"Chirp, Chirp! Chirp, Chirp!" Hello everyone, I'm Chester the Cricket! Well, at least this week that's who I'm pretending to be. In reality, I am violinist Nicolas Kendall, and I will be playing the part of the famous little cricket who found his way from the beautiful Connecticut country-side all the way to the middle of Times Square, New York City. No, I don't have 6 legs - nor do I live under rocks, logs, in meadows, and along roadways - but this week I will be chirping and singing with my violin, along with the National Symphony Orchestra and a small troupe of amazing actors, on the stage of the Kennedy Center. Through the language of music, we will bring the exciting adventure of "The Cricket in Times Square" to life! "CHIRP!"
It's an exciting thing for me to be a part of this production, as it's a homecoming of sorts. I grew up in Silver Spring, MD, where we had our fair share of little crickets hanging around dark corners of my family's basement (I wonder how many of them knew Chester...)! Some of my favorite memories of growing up in the D.C. area are of playing with the National Symphony Orchestra on the stage of the Kennedy Center. The orchestra is like family to me. In fact, it's true! My cousin, Dan Foster, is principal viola, and my uncle (Dan's father), William Foster, plays alongside him in the same section. Dan and I also play together in a string quartet with NSO Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef, and my sister, Yumi Kendall! We call ourselves the Dryden String Quartet. Fun, right? So you see, it IS home to me!
On another note, it's always very meaningful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Chris Brubeck, the amazing composer who created all of the music you will hear us play. Chris is the son of the legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, and is also a very close friend of mine. Several years back, Chris wrote a violin concerto for me in which I improvise right on the spot! For the score of "The Cricket in Times Square" Chris has written notes that will make the music virtually jump off the page, and which capture the essence of each character in the story. Playing Chester the cricket, Chris has me leaping from one end of the violin to the other!
In addition to the musical score, our stage director, Scot Reese, has some exciting stage directions planned for me. Who knows, this may mean that I'll be hopping about the hall during the show as I play Chester the Cricket (and you might just hear some chirping under your seat)! As a member of my band, Time for Three, I have grown accustomed to using performance spaces in unexpected ways to help tell stories. One of the exciting aspects of the career I've chosen is knowing that there are a lot of unknowns when walking into a creative process. Even when I'm playing a concerto with an orchestra, or a club date with Time for Three, I never really know what the sound will be like, what kind of personalities I will be collaborating with, or who will show up that evening to hear the show. There is so much adapting, give and take, reciprocal energy, improvising, that makes life as an artist constantly adventurous and exciting. It really helps that I get to work with incredibly gifted people, and true professionals who constantly bring their "A" game! That makes the discovery of the unknown so much fun!
...And that will be exactly what happens when we all show up for rehearsal onstage! Together, under Scot's direction and the masterful baton of the ever-so-awesome maestro Steve Reineke, all 80 plus of us onstage will come together and, for the first time ever, make "The Cricket in Times Square" CHIRP to life!
To see violinist Nick Kendall chirping away as the Cricket in The Cricket in Times Square, visit the NSO website for tickets!
Nick can also be found on Twitter at @NicolasKendall.
Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival marks the arrival of springtime in DC. The Festival celebrates the beautiful blooms of the Yoshino cherry trees with cultural events and exhibits throughout the city– and this year, NSO musicians joined in!
(all photos by Sara Badger, Artistic Coordinator)
Two of our groups played chamber music along the Tidal Basin, with a prime view of the cherry trees and monuments. NSO trombone players Craig Mulcahy, Matthew Guilford, and David Murray entertained crowds on a busy Saturday. In January, the group performed at another notable DC landmark – Ben's Chili Bowl!
Our other group featured a non-traditional combination: flute, bassoon, and violin. NSO members Aaron Goldman, Sue Heineman, and Alexandra Osborne performed trios by Haydn and Telemann. As you can see, the cherry trees hadn't started to bloom on the day of our performance – the flowers don't typically emerge until the beginning of April, but this year's Festival events began on the first day of spring, March 20.
If you missed the chance to see us at the Cherry Blossom Festival, don't worry – there are two upcoming chamber music concerts at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, and admission is free! Friday, April 26 at 6 p.m., 10 of our musicians will perform works by Prokofiev, Milhaud, and Martinu. A week later, Friday, May 3 at 6 p.m., Music Director Christoph Eschenbach will perform works for piano and violin with Ye-Eun Choi. We hope to see you soon!
As the new guy in the orchestra, this year has brought about an extraordinary number of new experiences. The last two weeks have been particularly delightful - we've been on tour all over Europe! On our day off in Nürnberg, timpanist Jauvon Gilliam and I did what any percussion fanatic would do: visit the Kolberg Percussion Factory.
After a welcome from Jasmin Kolberg, we began our day in the percussion showroom. This place is like Disneyland for drummers. The variety and quality of instruments, extraordinary. We spent hours testing out hundreds of instruments: snare drums, bass drums, gongs, triangles, pitched bottles, woodblocks, timpani, marimbas, marble slabs, ratchets… the list could go on forever - hopefully the pictures do more justice! Of particular interest were Kolberg's bass drums. Compared to the bass drums in the US, these drums have a smaller circumference and a deeper shell. The result is a clear and focused attack, followed by a huge and resonant ring. You could really feel the bass!
Onward, we were treated to a tour of the factory's manufacturing facilities. Rather than outsourcing overseas, every instrument by Kolberg is produced in-house. It was fascinating to see everything at work: lasers cutting metal, workers hammering copper bowls, skilled artisans assembling drums and mallets.
We were later greeted by Bernhard Kolberg, founder and owner of Kolberg Percussion. He treated us to a spirited demonstration of Kolberg's new tambourines and snare drums. One of his snare drums had a foot-pedal for engaging the snare wires - brilliant! His passion and creativity for percussion is second to none.
After a long day at Kolberg, we departed for Nürnberg, fueled by our experiences and Bernhard's infectious energy. Many thanks to our hosts, Jasmin and Bernhard, the visit was one of the highlights of the tour!
Jauvon Gilliam and Eric Shin at the Kolberg Percussion showroom. (All photos by Scott Suchman)
The author testing out an instrument.
Jauvon trying a showroom timpani.
Jauvon and Eric discuss bass drums with Bernhard & Jasmin Kolberg.
While the NSO traveled by high-speed express train from Düsseldorf to Hamburg, members of the trombone section made a side trip to Bremen, Germany to visit one of the most respected brass makers in Germany, Thein Brass. The day began with a thrilling trip on the A-1 Autobahn in a rented 5-series BMW, reaching speeds of 140mph! (This IS legal on German highways!!!)
After our arrival in Bremen, bass trombonist Matt Guilford began to audition various types of contrabass trombones. These instruments are somewhat rare to find, but Germany has the best offering for test and purchase. With the guidance of Max Thein and section members listening, Matt found a great instrument for his collection!
Meanwhile, principal trombonist Craig Mulcahy and acting second trombonist David Murray tested various tenor and alto trombones, and also experimented with mouthpieces for their pre-WWI German-made trombones. These unique instruments are used by the trombone section on tour for performances of Brahms Second Symphony. The instruments offer an authentic color and sonority that is ideal for Romantic German repertoire.
After the three hour session, the section departed Bremen with a fantastic experience and a newfound appreciation for German brass instrument making. Deepest thanks to Max and Heinrich Thein for opening up their showroom!
Trombonists David Murray and Matt Guilford walk to the Thein brass showroom. (All photos by Craig Mulcahy.)
David Murray and Matthew Guilford try out Thein trombones in Bremen, Germany.
Principal Trombonist Craig Mulcahy listens while Bass Trombonist Matthew Guilford tests a Thein instrument.
Trombonist Matthew Guilford with Max Thein of Thein Brass.
What do our musicians do to pass the time while traveling from city to city? Here's a peek. (All photos by Scott Suchman.)
For decades, the NSO´s ongoing game of bridge has passed the time on extended bus trips. Saturday´s participants include cellist Robert Blatt, hornist Scott Fearing, Director of Artistic Planning Nigel Boon, and (unseen except for his shoulder) Principal Violist Daniel Foster.
Assistant Conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl relaxes with a book.
Acting Principal Flute Aaron Goldman points out the sites to his daughter Eve.
Our bus en route to Murcia. Just 79 km to go.
Bassist Rick Barber and violinist Glenn Donnellan chat on the train platform in Düsseldorf.
The bridge game continues, this time with Assistant Conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl, trombonist David Murray, violinist Alexandra Osborne, and bassist Ira Gold.
Violist Jennifer Mondie catches up on her reading.
Violinist Marissa Regni contemplates eating a chocolate model of the concert hall in Düsseldorf—the Tonhalle.
Husband and wife, cellist Mark Evans and violinist Carole Evans, study music and learn about Germany.
One more travel leg down. Violinist Hyun-Woo Kim and violist Dan Foster ride the escalator as the NSO deboards the train in Hamburg.
An orchestra tour is an unusual thing - a large group business trip. Most business travel tends to be either a solo affair, or maybe a small group excursion. But on an orchestra tour, well over one hundred people are on planes, trains, and buses everyday in order to all attend the same "meetings" - our rehearsals and concerts. When a group this large is traveling across Europe on exactly the same schedule, they generally tend to be tourists on some sort of prearranged package tour. As a result, our NSO tours can often feel and look a bit like a tourist group, even as we are focused on the serious business of presenting our best work at our concerts!
But even though we are here on musical business, we all do find time for tourism on our tours. We have a certain amount of scheduled time off for R and R, and even on concert or travel days we sometimes end up with a good amount of free time depending on the exact travel schedule. While we all need to use this time for some relaxation and practice, we can also use it to get out and see the sights of whatever city we find ourselves in. Different orchestra musicians make different choices about how much time to devote to getting out and seeing the sights, but whenever we are together traveling or at a concert, lots of folks can be seen recruiting other orchestra members for some sort of visit to a museum or other landmark at our next destination. These impromptu groups shift around as each musician evaluates his or her interest and figures out how much time they'll have to relax or practice (or catch up on sleep!).
As a bassist, I've always been able to get a good amount of tour tourism in over the years, because I have one key "advantage" over many other orchestra members: practicing is not usually an option for me. Unfortunately, my double bass doesn't fit in my suitcase (or the overhead bin on the airplane), so it must always travel in the able hands of our talented stage crew as we move from city to city. I don't generally see it until we arrive at our concert venues. While this poses some artistic challenges, it does remove an obstacle to sightseeing; if I can't practice, I might as well get out there and look around.
Tour tourism provides a great conversation topic for us as we travel. I always love to hear my colleagues' tales of the art museum they visited, the unusual restaurant they located, or the beautiful strolls they were able to take through historic neighborhoods. If we are staying in a city for two or more days, as we just did in Madrid, these conversations can inspire your own tour tourism as you follow the recommendations of fellow orchestra musicians.
I think that the unique sort of freestyle tourism that orchestra tours engender is one of the most amazing "fringe benefits" of life as a musician. Besides the joy of presenting concerts all over the world, this profession has also allowed me to be exposed to all sorts of places (and people) that I probably would have never had a chance to see otherwise. It also allows me to grow and learn from my colleagues as we share these experiences. My music teachers never told me, "practice your scales and see the world," but fortunately for me, it's turned out to be true!
NSO musicians Richard Barber and David Teie joined me for a day trip to Toledo, Spain. We had a great time seeing the sights - and got back in plenty of time for a short nap and a great concert in Madrid. (Photo by Jeff Weisner)
(Jeff Weisner is a bassist in the National Symphony.)
Once we are in a city, what happens on performance day? A lot, particularly when we must share the space, as was the case in Madrid. Read on for the details! (All photos by Scott Suchman)
At 10:30 a.m. our stage crew heads to the Auditorio Nacional de Música to take the instruments off the trucks, and move them as close as possible to their intended homes within the Auditorio.
They can´t be taken straight to their sites because the Orquesta Nacional de España is rehearsing. They finish at 1, and the race is on. The crew and our music library have just half an hour to re-set the stage, put out the music and let the musicians on to warm up before the rehearsal begins at 1:30. Below, Principal Librarian Marcia Farabee in action.
Soloist Arabella Steinbacher greets Maestro Eschenbach as she rehearses with the NSO for the first time.
Two hours later, the orchestra heads out as quickly as possible, because the Orquesta Nacional is returning for its afternoon rehearsal.
Then, back comes the NSO, and it´s concert time! Arabella Steinbacher makes her NSO debut…
…and the concert concludes with applause, bravos, and two encores with the NSO.
Once offstage, Maestro Eschenbach greets NSO Board Member Roger Sant. Our stay in Madrid has been further brightened by our friend extraordinaire, who visits backstage and generally cheers us on.
The following day, the NSO has off...until 9:15 p.m. (Yes, p.m.!) That´s when the busses load up again with NSO members and we return to the Auditorio for our 10:30 p.m. concert. On Fridays and Saturdays it is the custom to have two evening concerts. At 7:30 our colleagues of the Orquesta Nacional de España perform, and the next performance is ours. If you are in Madrid, please join us!
Say you're a world-class musician about to embark on an international tour, and you're wondering how to keep your chops up for far-flung concerts. If you're a flutist, you simply carry your instrument with you. But if you play something a bit larger… well, that's more of a challenge. Large instruments are crated and sent as cargo from venue to venue, making them inaccessible in between performances. Fortunately for the NSO's Principal Tubist Steve Dumaine, his instrument comes in a miniature version. So he could stay in tip-top form while on the go, Steve recently ordered a travel-sized tuba. As you can see, it's about ¼ the size of the real thing- much easier for toting on airplanes, trains, and buses.
Steve unpacking his new tiny tuba. (photo by Erin Cederlind)
Steve's full-size tuba and its mini-me. (photo by Erin Cederlind)
Testing out the mini tuba. (photo by Erin Cederlind)
Putting it to good use in a park in Madrid. (I wonder if anyone stopped to listen?) (photo by Scott Suchman)
And how does this diminutive tuba sound? Take a listen for yourself here! Or catch the full-size version in action on tour.
Now it's time to get the orchestra going!
The members of the NSO, conductors, and guest artists, of course. Our tech crew is fantastic, and they'll do whatever it takes to get us onstage, no matter where we are in the world. A few administrative staff assist as well, adding up to a tour party of 120.
By the numbers, it takes:
- 885 hotel rooms
- 453 plane tickets
- 370 train tickets
We'll split up into two groups for air travel, and we offer a tip of the hat to British Airways. They have been fantastic and very cooperative about the instruments that have to be hand-carried.
Here are Assistant Manager of Production and Operations Krysta Cihi and Operations Intern Sarah Donahue working on tour binders, to help the staff and crew keep up with all the details. (photo by Erin Cederlind)
Orchestra Manager Cynthia Steele, Krysta, and Production Manager Daryl Donley leaving our office for the airport. (photo by Erin Cederlind)
Happy musician travelers! Violinist Carole Tafoya Evans, violist Mahoko Eguchi, violinist Jan Chong, hornist Teresa Bosch, violinist Glenn Donnellan, cellist Mark Evans, and violinist Joel Fuller at Dulles Airport, ready for take-off. (photo by Scott Suchman)
Assistant Principal Cello Glenn Garlick relaxes during the layover. (photo by Scott Suchman)
Joel Fuller and Jan Chong chat before the flight. (photo by Scott Suchman)
They've arrived safely- and so has their luggage! Krysta double-checks to make sure it all came through. (photo by Scott Suchman)
And tomorrow we'll present our first concert of the tour, at the Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid. (photo by Nigel Boon)
More tour news to come!
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