study at The Juilliard School shortly thereafter.

The two will perform Poulenc's captivating Concerto for Two Pianos. This concerto is a transitional work, combining the impudent humor of Poulenc's early style with the blossoming vulnerability of the mature composer. Click here to read the program notes.

To hear the first movement of the piece, with Francis Poulenc as one of the soloists, check out this vintage performance video on YouTube:

And use this link to read the Democrat and Chronicle profile of the Dichters.

The concert also includes Saint-Saëns' awe-inspiring "Organ Symphony." More than a century after its premiere, it remains unrivaled in its scope and majesty. Plus, Mozart's symphonic postcard to Paris.

For his Philharmonics Series debut, Michael Butterman (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) leads the RPO on Thursday, October 27 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, October 29 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15. Order your tickets online today or call 454-2100 to order by phone.
Dichter two-piano photo: Robert Caplin for The New York Times

October 19, 2011

Meet the Mahler Soloists: Ashley Hill & Rebecca Farley Witty

We're so happy to have Ashley Hill and Rebecca Farley Witty with us for this week's blog! Ashley and Rebecca, both talented young professionals, will perform Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," with the RPO and the Eastman-Rochester Chorus this Thursday, October 20 at 7:30 pm and again on Saturday, October 22 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

Ashley Hill, mezzo-soprano, just completed her graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music, earning her Master of Music in Performance and Literature. A native of Florida, Hill has had the privilege of performing in both the United States and Europe.

Rebecca Farley Witty, soprano, also just earned a Master of Music in Performance and Literature from Eastman. Rebecca is a recipient of the Renée Fleming Award, and recently represented Eastman at the Kennedy Center for their "Conservatory Project."

RPO: Rebecca and Ashley, we’re so happy you can speak with us! You must be looking forward to your upcoming performance with the RPO.

Ashley: I am so excited and blessed for this opportunity with the RPO. I have gone to many of their concerts and know full well what a wonderful orchestra they are! And not only do I get the chance to share the stage with them, but share the stage for one of Mahler's most monumental works!

Rebecca: I'm absolutely thrilled to be performing with the RPO! I can't imagine a better masterwork to mark my debut with this fantastic orchestra. I feel so blessed to be chosen for this opportunity!

RPO: As a recent graduate, how does a soloist role help enhance your musical studies?

Rebecca: Being a soloist with a professional orchestra is pushing me to the next level of my studies and my career. It's what students and young professionals train for, and essentially what every student hopes for when they leave school.

Ashley: This opportunity definitely helps me in the professional world. As an emerging professional, opportunities like this are so crucial and definitely beneficial to get the "career ball" rolling just a little more!

RPO: Tell us a little bit more about your musical role in this symphony.

Rebecca: Well, in this epic five-movement symphony, the soprano solo doesn't begin until the middle of the fifth movement. Unlike other choral and orchestral works, like the Mozart or Verdi Requiem, the soprano soloist is more like an equal member of the orchestra and the choir. The first entrance is in unison with the choir, at a triple pianissimo. It is intense and beautiful in its simplicity. The ending is just as, if not more, powerful; but in a much louder, much fuller sonority. The climax of the choir and orchestra together is one of the most glorious and transcendent moments in all of Mahler's compositions (in this soprano's humble opinion!)

RPO: When you approach a musical performance, what do you want to achieve with the end result?

Rebecca: What an interesting question! I think one of the most important things is to communicate ideas to the audience; obviously the text is important to communicate, but also the composer's intent for the piece, the emotions behind the text, and sometimes just the gravity of the topic.

Ashley: Whenever I approach any concert, recital, or stagework, my goal is to be able to get the audience to feel as if they are not just watching a live performance, but are able to connect with the music, words, and emotional landscape the "character" is going through. I want them to be able to relate to what is happening in the performance, and learn more of who they are as a person. Hopefully, this will allow them to evaluate where they are personally — in relation to what they are watching and hearing — and where they desire to be.

RPO: What do you think young performers can bring to an orchestra, as opposed to someone who’s been performing for 20 years?

Ashley: As a young singer who is only just getting started with my career, I do feel strongly that there are things I can bring to the orchestra now that I probably won't be able to in the future, as a seasoned professional. Since I haven't sung many of these orchestral masterworks in the proper context before, I am still open to many options and possibilities when it comes to performing them. I have not yet found "my way" of singing these pieces, like the Mahler for instance, and am up for new ways of singing them. This is not to say that I don't have my own ideas for the music, but I am still very interested to hear what others think and consider putting that into my performance.

Rebecca: It's always good to get a fresh perspective on things. It's true, I haven't been singing with orchestras for 20 years, but I have loved music for 20 years and I think I have something to contribute to the music world.

RPO: What advice can you give to young singers who are just beginning their musical journey?

Rebecca: Mostly, the things I can think of have to do with non-musical things. Every choice you make affects your future. Be kind to every single person you encounter on your journey, and be a great colleague. Your talent gets you hired, your character and your attitude determine whether or not you'll be hired back.

Ashley: I would tell them to relish every moment they have now as students. Those years fly by, and before you know it, you are out in the "real world" with nothing but your passion and previous experience to hang onto, so make the most of it! Take every opportunity you can and continually challenge yourself. Don't ever expect to FEEL "ready," but instead, give yourself the opportunity to BE ready, and you will be amazed at what you can do!

RPO: After Mahler, what’s next for you?

Rebecca: Well, seeing as how I'm still young in terms of the opera scene, I will be taking some auditions for Young Artist Programs and doing some competitions as well. I am in the stage of my career where I am just asking to be heard and receive feedback. It requires a lot of patience and determination, so hopefully I'm up for the task!

Ashley: In this career, we have no idea "what's next" and that's the scary, yet beautiful, reality that we as musicians live. I do plan to take auditions for competitions, emerging professional programs, and roles for various opera companies. I will also continue to give myself opportunities to perform in solo recitals, and collaborative recitals/concerts as well. And I plan to continue to grow my own private studio so that I can share my passion with another generation of musicians, and, in turn, be encouraged by their passion.

See Rebecca and Ashley's debut performance with the RPO this Thursday and Saturday! Tickets start at $15. Order your tickets online today or call 454-2100 to order by phone. Use this link for more information about the concert.

October 14, 2011

Make This Your Year to Discover Mahler!

Don’t miss the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s first performances of Gustav Mahler’s colossal “Resurrection” Symphony since 1985. The RPO’s new Music Director Arild Remmereit conducts this masterwork with the Eastman-Rochester Chorus on Thursday, October 20 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, October 22 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.
This marks the first in a series of Mahler works that Arild plans to bring to the RPO, including Mahler’s Fourth Symphony next January. The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will also be playing Mahler this season, and with great anticipation, RPYO Manager Susan Basu has prepared the following introduction to the music of Gustav Mahler:

“We have an extraordinary opportunity this year—the 100th anniversary of his untimely death at the age of 51—to get to know the great orchestral music of Gustav Mahler. In addition to the two symphonies on the RPO season, you will have a chance to hear the Youth Orchestra perform movements from two other Mahler symphonies—the breathtaking Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 on its November concert and, together with the RPO, the dramatic finale from Symphony No. 1 on its March Side-by-Side concert. Perhaps never before in Rochester has there been such a conjunction of Mahler favorites in one season!

“Arild Remmereit lived in Vienna for 25 years before coming to Rochester this August. Vienna was Mahler’s city during the late 1800s, where he commanded much of the city’s musical life as director of the Vienna Opera and as an exciting orchestra conductor and strikingly innovative composer. Our new maestro breathed in Mahler’s music from his time in the conservatories, concert halls, and neighborhoods of the city. He knows Mahler’s musical language intimately and, even more important, knows how to share that knowledge with his orchestra musicians and audiences.

“Not so long ago, I had the misimpression that Mahler’s music was largely dense, loud, brassy, confusing, and long—and I avoided it. Big mistake! Yes, those elements are there. But more important are vast sections of great delicacy, soaring lyricism, heart-searing pathos, and expressions of the triumph of the human spirit. As we find with many artistic creations of the highest order, understanding and appreciation does not come all at once. It may require time, patience, and repeated exposure. When that is possible, we often discover new worlds of thought, feeling, and expression. That might happen for you with Mahler’s music.

“Composing at the time of Freud in Vienna, Mahler absorbed that period’s new awareness of human psychology and the whirlwind of emotions that lie under the surface in our sub-conscious minds. It was also a time of growing fractures in European politics and society. Some critics believe that this extraordinary artist, born in the mid-19th century, anticipated in his music the repeated turmoil—personal and cultural as well as political—that tore though the 20th century.

“It may require a few hearings to adjust to Mahler’s very personal way of juxtaposing contrasting musical statements and emotions. They may not always make logical sense. But that turns out to be one of the sources of its powerful and profound impact. He wrote music the way we actually experience our emotions and impressions—not always smoothly but often in sudden and intense transitions from one mood to another. 

“My route of entry into Mahler’s music was in part through his wonderful songs, a large collection of melodies and lyrics that he had both collected and adapted from German folk music and composed himself. Many of these songs he later incorporated into the symphonies that you will hear this season. His very accessible Symphony No. 2 that the RPO will perform on October 20 and 22 is an ideal way for you to begin your musical journey with Mahler.”

Use this link to view a video of the London Symphony Orchestra performing the first movement of Mahler's Second Symphony. Tickets for this weekend’s RPO concerts start at $15. Call 454-2100 or click here to purchase online.
Use this link for more information on the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra season.

October 10, 2011

Cirque Sends Both Acrobats and Sound Waves Flying Through the Air!

Have you ever watched two circus performers appearing to float in midair? Have you experienced the the thrill of Tchaikovsky's music to Swan Lake? Either act is exciting on its own, but imagine the combined effect of the two together, and you get Cirque de la Symphonie, an innovative, awe-inspiring way to experience symphonic music.

“We like to think we’re taking the Cirque artistry into the true realm of fine arts,” says co-founder Bill Allen.“This isn’t popcorn and peanuts — this is caviar and champagne.”

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Jeff Tyzik, will tackle old and new orchestral works by Sibelius, Rimsky-Korsakov, Smetana, Dvořák and even John Williams. Meanwhile, an array of world-class acrobats, contortionists, strongmen, and jugglers will display their own art in a program custom-designed for the orchestra. In a Cirque performance, it's not uncommon to see an acrobat dangling from silk ribbons and flying around the conductor and the first row of violins. Check out a YouTube video of the group in action!

When aerial artist Alexander Streltsov (whom you'll see perform this weekend!) co-founded Cirque, he wanted people to see circus acts as an art form. But in what has become a true fusion of two art forms, he has helped expand orchestral audiences as well.

Experience Cirque on Friday, October 14 at 8:00 pm and Saturday, October 15 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15. Order your tickets online today or call 454-2100 to order by phone.

October 3, 2011

Symphony 101: Explore the Music with Arild!

How did folk music enter the concert hall? Why did it inspire many of music's greatest masters? What controversies were ignited when folk tunes and spirituals found their way into symphonies of Dvořák and others?

New RPO Music Director Arild Remmereit will answer those questions for us this weekend to kick off the long-anticipated Symphony 101 Season! This special series comprises a unique blend of music and history. In addition to live music performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the audience will get to hear the inside story about how these wonderful works came into being, including in-depth looks at the lives of the composers, information about what was happening in the world when the pieces were written, and more.

This weekend's concerts will take place on Saturday, October 8 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, October 9 at 2:00 pm, both in the Performance Hall at Hochstein. Arild Remmereit will present American classics selections from Amy Beach's "Gaelic" Symphony and Dvořák's "New World" Symphonyeach drawing liberally on folk tunes imported here and spirituals shaped here.

Yom Kippur will be recognized with Principal Cellist Stefan Reuss (The Clara and Edwin Strasenburgh Chair) playing Bruch's Kol Nidrei, and RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde (The Caroline W. Gannett & Clayla Ward Chair) will explore the folk heritage of Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen’s Romance for Violin.

Check out a preview of this work by playing the video below.

General admission is $24; student tickets for Sunday's concert are $10. Tickets can be purchased by calling 454-2100, or by clicking here.