November 2007

Front Row Washington: Live from the Library of Congress - and Interpretation

November 21, 2007 05:35

Two days ago I tripped over something - no, not a literal object.

On Monday evening my hosts were listening to Washington's WETA and Bill McLaughlin was hosting "Concerts from the Library of Congress". On this particular segment the pieces were Mozart's Concerto for Violin in A Major, K. 219 and Gyorgy Ligeti's String Quartet No. 2, the latter being performed by the Mandelring String Quartet.

The Mozart concerto was performed by the Wuttenberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, with Arabella Steinbacher as the violin soloist. Ms. Steinbacher gave a very compelling and interesting performance of the concerto - not only were all of the "elements" there (impeccable intonation, a seamless, unforced sound, etc.), but there was a musical maturity and captivating degree of thoughtfulness given to every phrase.

Upon hearing the first few notes, I did think "Who is this? I should listen." While listening, I not only found myself wanting to hear more: I found myself truly listening and, yes, almost analyzing every note, everything that she had done.

Honestly, I have to say that I am somewhat embarrased that I had not heard of Ms. Steinbacher until now, but look forward to hearing more of her and more from her. From a wider perspective, however, part of growth and going out into the world - and the expansion of one's self into the world - may not always be about the "expansion and presentation one's self" physically. Perhaps the expansion of one's self includes the continued accumulation of knowledge of the world, the instrument that we all study and love, its repertoire, the countless number of great artists and, of course, the way our instruments work (which is a new one for me, but a joy - I have made it a point to stop into every violin shop that I can and, if possible, ask questions about the work, everything from what is used to clean an instrument to "major surgery").

Now wanting to rework Mozart 5, it is not my intention to "copy" Ms. Steinbacher's performance: as we all know, there is always debate about listening and trying to emulate the artists that we hear and admire. Hearing Ms. Steinbacher's incredibly thoughtful and elegant interpretation reminded me that it is so important for us as artists to keep our "minds, souls, and imaginations" - as well as ears and hearts - open to the unexpected. Besides, if my intention were to play "like that", my intention would be to become a photocopy as opposed to really doing the required work (study, thought, trial and error, etc) necessary.

I do not know if this performance will be broadcast again; nevertheless, should anyone who reads these entries have an opportunity to hear Ms. Steinbacher, do. Go - buy a ticket.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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November 16, 2007 23:18

After many months I am very grateful for having had the time to launch what is, for now, a "website".

Do feel free to take a look:

In other not-so heartening news...for all who have commented not only on my personal posts but also on posts regarding the state of New Orleans post-Katrina, these articles are very sobering:

After Katrina, New Orleans Not So Big, Anything But Easy

Homeless Camp at New Orleans City Hall

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A Dislclaimer, of Sorts

November 14, 2007 14:22

Thank you all for responding to my post and taking the time to read the articles that were linked.

The audition process has always been a subject that raises the hairs on everyone's necks - I myself have, during the past twelve years (three of which included graduate school, followed by two years with the New World Symphony - where we had regular audition training workshops and seminars), heard much discussion, during which people have echoed both Ms. Alsop's thoughts. My reason for referencing Drew McManus (a fine man, one who is incredibly knowledgeable and - to say the least - always informed regarding contract negotiations and the "ins and outs" of orchestral management) was due to MY not knowing the following:

"1. There are no laws, rules, or enforceable regulations dictating how professional orchestras must implement their audition procedures.
2. In the early 1980s, the American Federation of Musicians, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, and the Major Orchestra Managers Conference (the latter having been rolled up into the American Symphony Orchestra League) adopted the "Code of Ethical Practices for National and International Auditions."
3. Said code is simply a guideline and contains provisions which dictate that it is "Å“subject to local contractual considerations."

Would it not be interesting, in light of all of the hullabaloo, to see these documents and then ask a broad spectrum of orchestral musicians how this code is implemented?

With this: my posting was in no way meant as an attack on either Mr. McManus or Ms. Alsop. Having interacted with both of them, I have nothing but the highest respect for each of them.

Regarding many of the comments here - those being based on the question of "equal opportunity" - it does seem that Ms. Alsop and Mr. McManus are in agreement. While Ms. Alsop does say that the length of time someone plays behind a screen does not give a good indicator of how that same player will handle a schedule of fifty-two weeks, it is known that most orchestras have a tenure process during which a player's ability to "do the job" is assessed. Mr. McManus, in his statement, asserts that the tenure process is the indicator AFTER the win.

Strange - it's like marriage, or building a career. It's not the win that counts, nor is it the wedding. Those things are the results of a foundation being laid, and are both rites of passage that can be seen as both an ending and a beginning.

It does seem, however, that most people do put equal stock on both audition performance - auditioning being a skill in itself - and the day to day actions that will decide, after the audition is won, whether a person will keep his position.

Nevertheless, with all of this talk about "equal opportunity", this New York Times book review does shed some light on the attitudes that have existed in American culture, with special attention to the period from 1945 to the present.

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The Audition Process?

November 13, 2007 19:01

Earlier this week I posted a New York Times article that featured Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In the article she speaks of many things, including the audition process. While there have been many discussions about one particular aspect of the process - that being more often than not that auditions for orchestral positions are held with a screen, with the candidate on one side and the audition committee on the other - Drew McManus of has written an incredibly enlightening article about auditioning that appears today at his website. Do feel free to read.

32 replies | Archive link

The Maestra and Groundbreaking Outreach

November 11, 2007 09:14

Having recently moved to Baltimore, I (unfortunately) have yet to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, although I have played under the symphony's music director, Marin Alsop, on two occasions and, like all who have had that honor, been both impressed and very pleased. Two months into her first season as music director, Ms. Alsop has been featured in an very enlightening article in the New York Times.

In today's Times there is also an article about a wonderful project taking place in Harlem - one that we in the United States should definitely look at as a true model of what community engagement "should be all about".

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A Rap on Race...

November 7, 2007 12:00

Well, this isn't about the violin or violin playing, but it seems relevant...

Many people throughout the world have been speaking quite candidly about America's race issues in the past few months since the demonstration in Jena, Louisiana. Myself, having read many books, including The Strange Career of Jim Crow and A Rap on Race (a conversation that took place between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead, have found myself at a loss for words. Nevertheless, in the quest to understand I have recently started reading The Mind of the South, a very illuminating text by W. J. Cash.

Of course, there are many private thoughts, and while it is relatively easy to speak of any divisive issues in an intellectual manner it is definitely difficult to express our deepest sentiments. Recently, though, I received the following from a dear friend who wished to remain anonymous but agreed to this posting. Please feel free to read on and share your thoughts.


"At 43 years old and one who has lived a relatively good life without overt prejudice and fear, I am humbled by the images in the video hyper-link below you are about to watch. I warn you what you are about to see is graphic and may be unsettling or not for everyone to see."

As the debate continues (on CNN) whether it is funny for African-American comedians to wear a noose on stage in an effort to be funny or to prove a point, after receiving an e-mail last evening from a friend in D.C. of this narrated video montage I really did not know what I was going to see or witness. The haunting pictures that were made into (of all things) 'postcards' shed some light on what was going on during the many years of American history when blacks were lynched. The distinctive tone and cadence of the narrators' voice took my breath away as each picture came into focus."

I paused and slowly watched each and every one of the images that appears to be commonplace entertainment for those pictured imposing this insane torture and death on people who simply wanted to live a life of freedom. My God we (black or white people) can't forget our past. Our forefathers and these sacrificed souls endure the most absolute horror one can imagine so that I might have the right to simply walk into any establish of my choosing in this country and be served and treated with dignity and respect."

Rarely do I feel compelled to make such a statement in correspondence form to friends and family. For some reason seeing the noose stories in the news this week and then getting this link made me feel as though I had to. In light of the 'whatever' attitudes permeating our society and after watching this once sick and disgusting way of life in this country it move me. After all we all learned in school one of the main reasons for our seceding from our cousins across the pond was the pursuit of freedom."

Whether as kids or as adults at patriotic community events wherever we may live, black, white or other, we all pledge allegiance to this country for liberty and justice for all. With this in mind we all should be outraged when black or white people use this symbol, there is nothing funny about these pictures. This video should make us all think about what that pledge means and why we should speak out or raise hell when any group is singled out or treated unfairly."

As an African-American male who has benefited on the shoulders of the likes of Dr. King and others who were not as welled known, I clearly understand my benefits are unquantifiable. Seeing this video is the reason I will never forget this kind of injustice. I reflect on how lucky I am often not just during the month of February. Those who died and made the ultimate sacrifice for us to live the harmonious life we live without fear (in comparison to the era shown) is why all of us should never pass up the opportunity to vote, speak out against injustice or take for granted this incredible gift we were given called freedom."

Take a moment to find a dictionary and look up the word "FREEDOM." What a gift." [editor's note: link contains graphic material]

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