Philip Glass: Mishima/Closing
Thursday night, our ad hoc piano quintet performed a piece by Gene Knific, son of professors Tom and Renata Knific of WMU. This has been an especially fun project because I was able to work with some colleagues that I hadn’t formerly collaborated with. We were also lucky to snag a couple coachings with Prof. Renata Knific this semester. The performance was a success and the piece was very well received. Also, Saturday morning, WMU New Music Ensemble Birds on a Wire performed two pieces on a concert for the Society of Composers Inc. conference being held at WMU. We met and received comments from Robert Patterson on his piece Riffs and Echoes.
Both of these concerts were, in a way, bittersweet because many of our ensemble members are either graduating or moving on to new jobs and experiences at the end of this semester. For our ad hoc quintet, it was our first and last performance. For Birds, it was our last (though, ironically, we played first two pieces that we learned together). In the grand scheme of our individual careers, our rehearsals and performances are just a single frame in the film of our lives. Yet I am profoundly moved by how, in such a short time, we are able to understand and appreciate each other in a unique ways. Making music together helps develop “fast friends” that endure for a long time to come.
Best wishes to everyone. I am sure that we will be able to work together again in the future.
On Tuesday, WMU University Symphony Orchestra went on tour to Detroit!
While we were there, we observed the DSO rehearse and we played our own program in Orchestra Hall that night. While we did have to get on the bus at 6:30am and we got back to Kalamazoo at midnight, it was so worth it. On our program was Cindy Mctee’s Timepiece conducted by Jeff Spenner our wonderful conducting GA, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor with Lori Sims and conducted by Bruce Uchimura, and the Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphoses with none other than Leonard Slatkin himself. Sitting principal meant that I had a front row seat to the action. One of my favorite moments of the day was at the end of our time with maestro Slatkin in rehearsal. Liang, our concertmaster got a handshake and as Slatkin stepped off the podium. I got a nice pat-pat on my shoulder.
I am very proud of the work that everyone in USO has put into this concert cycle. And it really paid off because Tuesday night’s concert was a blast. With three very different pieces conducted by three very different conductors, we really delivered stellar performance.
I usually try and tie some “moral of the story” into my posts… but I don’t really have one this week other than that our trip was a fantastic opportunity. It was fun, it was educational, and I didn’t have to pay for dinner. It was also nice to spend some quality time with members of the orchestra. What more could you want?
A big thanks to all of our conductors, administrators, personnel managers, and supporting staff for making this happen. Every single member of the orchestra that I talked to today was drained from yesterday but everyone said that it was an incredible experience.
Photo credit for the pictures of the orchestra goes to Emmalyn Helge, my dear sister.
I will admit, on the subject of college basketball, I think the third-graders that I teach would have a better chance of designing a winning bracket. Go Hoosiers / Broncos !
The month of March is roaring through the school of music and taking no prisoners. Lots of performances, tons of papers, and of course, practicing. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of playing in a masterclass for Mihai Tetel, associate professor of cello at the University of Hartford. Tetel is a friend of Uchimura’s and they teach together at Telel’s summer institute, Aria, held at Mount Holyoke College.
On account of him being short on time, Prof. Tetel asked for the first two pages of the Bach 6 Prelude but graciously asked me play the movement in its entirety. His comments were very insightful and insistent. This is partly due to his bluntness (in my opinion, he’s pretty “old school”). However, at the heart of it all, there is an overwhelming sense that Tetel wants you to do better because he knows you want to do better.
This is something that I think we all struggle with. While we all long to improve our technique and musicianship, do we really want it in a way that leads to improved practicing and performance? It is an elusive state, or perhaps I should say, an elusive way of life. How, with all of life’s challenges, do we remain focused on the path?
While I am still trying to work this one out, I think part of the equation is setting goals, both long-term and short-term. The romanticized and more abstract long-term” is what gives us the sense of purpose, drive, and spirit to push forward. The short-term goals are the tangible steps we take to achieving them. One cannot function without the other. A NCAA championship isn’t won just dreaming about the final four and you’re not going to improving your shooting percentage if you don’t dream big.
Rewind three years and I am in the thick of completing my undergrad degree. It’s about this time, spring of my sophomore year, that I really began to question my place in the world of classical music. Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? Maybe I should switch my major? Obviously, I decided to stay. But I also made another goal, which was that if someday, I was able to play J. S. Bach's Suite No. 6 in D Major BWV 1012 in a meaningful way, I would be satisfied. Today, I can say that I have just begun to see the tip of that iceberg. I feel lucky to have always been surrounded by teachers who can help me more clearly define and achieve my goals. Through their dedication and guidance I have made it this far.
As a side note, this post is partly inspired by Prof. Emilio Colon of Indiana University. One of Telel’s first remarks was of me being “set up well” and that I should thank my teachers for this. Also, Prof. Colon believes that I know nothing about sports (partly true) and therefore elected to make sports analogies all the time in my lessons. I once told him that I played varsity tennis in high school and his response was that “that doesn’t count”. I hope that my college basketball reference earns me some points in his book.
Next week, USO goes on tour to Detroit and WMU hosts the Society of Composers conference. Upwards and onwards.
Coming back from spring break this last week, the WMU New Music Ensemble Birds on a Wire hit the ground running with two rehearsals on Sunday, rehearsals Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and our concert Wednesday night. Our piece Vox Inhumana, written by James Mobberley and directed by Dr. David Colson, is scored for small ensemble (voice, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, sax, percussion, piano, and electronics) and featured soloist Rebecca Sherburn. Vox was one of the most challenging pieces that we have attempted to date because of its large unmetered sections and wide range of techniques and effects. This is due to the subject matter of the piece, Dante’s Inferno of the Divine Comedy, as it depicts a journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven. Such an otherworldly setting calls for a plethora of otherworldly sounds.
If Tom Wait’s Alice and Radiohead’s Kid A were to have a baby and it was raised on diet of the Inferno, that’s what I think Mobberley’s piece sounds like. I say this because it’s not as dark of a piece as you might think. It’s less about death and pain and more about the secession of man’s millions of desires. In a way, it’s very Zen. I talked to Dr. Mobberley before the concert and he said himself that there is some “Eastern” influence in terms of his own philosophy. As the piece draws to a close, the vocal part calls for less and less vibrato (a very human quality) and instrumentation relaxes and stratifies with soft colors. If you are familiar with Motion Picture Soundtrack from Kid A you might get an idea of what I’m talking about.
Interestingly enough, my journey with Birds on a Wire has been quite similar. To be absolutely honest, “new music” is not my cup of tea nor is it my first pick for repertoire. However, what I have learned is that some of the most valuable experiences are ones that you do not seek out yourself. Not only have I grown as a musician but I’ve had spectacular experiences with our directors, guest artists, and colleagues. The moral of the story, and perhaps Vox Inhumana, is that life takes you to unexpected places. And that’s not only okay but it’s a really good thing. Consider that if you only did the things that you picked out for yourself, how boring would your life be? And when it’s all said and done, everything you do is just another notch on your belt.
In other news, I’m in the process of touching up Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major for my Suzuki certification, learning Bach Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, preparing for USO’s trip to Detroit with the DSO and Leonard Slatkin, and performances for the Society for Composers’ Conference.
There is no rest for the wicked.
Wednesday night was the premier of Paul Lansky’s Contemplating Weather, a multi-movement work commissioned for the WMU School of Music’s 100th Anniversary. It features poetry by Jonathan Greene and utilizes an eleven instrumentalist ensemble and a full SATB choir. On Friday, after months or preparation, Dr. David Colson and Dr. Kimberly Adams delivered us through the creation of recording with Bridge Records. In short, this last week before spring break has been very busy.
A big thanks to our leadership, ensemble members, choir, and recording engineers for making this happen. I feel very lucky to have been a part of this process and am very excited to hear the end product when the album is finished.