Tag Archives: Marin Alsop

BSO Academy, The Final Day (Georgeann)

BSO AcademyI can’t believe it’s over.

As I write this, I’m on the road home.  So much has happened, and I’ve learned so much that it will fuel this blog with content for a couple more weeks, at least.

Dress Rehearsal

BSO Academy Group 1 Dress Rehearsal with Marin Alsop conducting.

Saturday brought dress rehearsal with Marin Alsop and the orchestra.   Our group, Group 2, finally had a chance to sit in the hall and listen to the rehearsal of Group 1.  Group 1 had a different repertoire to perform:

  • The Overture to Candide, by Leonard Bernstein (an Alsop mentor!)
  •  Alborada del gracioso, by Maurice Ravel, and
  • The first movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony #2.
Dress Rehearsal-Correcting a problem

Marin Alsop works with the orchestra to iron out a problem.

The Bernstein is a favorite orchestra concert opener, and is full of light-hearted humor and fun.  The Ravel is a French Impressionist composer’s take on Spanish music, and was very different from the Rimskey-Korsakov take on Spanish music that our group had in the Capriccio.   The Mahler was alternately thrilling and ethereal, appropriate for a Symphony that has the subtitle, “Resurrection.”

Dress Rehearsal-Cellos

Group 1 plays Mahler at rehearsal.

Our group one colleagues returned the favor as our Group took the stage for our final rehearsal.  My extra practice on the Capriccio paid off, in a compliment from my stand partner on the progress I had made in 24 hours.    A “class photo”, lunch and a Q&A with Marin Alsop followed, and then we had the afternoon off to relax, rendezvous with our families and friends, and prepare for the final concert.

The Meyerhoff was about three-quarters full for the final concert; the size of the audience surprised the BSO musicians.  The Symphony had also billed the concert as a “Donor Appreciate Concert” so the private boxes were well populated.  The concert was also free to the general public, so we also attracted some local fans of the symphony.

Unlike most of my colleagues who sat in the audience, I listened in the Green Room with another Academy member – an oboe player – during the first half of the concert.  It turned out to be strategic:  I was able to hear Marin’s comments as she came off-stage after the Mahler.  She was clearly happy with the Group 1 performance.

Then it was time for our Group to take the stage.  I felt surprisingly relaxed – no attack of nerves like I had suffered on Friday during the chamber performance – and it was all over way too quickly.  The Capriccio and the Hindemith are both such show pieces, that the audience immediately left to its feet at the end, giving us a standing ovation and three curtain calls.

We were all exhilarated.  We had done it!  We had played side-by-side with the BSO, and had learned so much and worked so hard.  None of us were ready for it to be over.

We have many memories and a host of ideas to improve our playing for the future.  So, where do I sign up for next year?

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BSO Academy, Friday Orchestra (Georgeann)

Friday morning, our group had a long practice scheduled with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony.  A lot of focused practice allowed me to become more secure on some of the fast runs of the Hindemith, so I was anxious for rehearsal to see if i had it right.  As it turned out, Marin was stuck in traffic, and we began under the leadership of her graduate student, who is completing a two-year fellowship at the BSO.

He began the first movement at a somewhat slower tempo than we had experienced with Marin, which made playing the Hindemith easier for me.  (He is the conductor at the podium in the WBAL-TV report on the camp.) Marin appeared a few minutes into the rehearsal, and spent some of the morning coaching him on his techniques.  “You have to play every instrument,” she told him.

With her conducting style, using her entire body, there is no ambiguity about what she wants and when she wants it.  A wind player told me that it felt to him like his experience as a naval aviator:  it was like that moment in air-to-air combat when a “target solution” is reached.   When she cues you, it’s clear you are locked in her sight down the baton, and you either play, or you die!

When Marin took over, she made an adjustment in the original plan that was univerally praised by the Academy members.  Based on feedback from Academy musicians that they wanted to hear more of the BSO, she had the BSO players play a movement, before having us all play it together.  That change allowed us amateurs to pull our noses out of the score and watch our stand partners closely.  We also had a chance to listen to the nuances of dynamics and tone Marin wanted in the music.  That change allowed us to ramp up our game, and play better.

On the downside, what became glaringly obvious to me was that I had been TOO focused on the Hindemith in practice at the expense of the Rimskey-Korsakov – a situation I needed able to remedy with more practice!

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BSO Academy, Day 4 (Georgeann)

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop took the podium in our string sectionals this morning to work through some of the rough spots in Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphoses.  At one point, in the second movement, she turned to the violins and said, “Let’s do that section with the nightmare triplets.”

About three minutes into the movement, the first violins, second violins, and violas have about 30 measures of triplets – sometimes in chromatic scales, but other times in unpredictable patterns that we are all struggling to master.

Tonight at dinner, we did the math and realized what we are trying to do.  The movement is in 2/2 time, with each half note having an assigned value of 96 beats per minute.   That means each quarter note has a metronome value of 192 beats per measure.  Subdivide those quarters into triplets, and that means we are trying to play 576 beats per minute. Put another way, we are playing more about 9-1/2 notes PER SECOND!  Sheez …

The other night, on the phone with Chuck, I told him I didn’t think I had ever played this fast in my life.  Now, I have an idea what my speed limit is!

The good news, I suppose, is that Marin and many of the top players in the orchestra have told us repeatedly to “focus on the rhythm, not the notes, because the brass is so noisy no one will notice if you make a mistake!”

The section I’m talking about can be heard in this YouTube video – just when the worst run of the “nightmare triplets” for violins begin.  It sounds on the video like one continuous line, but let me assure you, we are sawing our hearts out!

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BSO Academy, Day 3 (Georgeann)

A marathon day of playing in Baltimore, starting with my own need to practice and work out some issues, followed by strings sectional.  Then, one of the key moments of the week, our first rehearsal on-stage at Meyerhoff Hall sharing stands with the professional musicians of the BSO, rehearsing with Marin Alsop.

In all, the rehearsal was very business-like and moved quickly.   In the middle of the Rimskey-Korsakov, I heard something remarkable:  the shuffling of musicians feet on the floor in applause for an extremely beautiful harp cadenza performed by our amateur harpist.   It was very cool.

After a break for lunch (and another hour for me in the practice room), BSO concert master Jonathan Carney led a string orchestra workshop, and I was proud to hear Mike, the cellist from our string quintet, performing another beautiful solo in the middle of Grieg’s Holberg Suite.

Then it was on to chamber music rehearsal, with our quintet coming together astonishingly well on the piece we plan to at Friday night’s concert.  Then another break for dinner, and class on getting most out of practice time.

In all, I calculated that the violin had been under my chin for at least seven full hours today.  Made me recall another quote from Monday’s session with the physical therapist:  “People don’t realize musicians are elite athletes.  It takes great strength to hold and play your instrument.”    Amen.

Sidenote:  Along with the intense schedule, the midlife musicians who decided to stay in the nearby dorm for the week were promised today they would finally have hot water tonight.   Can’t imagine what they’ve been putting up with!

 

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BSO Academy, Day 2 (Georgeann)

A very jam-packed day in Baltimore, with six hours of playing and a whole lot of music.  Some phrases that stick in my mind from the day:

  • “Use less bow.”  From my private lesson this morning with Gregory Kuperstein, a BSO first violinist, originally from Russia, and a long-time orchestra member.
  • “In this section, it’s very noisy with drums and horns, so if you get the notes wrong, it’s not a big deal.”  GK, again, commenting on the Hindemith.  (You have to imagine the Russian accent).
  • “Balance your skull over your spine, and release your legs to the floor.”   From this morning’s class on the Alexander Technique.
  • “When you are exhausted, you start muscling through, and that’s when injuries happen.”  From this morning’s session with a physical therapist, who warned that unless a therapist specializes in musicians, they may give you the wrong treatment.
  • “Here’s a simple stretch for string players to relieve tension in your hands before and after you play.”  Advice from same physical therapist.  One hour later, therapist is mentally subjected to some choice language when stretching results in a cramp in my left hand (the one that fingers the strings) just as sectional practice is beginning.
  • “Have any of you tried playing the first violin solos in the Rimskey-Korsakov”.  In violin sectional practice. Several players start demonstrating their proficiency.  I am firmly shaking my head — isn’t the concertmaster supposed to play those and let me just do the pizzicato?
  • “In this section, it’s very noisy with drums and horns, so if you get the notes wrong, it’s not a big deal.” Igor Yuzefovich, Assistant Concertmaster leading the string sectional, commenting on the Hindemith.  He was born in Russian, but doesn’t have the accent.
  • “Each of you WILL play a violin solo in the Rimskey-Korsakov.  Expect Marin to call on you during rehearsal tomorrow.”  IY’s announcement at the end of the string sectional.  Yikes!  Where is the practice room?
  • “WE DID IT.”  Group chorus after our string quintet manages to sight-read through the entire Dvorak Quintet in G Major, before deciding to focus on the Scherzo (2nd movement) only for Friday night’s concert.

And finally,

  • “Thank goodness we decided not to stay in the dorm.”  Viola Judy and myself, as we return to our hotel room after a 12 hour day of music to freshly made beds and clean towels.  The folks staying in the dorm have been without hot water because of a malfunction, and have to get through the week using only one towel.
Tomorrow, our first full rehearsal with the musicians of the BSO and Marin Alsop.   That will be me ducking when the Rimskey-Korsakov solos are assigned!

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Symphony Fantasy Camp

BSO AcademyThe envelope was large, brown, and addressed by hand.

“Dear Georgeann,

“Congratulations!  After careful review of your application, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is pleased to offer you admission to the second annual BSO Academy …”

I’m in. Continue reading

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