Limitless

This weekend was slightly less rehearsal-heavy than last week. Before we arrived for the residency, we had the opportunity to select two “workshops” that we would participate in on our first Saturday here — among the options were composition, conducting, improvisation, and yoga for musicians. I selected composition and improv. These classes, which were about an hour and fifteen minutes each, were led by Sean Shepherd (composition — refresher: he is the composer of Magiya, the work NYO is premiering) and Jeffrey Zeigler (improv — the former cellist in the renowned Kronos Quartet).

Mr. Shepherd approached the composition class in a way that allowed us to look quickly through the history of 20th century music, from Mahler to Ligeti to John Adams, and he also took students’ questions about how he got into composing, his methods, his training, and more. The improv class was more hands-on. We were assembled in a semicircle across a stage, and within the first 20 minutes of the class, Mr. Zeigler had us all playing drone notes while each musician had 20-30 seconds to freely improvise. What I found especially interesting was that he encouraged and expected us to elaborate on our drones even when we weren’t the one doing the main improvisation. For the most part, there were no parameters set. (Before we began playing for the first time, Mr. Zeigler said, “The only rule is that you aren’t allowed to make any mistakes,” meaning that no matter what we did or what happened, nothing was a mistake, and every sound we made was fair game.) I found the class very liberating, in a way. Especially after a week of intensely trying to accurately bring to life the notes Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich wrote 50 or 150 years ago, it required a very different mindset to create the notes right there in the present, with no boundaries. I can’t be sure, but improvising might have even helped the way I approached the Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, or at least broadened my mindset.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Shepherd sat in on our rehearsal of Magiya, and told us a bit of background on the piece. Magiya means “magic” in Russian, but Mr. Shepherd explained that this isn’t the kind of fairytale magic that we’re used to in our culture, but rather a kind of “everyday magic,” which was something he came across in Russian literature and culture when working on the piece. The piece is supposed to be a celebration — it will be the first thing our audience hears NYO play at each concert.

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Interlude: New York City

Sunday was our day off, so we took a day trip into NYC to sightsee and hear the Philharmonic perform. In the morning, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is so overwhelmingly large that no matter how many times you go, there is always something more to see. My favorite parts were the incredible Roman wall paintings with impressively bright pigments and ornately detailed architectural scenes, and the naturally-lit courtyards where Greek and Roman statues were displayed.

The Philharmonic performed a “Summertime Classics” afternoon concert that featured music of John Adams, Offenbach, Strauss, and Holst’s “The Planets” (the last of which featured projected images of each planet from NASA). The Philharmonic was incredible to hear, especially in the midst of such an intense summer of orchestral playing. The conductor, Bramwell Tovey, offered entertaining (sometimes very funny) and interesting light-hearted commentary between each piece. Following the concert we had a meet-and-greet with three members of the orchestra and their personnel manager, who offered us tips on touring with an orchestra — how to stay active, awake, hydrated, non-jetlagged, and in shape. They also told us about how they came to be in the New York Philharmonic, which was interesting to hear as someone intending to pursue music professionally.

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Everyone involved in NYO, staff included, has a shirt with one word across the front in bold white letters: limitless. We are one week into the program (our first rehearsal was last Monday night) and the distance we’ve come since then has been mind-blowing to me. As Maestro Ross pointed out yesterday, this is an orchestra that didn’t exist one week ago. He said that if this is where we’ve come in one week, he can’t wait to hear where we end up in another week.

He said it eloquently: “The idea came from Carnegie Hall — a bunch of us put our heads together about how to make this great for you — but the only way it’s turning out great is what you’re putting into it, and that’s the element we couldn’t count on.” He thanked us for being “co-creators” in this project.

At the end of the rehearsal, which was our last with him as conductor and “surrogate daddy,” he told us, “Now I have to pass you off to another daddy, and like any good daddy, I have to just let you fly.”

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