Tag Archives: baltimore symphony orchestra

BSO Academy, Round Two

20120624-220700.jpgWe’re off and running on another BSO Academy. There are more than 100 musicians here this year to play side-by-side with members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and under the baton of Marin Alsop.

So far, the week is off to grand start. A big difference this year is a partnership between the BSO and the Baltimore School of the Arts. Our first sessions are taking place in rooms that were purpose-created for teaching music, meaning there are lots of music stands and pianos everywhere to support playing. There are dozens of rooms for practicing and private lessons in the middle of Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood.

There have been some lovely events to help us get acquainted with other musicians here. Among attendees I’ve met so far are a retired violinist from the Kansas City symphony who is now playing the harp and another violinist who works on environmental issues in Maryland but also plays the flute and saxophone. This year’s roster includes a significant number of teachers — finally able to attend because this year’s Academy is a little later — after school has let out for the year.

Today, we eased into playing with a fun session of string orchestra and a helpful master class — both led by BSO ConcertMaster Jonathan Carney. In the evening, chamber rehearsals began, and I worked on Mozart with the delightful Ivan Stefanovic of the BSO.

Sectionals take place tomorrow as we begin work in earnest on the Orchestra repertoire, with our first rehearsal in Meyerhoff Hall scheduled for Tuesday. We’re aiming for a great concert on Saturday evening, June 30th.

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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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The Tempo of Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about tempo lately.

BSO AcademySome of the thinking has its roots in the music I’m struggling to master for next week’s BSO Academy.  I’m starting to get my fingers and bow around most of it — but at half-speed.  I’m nowhere near as fast as the recordings I’ve been listening to of Hindemith, Rimskey-Korsakov, and now the Dvorak String Quintet in G (my designated chamber music piece – 2nd violin).  And the thought of trying to play as fast as the music demands fills me with terror. Continue reading

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Catching Up …

2011 has started in a rush, and it’s already a week into February!

Just back from the 2011 Sphinx Competition, which featured final performances from the Junior Division this year.   Congratulations to Alexandra Switala, who captured the first place price with a passionate, charismatic performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto #5 in A Major.  Her animated performance stole the show from Annelle Gregory, whose more restrained classic performance was gorgeously rendered, but which left her in third place.   My row, however, was rooting for Xavier Foley, the young bassist who captured second place while bending in half over his instrument to play notes in positions never intended on the bass in his performance of the Dittersdorf Concerto in E Major.   Continue reading

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