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The NSO Experience through the Eyes of a Music Librarian
Posted by Hinano Ishii

Hinano Ishii is the NSO Operations Intern.

As the 2013-2014 Season comes to a finale, the National Symphony Orchestra salutes seven extraordinary orchestra veterans who have served between 28 and 47 years in the NSO. Marcia Farabee, one of the seven departing members, has played a significant role in the orchestra that is often unrecognized by audiences – the Principal Music Librarian.

Our tireless librarians are the people behind the music making. Marcia, along with our two other librarians Elizabeth Schnobrick and Danielle Wilt, prepare music for the entire orchestra. In addition to acquiring the exact music score, the librarians also mark accurate bowings for strings, transpositions, conductor cuts, page turns, and any other markings required in the orchestra parts. In honor of her retirement, I've asked Marcia if she could share her favorite NSO memories!

1990 NSO Russia Tour
Growing up during the Cold War, Marcia never imagined herself going to Russia until the NSO tour in 1990. She recalls the orchestra's concert on the Red Square to be one of the most amazing experiences in her lifetime. Mstislav Rostropovich, or better known as "Slava,"was a Russian cellist and NSO Music Director at the time who was exiled from Russia because of his public oppositions to the Soviet Union's restriction in the arts. This was the first time in decades that Slava conducted in his homeland Russia, making this emotional experience extraordinary for all.

NSO Residency Programs: From Alaska to Louisiana
Marcia absolutely loved the NSO residency programs; the orchestra took great pride in making a musical impact on people who may never have the opportunity to hear an orchestra performance again. Working with the states' arts council allowed the musicians to become involved with people at every corner of the United States, which of course came with many stories. When the NSO trombones landed in Barrow, Alaska (the northernmost city in the U.S. Brrr!), they were greeted by a polar bear. At a different residency, people on porches with welcome signs warmly cheered the orchestra as the NSO tour buses pulled into the small-town of Marksville, Louisiana. Marcia expressed, "You see the impact on people, and you know why you want to do this...this was a huge event in their lives."

1988 Touring the Mediterranean
In August of 1988, Marcia remembers the NSO performances in the Acropolis of Athens and Pompei to be "truly amazing." Despite the physical discomfort of the hot weather, the orchestra had a phenomenal time performing in these ancient cities because "it's something that never happens!"

Behind-the-scenes
Working backstage during rehearsals and concerts has given Marcia the opportunity to talk to hundreds of world-class artists and conductors. She finds it fascinating to see the different sides of musicians (on-stage and off-stage) and to gain a glimpse of what makes them who they are. She hopes to preserve this incredible vision vivid in her mind throughout her lifetime.

Marcia plans to continue her contribution to orchestras by providing guidance and creative consulting for small to medium orchestras. Best wishes to you, Marcia, and thank you for your service to the NSO!

 

Our Pianist Lisa introduces herself as the Cleaning Crew to our Conductor...
Posted by Hinano Ishii

Hinano Ishii is the NSO Operations Intern.

Before the first rehearsal of our upcoming 2001: A Space Odyssey (which will be performed by the National Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, July 19th from 8:30 PM at Wolf Trap), NSO's pianist Lisa Emenheiser introduced herself backstage as the "cleaning crew" to conductor Emil de Cou, holding out four or five different kinds of scrubbing brushes.

Normally, people make a trip to Home Depot when they need necessary tools to fix the floors or paint the walls. In Lisa's case, she stopped by her local Home Depot to grab a couple of kitchen and bathroom scrubbing brushes to play on her piano!

The music for 2001: A Space Odyssey includes Atmospheres composed by György Ligeti. This piece calls for the lid to be removed from the grand piano, as the sounds come from bristles sweeping the strings inside. Two pianists, each standing on opposite sides of the top-less piano, will reach over to draw the various types of bristles across specific parts of the strings.

The Scotch-Brite Hand and Nail brush, which often comes in handy for cleaning dirty sinks, is used in the upper register to create high pitch noises. Scrubbing brushes are not the only equipment used on the piano strings at this concert. Lisa and guest keyboardist, Eric Schnobrick, also sweep cloth on the lower-middle strings to create the quiet yet spine-chilling sound, and jazz rakes to produce the loudest sound effect.

Who knew that house cleaning products can be used to play instruments! Our pianists are thrilled to play with the various Home Depot gears in the music Atmospheres as used in the ground-breaking 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Audiences will enjoy the National Symphony Orchestra's live performance while watching the enigmatic and compelling film on an enormous screen at Wolf Trap. Before the performance, join us in celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing with NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin and our conductor Emil de Cou at a free discussion event from 7pm on the Associates Deck!

(Left to right: Emil de Cou, Lisa Emenheiser, Eric Schnobrick)

 

NSO at Wolf Trap: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Posted by Emil de Cou

THUS SPAKE KUBRICK AND CLARKE

Playbill note by Emil de Cou, NSO at Wolf Trap Festival Conductor

Prepare to watch one of the greatest silent films ever made. Or rather, four of them to be precise, each an elaborate chapter of the past and the future as envisioned by two unlikely collaborators: Stanley Kubrick, a New York born film director who made his home in England, and Arthur C. Clarke, an English-born science fiction writer who made his home in Sri Lanka.

I say "silent" because there is precious little spoken dialogue in this two and a half-hour film.  There are animal grunts, a bit of space station chit-chat, and some memorable dialogue between a computer named Hal and an astronaut named Dave, but for the most part 2001: A Space Odyssey is a sensual journey. Desolate landscapes, planetary events, spaceship trajectories and kaleidoscopic worm holes are the stuff of this cult feast of iconic imagery.

No less iconic is the score, which, like the screenplay, is more collage than narrative. Kubrick originally commissioned a full score from the great Hollywood composer Alex North, but when studio executives anxiously requested to see early previews of the film, Kubrick swapped in classical masterpieces at the last minute.  He liked what he heard, and the rest is music history:  Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra became synonymous with celestial phenomena, along with Johann Strauss II's Blue Danube Waltz, György Ligeti's Atmosphères, and Aram Khachaturian's Suite from the ballet Gayane. As Disney did with Fantasia, Kubrick mined the classical repertoire for its ineffable ability to communicate timeless human emotion: fear, hope, love, loss and the stuff that dreams are made of.

Though words like "epic," "classic," and "cult" are often used to describe 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is at its core a rather disjointed four-act play.  In Act One ("The Dawn of Man") early hominids are disturbed by the emergence of an unidentifiable alien object. In Act Two ("TMA-1") we join a space journey that hints at further disruptions in the cosmos  Act Three ("Jupiter Mission") is the core of the film, with its chilling encounter between man, as portrayed by the peerless Keir Dullea, and computer, played by the deadpan-voiced Hal. Act Four ("Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite") brings us to the outer limits of time and space, enrapturing us with the curious face of the Space Child.

Should you seek coherence and meaning between these four chapters, don't look to Kubrick or Clarke.  In numerous interviews after the film's 1968 premiere, and in decades afterwards, they eschewed explanation, allowing the film to speak for itself. Meanwhile, sociologists, anthropologists, poets, philosophers, college students and all manner of armchair filmmakers have analyzed every frame.  A sequel, 2010: Space Odyssey Two, helped clear up a few plot lines (like why Hal went bonkers), but much is, and will always be, left to the imagination.

Kubrick and Clarke were themselves cult figures in their respective genres, but with 2001 they influenced multiple generations of filmmakers, whose work often directly or indirectly pays tribute.  The AlienStar WarsStar Trek, Matrix, and Terminator series all borrow heavily from2001 in their mythological battles and classical music scores. When I see Dave playing chess with Hal, I think of Matthew Broderick in War Games. When I see Dave winding down a colorful wormhole I think Jodie Foster in Contact.  When Dave crosses through a revolving corridor I think of Julia Roberts in Helix, the film within the film Notting Hill.  Last but not least, is the terrifying spacewalk, brilliantly re-imagined by Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

Though 2001 is, on the surface, a story of technology, it is at its core a human story: the thirst for knowledge and the discovery of the unknown, with all its comedic asides. It's hard not to laugh as we watch 1960s "mod" stewardesses attempting to defy gravity, while space travelers watch movies on seatbacks and Skype birthday greetings home.  Eating is always a challenge, as is the, a-hem, other essential function: Kubrick winks by showing us the Zero-Gravity Toilet. And of course there is the growing sense of entitlement in the voice of Hal who, anxious about his imminent demise, advises Dave to "take a stress pill." 

If you are wondering why the amazing Keir Dullea, who plays Dave, seems so familiar, and yet so forgotten, well, to an extent he is and was: a well-regarded stage actor before and after 2001, he never again achieved the stature of such a leading role in film. His quiet beauty and controlled anguish carries the film ― much of the movie is just him, a disembodied voice and the camera.  Perhaps his range was limited, perhaps he had a lousy agent, but most likely, as with Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho, the actor and character became irrevocably, indelibly fused.

Considering how much film-with-orchestra has become an essential part of our summers together with NSO at Wolf Trap, it comes as a surprise that this concert this is the NSO debut of this production, presented by arrangement with Warner Bros., Southbank Centre London, and the British Film Institute.  How wonderful that this timeless space odyssey can now become part of our summer under the stars!

NSO at Wolf Trap: An Evening of Tchaikovsky, Ravel & Rossini
Posted by Emil de Cou

HI-YO, NSO AT WOLF TRAP!

Emil de Cou is the NSO at Wolf Trap Festival Conductor

Witty exchanges among composers are as rare as they are apocryphal.  Rare, because composers, cooped up in their studies with music forever running through their head, much of which will never be heard outside their imagination, are generally not the life of a party; what barbs they deliver are often at each other and at an ungrateful world. And apocryphal because they are handed down so many times that their accuracy becomes diminished. Still, the oral history of classical music is filled with as many ripostes as there are notes.

Among my favorites is the exchange that reportedly occurred between the great French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the great American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937) while Ravel was touring America in 1928.  Gershwin expressed an interest in studying with Ravel, to which the Frenchman replied: “Why would you want to be a second-rate Ravel when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?”  When Ravel inquired as to how much money Gershwin earned, the reply provoked him to say, “Perhaps I should be studying with you!” 

Money may not be the measure of success for a composer, but if there was a Forbes list of the richest composers all three of this concert’s composers would be near the top; all enjoyed the fruits of their labors while alive. Ravel’s success was perhaps the most surprising.  Repeatedly rejected by the musical establishment ― denied medals and prizes, forced out of conservatories ― he ended up usurping all of his peers in popularity.  Boléro is one of the most frequently performed works in the repertoire, as are La Valse, Rapsodie espagnol, Daphnis et Chloé, his masterful orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and the two piano concertos, one of which we will hear performed by the masterful young (well, younger than me) pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet under the baton of our wonderful friend of the NSO, Andrew Litton.

Ravel’s popular success goes beyond profitability: his deft orchestration and sparing use of instrumental colors up-ended the heavy-handed Germanic styles that dominated the orchestral world in the late 19th century.  Like his French peers Chabrier, Satie, and Debussy, Ravel infused the classical music world with an impressionistic less-is-more aesthetic that broadened the palette of composition.  We owe as much of what we love about music ― not just in the concert hall, but in the musical theater, standards, jazz and even pop arrangements ― to Ravel’s elegant simplicity as we do to Bach’s structure and Wagner’s bombast.

That this program matches a French composer and a French pianist should not be considered favoritism.  Ravel, born of Basque and Swiss heritage, mined sources from Moscow to Harlem.  You’ll have no trouble detecting the jazz infusions in the Piano Concerto in G major.  Thibaudet is equally at home with Gershwin and Grofé as he is with the standard repertoire with the world’s major orchestras.  You can also hear his playing in Dario Marinelli’s film scores for Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, the latter of which is the most brilliant use of the typewriter as a musical instrument since Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter.

Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, lassoed by The Lone Ranger, became an American standardthrough no fault of its own. As the theme music for an adventure show that passed effortlessly from radio to film to television, the staccato “March of the Swiss Soldiers” was a logical accompaniment to hoof beats in pursuit.  That a tuneful work by Rossini (1792-1868) permanently entered our musical vocabulary should really not come as a surprise: at a time when opera was mainstream entertainment, Rossini was the most popular composer alive.  And prolific and enduring too:  though his cantatas and sacred works are rarely performed today, ten of his 39 operas remain in the standard repertoire of major opera houses.  Alas, his most famous work, The Barber of Seville, was also co-opted by another hero of popular culture, Bugs Bunny.

We conclude the evening with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, the triumphant achievement of the louder-faster-higher school of Russian music.  Though received with mixed reviews, in part because of its programmatic rather than formal structure, it remains a staple of the concert hall and the recording resume of every major conductor and orchestra.* Urgent, romantic and poetic, in it Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) struggles to maintain to the traditional German sonata architecture of a symphony, but inevitably spills from the head into the heart.

From France and Italy and Russia, with love.

*The NSO recorded it under its third music director, Antal Dorati, in 1972.

FANTASIA: THE JOURNEY
Posted by Emil de Cou

Emil de Cou is the NSO@Wolf Trap Festival Conductor

Back in ye olden days, before video devices made us controllers of our content ― when "content" meant "happy" and "controller" had nothing to do with gaming ― we were not nearly as hapless and helpless as today's young'uns think we were. We may not have been able to micro-manage our daily entertainment by the micro-moment, but we had wise men and women of exceptional taste who created and curated entertainment on our behalf.

Walt Disney was such a creator/curator. He created, with the assistance of brilliant artists, completely original works that synthesized image and sound, establishing a canon of animated and live-action films that are as much a part of the psychic bookshelf of young minds as the works of the Brothers Grimm or Rudyard Kipling (each of whom he borrowed from unabashedly). And he curated his wares with a keen business sense, knowing which cities would be best for premieres, how often to re-release his films to whet the public appetite, and how and when to ignite the power of theme parks and new technologies to extend the Disney brand.

It's impossible to say objectively which is Disney's "best" animated film, because there are so many to cherish, from his first major feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1938) to Frozen (2013). But without question, the most influential Disney film for those of us in the classical music field ― the one that helped set me on my professional path ― is Fantasia. No, I didn't see it when it first premiered in 1940 in my home town of Los Angeles, but I did see it as a lad in short pants in the 1970s during one of its regular re-releases. With its mixture of avant-garde and slapstick, the film charmed common folk and critics at its debut and entranced this gawky kid thirty-something years later. In an era before MTV or VH1 or YouTube, the idea that you could be immersed in a wonderful world of color and characters and symphonic music was transporting.

Fantasia has been edited and enhanced for various editions, but I clearly remember my first viewing. Deems Taylor, the esteemed classical music critic and commentator, came up on the screen to introduce the program. (I thought he was Walt Disney; I was wrong.) Then the great conductor Leopold Stokowsky ascended an immense podium. (I thought he was God; wrong again, but closer.) Then the giant shadows and blast of instruments brought Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor to life. The shock of that opening sequence never wears off, especially when I realize now how bold such aesthetics were at the time: in 1940 the public had barely accepted cubism and abstract expressionism in the fine arts, and here Hollywood, with its obsessive focus on the populist bottom line, embraced it fully. (And this was 15 years before The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T, my second favorite psychedelic film!)

Tonight we hear a mash-up of selections from the original Fantasia, as well as the sequel produced sixty years later, Fantasia 2000. Deems Taylor and Leopold Stokowski have been replaced with a cavalcade of contemporary comics, and we begin not with my beloved Bach Toccata but with the mighty Fifth Symphony of Beethoven, envisioned in a series of thunderous shapes and colors, in homage to the original Bach overture. From there our parade of masterpieces unfolds: a mythic tableau of centaurs, cupids, and fauns gamboling to Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral") followed by delicate figurines moving in colorful formation to the lush melodies of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite." Debussy's Clair de lune, with its lone egret soaring in the moonlight, was cut from the original Fantasia but has since been restored.

Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, with hippos in tutus, is pure cotton candy, but the dark cartoon that follows, Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, reminds us that not all fables have a happy ending: our beloved Mickey Mouse reaches too far in his pursuit of magic powers and ends up awash (quite literally) in a nightmarish comeuppance. We end the evening in grand style, with majestic selections from Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, starring Donald Duck as an unlikely ship's mate to Noah, of Ark fame.

A conductor often becomes immersed in the score to the point of distraction, especially when leading an ensemble as great as the National Symphony Orchestra, and even more so when the breeze of a summer evening swirls around the Filene Center. But for me few musical experiences are as distracting ― perhaps transporting is the better word ― as Fantasia. With its twists and turns from merry to scary, from high art to buffoonery, from magic to majestic, it is not just a synthesis of music and film. It is a journey.

Won't you join me?

Emil de Cou


 

The National Symphony Orchestra will perform music of Fantasia with the movie footage shown on large screens on July 11- 12, 2014 at Wolf Trap

Please visit the Wolf Trap website to buy tickets

Meet Our Musicians: Adriana Horne
Posted by Amy Drew

Adriana Horne is Principal Harpist of the National Symphony Orchestra

 

We'd like to Welcome Adriana Horne to the National Symphony! Adriana won the position of Principal Harp in December 2013 and has been performing with the NSO ever since. Now that Adriana has had some time to settle into life in D.C., she was happy to share more about herself. Be sure to look for her on stage at upcoming NSO performances!

 

 

 

 

What university or conservatory did you attend?

I studied at the University of Southern California for my undergraduate degree, followed by graduate work at Texas Tech University. I then went on to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana for my Doctorate

 

Was it for music?

Yes

 

What are the biggest challenges of being a professional concert harpist?

It's always a challenge to keep the harp in tune! The harp strings are made of gut, and they stretch, contract, and break at the slightest change of temperature and humidity. In addition to (trying) to keep it in tune, I think playing the harp as an instrument is uniquely challenging—while the hands are plucking the strings, your feet are also changing seven pedals which control pitch of the strings. If you look closely when a harpist plays, you'll see that both hands and feet are working at once, and it can get confusing if you're not careful.

 

Do you have a pre-concert ritual or routine?

I always try to get to the hall early so I have ample time to tune and check for any broken strings. I have a few warm-up pieces that I like to play, and then I'll usually play slowly through the repertoire for that night's concert.

 

What is your favorite piece (or pieces) to play in the orchestra?

I really enjoy playing Ravel and Debussy, and the way the harp is used to add so much color to their compositions. I also think Benjamin Britten writes in a really unique way for the harp, and I enjoy playing his orchestral, solo and chamber pieces.

 

What are three songs or pieces you love to listen to?

Mahler 2—especially the final movement

Ravel Piano Concerto in G major—2nd movement

Berlioz Symphonie fantastique

 

Describe your most memorable concert experience:

It was definitely the Strauss concert we did recently, which included Don Juan and the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Salome. These are two very challenging parts for the harp and they are often included on a lot of auditions. It felt really gratifying to play it in an orchestra, instead of all alone at an audition.

 

Have you ever had to play in a challenging venue? Describe the challenges and how you overcame or dealt with them:

I once was hired to play some background music at a star gazing party late at night. As it got later into the evening it became freezing cold and very windy. The wind blowing through the harp strings made an extremely eerie howling that drowned out any music I was trying to play, so I finally gave up and let the wind play the harp instead of my fingers (which were frozen blocks of ice at that point). I learned several valuable lessons from this experience: First, never again agree to play outdoors in the dark, and second, the wind is a better harpist than I am.

 

Did you grow up in a musical household?

My sister plays the harp as well.

 

What did you want to be growing up?

I thought about becoming a teacher. I love to teach harp lessons now, so it looks like younger me was on the right track.

 

When did you know you wanted to be a professional classical musician?

When I started playing in orchestras in college, I started to think seriously about it. I love playing as a group, and it's really gratifying to hear how all our separate parts come together to make the whole piece.

 

You just moved to the DC area, correct? From where?

I was living in St. George, Utah. Before that I was in Miami, Florida for three years playing with the New World Symphony.

 

What were the biggest challenges of your move?

Remembering what it feels like to deal with snow! Living in Florida and Southern Utah, I hadn't had to worry about temperatures lower than 50 degrees. I really enjoy living in a place with four distinct seasons, but shoveling snow is no fun, and I am an absolutely wretched snow driver.

 

What do you like best about living in/near DC?

I love that at practically every turn there is some historical marker, museum, or monument waiting to be discovered. I also love all the green spaces, parks, and walkways throughout the city. There's so much to do and I'm having a great time exploring!

 

Do you have any pets?

Not yet, but I love dogs and plan to get one soon.

 

What is your favorite way to spend your free time?

Since moving to DC, I've decided that I will visit at least one museum a month. It's been fun to do this but there are so many things to see, it's a little overwhelming. I also am attempting to grow some tomatoes this year, and I spend my free time thinking about how I've forgotten to water them. I love to watch movies—The E Street Cinema and the movie theatre at Courthouse with the leather reclining seats are so much fun to go to!

 

Favorite movie:

I can't pick one, but I love Hitchcock films, anything with Cary Grant, and Battleship.

 

Favorite book:

Catch-22 and The Count of Monte Cristo are two of my all time favorites.

 

Favorite sports team:

I am not a sports person, but I hear that going to a baseball game here is fun so I plan to check that out!

 

Name one thing people might be surprised to know about you:

I'm fascinated by small spaces and dream of living in a tiny teardrop trailer. Unfortunately, a harp will not fit in a teardrop trailer. Believe me I've measured!

 

Off to the Capitol!
Posted by Krysta Cihi

Krysta Cihi is the Assistant Manager of Production & Operations for the National Symphony Orchestra.

The month of May is upon us, which means it's almost time for the National Symphony to make their first trip out to the West Lawn of the US Capitol. The tent is up and everyone is getting ready to take part in the 25th National Memorial Day Concert , this Sunday, May 25 at 8:00 PM. Please join us in honoring all the American men and women who have served our country. This year's concert is co-hosted by Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise, and features actress Dianne Wiest and musical artists, Danielle Bradbery, Jackie Evancho, Megan Hilty, Anthony Kearns, and more. Bring your friends, bring your picnics, and bring some nice weather. The forecast is looking good, but you never know when Mother Nature may make an appearance at the Capitol Concerts... so bring an umbrella!

Happy Memorial Day!

 

A New Floor for NEW MOVES: by Madeline Waters
Posted by Krysta Cihi

Madeline Waters is the NSO Operations Intern.

Before the orchestra arrives, tunes, and rehearses each morning, the NSO crew is hard at work preparing for their arrival. This involves setting up all the required percussion equipment, chairs, stands, and lights that the orchestra will need for that day. This week, the crew had an extra task: preparing for the three dance companies that will be performing with the National Symphony Orchestra as part of our two-week long NEW MOVES: symphony + dance festival.

The repertoire for the three programs is fully orchestrated and includes works from Bernstein, Neikrug, Gershwin, Barber, Ellington, Oliverio, Copland, and Adams. Since the orchestra needs all available stage space to accommodate their full setup, the question became: 'Where on stage will the dancers go?' That's where the crew comes in.

A 16 foot deep stage extension was installed on Monday morning, consisting of 24 interlocking components, reaching out from the edge of the Concert Hall stage, over the first five rows of the audience.

Thin panels of plywood are placed on top of the black extension to create a more uniform look.

The guest performers are accustomed to dancing on a floor covered with marley, a performance surface made of large thin sheets of vinyl. This must also be rolled out and taped down before the dance companies arrive.

The marley comes to the Concert Hall on large rollers. Each sheet is 6 feet wide and 40 feet long.

Voilà! Thanks to the NSO crew, we now have a 16 foot stage extension covered in grey marley ready for rehearsals, concerts, and most importantly: dancing! The festival will feature three dance companies performing in three different programs, with two performances each. We are excited to welcome KEIGWIN + COMPANY, New Ballet Ensemble, and Jessica Lang Dance to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall to dance in this collaborative festival. We are also looking forward to hearing our talented soloists, Sue Heineman, NSO Principal Bassoon; Jauvon Gilliam, NSO Principal Timpani; and Leila Josefowicz, guest violin; each performing on a different program during the two-week long festival.

Come join us for NEW MOVES: symphony + dance, May 7-17, 2014!

 

The Olympian Concerto
Posted by Jauvon Gilliam

Jauvon Gilliam is the Principal Timpanist for the National Symphony Orchestra.

Most of us on stage absolutely love our jobs.  I am no different.  Playing timpani here in our nation's capital never gets old.  Although the timpani are one of the larger, more visible instruments, I generally see my role as an ensemble player, often times creating rhythmic and harmonic support for some of my more soloistic counterparts.  But come mid-May, all of that changes.

"Titan." "Reformation." "Eroica." "Tragic."  Through the years, pieces in the symphonic repertoire have been given nicknames that generally characterize the overall feeling of the work.  The concerto I'm performing is nicknamed "The Olympian." After spending the last six months learning and preparing this monster of a piece, I can understand why.

A normal timpani setup requires four drums, set up in a semicircle around the player. James Oliverio's Timpani Concerto No. 1 calls for eight – six in a complete circle around the player and two more at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock position.  Scales, melodies, glissandi, cross-rhythms, constant pedal tuning; this piece has it all, including the 25 hardest measures of timpani playing that I've ever come across.  At one point, I have to maneuver around all eight timpani at a break-neck tempo while simultaneously changing notes with my feet.  James nicknamed this section the "octopus."  These days, I'm getting more of a workout downstairs in the Kennedy Center (in the percussion studio) than I am at the gym! 

One last tidbit: The Olympian was written for my teacher, Paul Yancich (timpanist of The Cleveland Orchestra) and premiered by them on May 10, 1990.  24 years later to the day, I'll be playing it here.  Sweetness. 

Photo by James Oliverio

The Biking Bassoonist
Posted by Sue Heineman

Sue Heineman is the Principal Bassoonist for the National Symphony Orchestra.

I haven't owned a car since 2000. It was a red Toyota and the steering wheel was on the right side since I was living in New Zealand at the time. I used it mostly for exploring the country, preferring to walk to work. My commute was a beautiful 45 minute hike over a large wooded hill in Wellington where some of the forest scenes in Lord of the Rings were shot. Wellington can have some nasty weather but I found it invigorating to walk in blustery sideways rain.

I've used alternate forms of transportation my whole life. From the time I was 10, I commuted alone by subway to school in downtown Philadelphia, carrying not only the bassoon but a backpack full of books. I did learn to drive the summer before college, but the only time I had access to a car was when home on break. After graduating from Eastman, I spent a year studying in Salzburg (no car, lots of train trips) and then lived in Manhattan for six years (why anyone would want a car there is beyond me). I did drive myself to Albuquerque when I joined the New Mexico Symphony. Those three years were the only period I've been dependent on a car for daily life.

When I moved to DC, I knew that traffic was a Big Thing and didn't want to participate, so I got an apartment in Dupont Circle. For the first couple of years, I walked to the Kennedy Center and took Metro wherever else I needed to go. Then I discovered biking.

I was not physically active during my childhood, nor my teens or twenties. When living in New Mexico and New Zealand, I started doing a little hiking, but my main exercise was at indoor pools and aerobics classes. Shortly after moving to DC, I went on a ride on the completely flat C&O Canal with some friends and was so pitiful they complained they would freeze unless we rode faster. So I started taking spinning classes and enlisted a friend from the NSO (Ali Yazdanfar, now principal bass in Montreal) to help me with road riding. Traffic scared me, going downhill scared me, going uphill exhausted me.

I give all that background because I want people to know that if they're interested in adding biking to their transportation arsenal, they can totally do it. Sure, it's validating to hear how intrepid I am, but also a little disheartening. It is far more rewarding to inspire someone else to give it a go.

Here I am attempting to indoctrinate my NSO Summer Music Institute students!

In the time that I've been in DC, the city has made huge strides in bike infrastructure. We had the first large-scale bike share program in the US (those red bikes in the photo), new bike lanes are being added all the time, and with 37.9 percent of households without cars, we are second only to New York City.  Bicycling Magazine named DC America's fourth most bike-friendly city in 2012.

So in the name of advocacy I will address some of the most common questions I hear:

Q: What do you do when it rains?

A: Raincoat. Sometimes rain pants, though my quick-dry pants will usually dry within about ten minutes of being inside. Wet jeans are a bummer, so don't wear those in the rain. A zip-lock bag is enough to keep my phone and wallet dry; if I need to carry other stuff I have larger waterproof bags. I keep a thin backpack cover from REI in my bassoon case at all times because unlike me, the instrument (and its case) could be damaged by water. Here we are on the way to a concert on a rainy night. 

Q: Don't you get cold/hot/sweaty? What do you do when it snows?

A: Again, you dress for the sport. People ski and that's a lot colder. All you need is a couple layers on top, sensible shoes, a decent pair of gloves and a thin under-helmet layer to keep ears and cheeks warm. My headgear of choice is a Buff which can be worn dozens of ways (and doubles as a washcloth/dishrag/emergency tourniquet on camping trips). Our roads are seldom snowy for very long. During the Snowpocalypse of 2010, the roads were clear long before the sidewalks, so biking was easier than walking. Basically the only times I won't ride are when it's EXTREMELY windy, meaning it's difficult to stay upright on a bike and debris is flying through the air, or when the roads are slippery.

Heat isn't really an issue. One thing people forget to factor in is that there's a wind chill when you're on a bike. On a hot day it can be much cooler to ride than to walk. You can always sponge off or change your clothes when you get to your destination, but I don't know why people fear sweat so much. It's over 80 degrees some nights on stage and the poor men in the orchestra are in wool tuxes. Look at this guy. He doesn't seem to mind a little sweat!

Q: You don't ride at night, do you?

A: Sure. The roads are well lit, and I have lights on my bike and helmet so that I am more visible to cars. 

Q: Wouldn't you rather I give you a ride? 

A: Thanks, but not really. Around DC it's often faster to ride than to drive. Plus it's so much fun! I am pushing fifty and I still often squeal "WEEEEEEE!" It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're on a bike! 

Q: Why don't bikers follow the rules of the road?

A: This is a fair question, and the topic for a different blog post. For those interested in the discussion, I recommend reading this and this

Q: This is all so fascinating! Do you also race? Won't you please tell me more about your love of biking?

A: With pleasure, and thanks for your interest. No, I don't race. I'm too afraid of crashing and I had enough competition in my life trying to get a job playing the bassoon. Also, that kind of riding requires keeping your head down and on the wheel (or butt) of the guy in front of you. I prefer to look around. Here's a blog post I wrote on an NSO residency. 

 

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