September 2012

It Just So Happens

September 30, 2012 17:16

We are going to strike while the iron is hot.

This week, I perform two Bruch viola/clarinet pieces, a movement from the Brahms horn trio, and Mozart's E minor sonata for Friday's annual Evening of Classics concert. After that, I will have some space freed up for new venues. What next, what next, now that I have a cellist from Anchorage in the picture? With the addition of cello, the musical floodgates have been flung wide, and I have no idea where to begin.

We emailed back and forth a bit about him making the trip down here to begin Beethoven's Op.11 piano trio. Lovely! And then Brahms next, right? Then, on a whim, I ventured to ask if there were any collaborating musicians up that direction that would be willing to let me join them in an ensemble. As it just so happened, he had a couple of people from the symphony lined up already. As it just so happened, they were a violist and a violinist, and if I came, we'd make a string quartet. They planned to practice on Mondays. And as it just so happens, I have Mondays off. Well, what are their names, I asked. As it just so happens, I'm already good friends with the violist. I sent her a note and asked if she was game. She wrote back with an enthusiastic yes.

I knew something great was coming, and I was surprised enough to have a cellist fall from the sky. But an entire string quartet, minus one violin? What are the odds of that? (I know a lot of people are reading this without lifting so much as an eyebrow hair, but they obviously don't know the difficulty involved in putting together a proper quartet, much less a quartet for a violinist in rural Alaska. They also don't know how long I've been waiting for this.)

This is simply too good to be true. We still have a lot of planning and scheduling to make it happen. And I hope everyone gets along. I'm so skeptical, thinking it won't actually come to fruition, but I'm going to go after it anyway, like my life depends on it. I was meant to play second violin in a string quartet; I've felt it like a calling. And I've never done it. Yes, I'm a 30-something-year-old string quartet virgin. (Shh, don't tell anyone!)

I hope they go easy on me.

6 replies

A Little Piece of Heaven

September 24, 2012 23:12

The 28-seat flight across the inlet was full--save one seat, fortunately. I say fortunately, because the young, uninformed flight attendant insisted upon checking my violin with the luggage since it wouldn't fit in the undersized overhead bin. Standard protocol involves a simple tuck in the coat bin behind the cockpit, but she wouldn't have it. After informing her that I would be getting off the plane and missing the evening's rehearsal with the Anchorage Symphony, she politely agreed to buckle him safely into the last seat, which struck her as a funny sight, giving her occasional fits of giggles during the twenty-minute bumpy flight through torrents of rain.

Alaska Center of the Performing Arts

Anchorage, Alaska. Thursday morning, I rolled out of bed on my own whim: by ten a.m. I'm dressed. The hotel managers still remember me on a first name basis, and nodded a happy good morning to me as I passed through the lobby on my way to breakfast. Conveniently, my favorite coffee distributor placed a location just across the street from my hotel, literally in the same building as the Alaska PAC. What a way to begin the day, with a fresh toasted bagel and coffee amongst some of the same regulars I've seen there for six years.

The View from My Hotel Window (I cross the street to get to the corner coffee shop)

Meanwhile, from my seat in the corner, I spied a cellist (easily recognized by the large case that accompanies him) studying his part for the upcoming performance, sipping an americano before practice. We'd met briefly a year and a half ago, and trios were mentioned. I think about starting a conversation again today, but I'm not so good at that and have a phobia of being creepy, so I simply make up various plots while he finishes his drink and leaves.

It takes a while for the coffee to kick in, but when it does, I'm ready to tackle the day's schedule. Practice. Eat. Practice. Shop. Practice. Eat. Practice. Coffee. Rehearsal. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. It'll be me in my room and nothing but lots of time with my fiddle, and a large mass of repertoire that's had to be mastered in nine days' time. Three days remain. I have no cell phone. No one can find me. The sessions commence.

Anyone needs to be careful when scheduling six to seven hours of playing into each day, especially when one hour alone will be spent on the chords and runs of Capriccio Espagnol (still not so good just yet). Mandated practice breaks are tucked carefully under my umbrella, and alternate between coffee and walks to the 5th avenue mall. Outside, I could smell the familar downtown street odors of onions on the grill and alder smoked meats. Each ASO season's opening September concert always comes adorned with bright autumnal splashes. This year, it's also been adorned with so much rain, you'd think maybe you should call an ark instead of a cab. Flood advisories and road washouts kept many folk indoors--which is all the more reason why I can love being a musician in Alaska: the weather is perfect for practicing.

Mural on the 5th Avenue Mall

I also love playing with ASO because the elevator randomly stops to let on world-class musicians on their way to the same rehearsal I'm about to attend. This concert, the Harlem string quartet would be joining us for Randall Fleischer's orchestration of West Side Story Concerto for string quartet. I couldn't wait to hear how this collaberation would unfold.

I haven't played with any other symphony, so I don't really know how to compare us to anything else. We don't go on strikes; no one here is in it for the money, so evidently, we're here because we want to be. We seem to have an overly generous audience, and most of the concerts are sellouts with standing ovations (whether we deserve them or not). We have a generous list of donors, and, according to the conductor, our board of directors is the best. Everyone on it wants to be involved; it only takes one simple request, and somebody volunteers to help.

Admittedly, we're not the best symphony. But we have some of the best amongst us, and I've never attended a concert without discovering some new amazing talent in the group. This concert, I happened to secure the best seat in the entire house: front and left of the harpist, a brilliant young elfish man from Boise with magical powers. Entire sections of violinists miss their entrances following his cadenza in the Rimsky Korsakov. I had two more rehearsals to figure out how to recover from his ethereal effects in two measures' time.

And then, just like that, during the rehearsal break, the prayers of many were answered when the cellist I'd been eyeing earlier suddenly and unprovokedly approached me about coming to Soldotna to rehearse Brahms with me.

Really? I looked around to make sure I was not having another recurrent dream, and that this was in fact still the green room, not heaven.

Hello, cellist. I'm Emily Grossman. And your name again?

11 replies

Something's Coming

September 13, 2012 01:51

(I don't really even have guilt-free time to post this entry.)

As soon as I'd expressed my grumblings about lack of collaborating musicians, the dam broke, and in the space of a week, I felt the pummeling of so many venues, I wondered if I'd over-committed: Brahms horn trio. Bruch, 8 pieces for clarinet and viola. Mozart K 304 with Garrett. Rehearsals commenced every day, sending me off with a care package of late night munchies, to be mulled and processed with the enthusiasm of a dog with his evening bone. I was in heaven.

Then, on Tuesday, the Anchorage Symphony called and asked if I'd join them for their upcoming concert on the 22nd. The repertoire, Latin American themed, struck me as mostly unfamiliar. But included was an original arrangement of the West Side Story suite, for orchestra and string quartet, composed by our meistro Randy Fleischer. Ah, the intimately familiar and much endeared West Side Story...

(No one but my dog saw me jumping around the house to the message on my machine that spoke of such a wondrous opportunity.)

This leaves me a little over a week to surmount a skyscraper of difficult orchestral material. Only the likes of Superman would leap such tall buildings in a single bound. Only the likes of me feels like Superman today.

13 replies


September 6, 2012 14:06

"They should have known want; they should have known hunger. Zimbalist, Elman, Heifetz, Rosen, Seidel - they all came of poor people. There is something, I know not what, that is bred in the soul by poverty. It is something mystic. To feel this terrible need is the motive power that drives genius. It develops feeling; it makes both force and tenderness." ~Leopold Auer

I didn't grow up poor, but I do know about hunger: tell me about long winter months of uninterrupted silence and musical deprivation, and I will tell you about hunger. Hunger comes from the starvation of the soul. Throw me a single scrap of enlightenment after such cultural poverty, and I will pounce on it, begging for more.

For three weeks after the summer music festival concert, I went on a muse-inspired practice binge, stuffing my fingers full of Bach, Brahms, Mozart, and Bruch. My appetite flourished, completely insatiable; with great big mouthfuls, I devoured them all, readying myself for the next great musical experience. I was on fire.

About three weeks of unreturned emails and coffee shop back-outs from other musicians is also about the amount of time it takes to put a fire hose to my bonfire of enthusiasm. Three and a half weeks into this inspired journey, and I suddenly threw up my hands in disgust. What is this? Another haphazard finger in the blender of musical repertoire? It felt like I'd been cut off, and the wound bled a painful, seeping stain into my hours of investment.

Meanwhile, the wind shifted, stripping yellowed leaves from the trees in gusts. Parking lots in town emptied of their flux of RV's and fishing boats. Cranes and chickadees rounded up into their respective flocks, and the porcupines took to crossing the roads. As a well-seasoned Alaskan, I knew what would follow; I could scent it on the wind.

Survival instincts are three: fight, flight, or play dead. To get through the upcoming onslaught of solitude and darkness, I had my three plans figured out: 1.) Pester people until they play music with me. Kidnap a cellist. 2.) Move to Austin. Eat brisket. 3.) Buy a large bottle of spirits and shut it all out. Repeat.

Prompted by the persistent wind, I picked up the phone and gave Tammy another call. Tomorrow? Bruch? Your place? Simple as that, I'd finally pinned her down. Immediately, my shoulders felt lighter during the evening's purposeful practice.

Who knows, maybe we will actually make it to the Khachaturian this time. I'm going to do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes...

5 replies

More entries: August 2012

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine