“A chorus of a thousand voices”

Maestro Gergiev and Joshua Bell have arrived! Tuesday was our first rehearsal with Maestro Gergiev, and Mr. Bell joined NYO on Wednesday for some intense work on the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Before I left to come to NYO, this moment seemed so far away, and even now that it has happened, it still feels surreal. The palpable sense of excitement that has flowed as an undercurrent since day one of NYO peaked when we all assembled on the stage of the Performing Arts Center here at Purchase, sitting in silence as we waited for the Maestro to walk out.

He came out, shook our concertmaster’s hand, and immediately launched into the first movement of the Shostakovich, a piece that seems clearly quite near and dear to him. He said it’s “a great piece” for NYO especially — as Mr. Ross had alluded to many times, it allows us to bring youthful excitement and vigor in places, but also challenges us to find more delicate and melancholy sonorities and to develop a unified voice.

Finding our voice is something Maestro Gergiev has spoken of as well, but even more often, he has encouraged us to “sing” through our playing. In a tutti passage in the Tchaikovsky Concerto filled with eighth- and sixteenth-notes in the violin part, he encouraged us to play less “vertically,” and instead sing through the musical line. Speaking about the beautiful clarinet solo at the beginning of the Shostakovich, Maestro Gergiev said, “The public shouldn’t know that there are barlines” in the sheet music separating each measure. He explained that even though the barlines are there because of convention, the music has to feel as though they’re invisible. For one section, he said we should “play it like a chorus of a thousand voices.”

In another passage, in the second movement of the Tchaikovsky, where the music repeated almost identically for a few bars, Maestro Gergiev warned us not to play the exact same way each time the music repeated: “Repeat is danger. Do you want to play it like a sanding machine or like a musician? Always before you play, just think,” he told us.

When Joshua Bell joined us at the beginning of yesterday’s rehearsal on the Tchaikovsky (much to the excitement of us violinists, especially), Maestro Gergiev was running a few moments late, and Mr. Bell began working with the violins on the opening tutti of the first movement. As the recently appointed concertmaster and music director of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which performs without a conductor, Bell has a lot of experience leading an orchestra. This was the approach he took with us for those first few minutes of rehearsal before the official Maestro arrived. His demonstrative motions and expressive body language helped us feel the driven character of the music leading up to the solo violin entrance. He told us to play more like we were playing chamber music. “I really want everything we do to be like chamber music,” he encouraged. “That’s how I view this concerto, and any concerto, for that matter.”

Maestro Gergiev is unlike any other conductor I’ve worked with. His rehearsals are immaculately paced, and perfectly balanced between playing large sections and dissecting individual measures. His conducting style is extremely unique — he elicits the sonorities using his fingers and hands, literally shaping the phrases in the air. It’s been incredible working with him, and I’m very much looking forward to spending the next weeks under his leadership. Tonight is NYO’s official debut!

Also: NYO has been getting some good coverage in major US newspapers throughout the past few days. You can read a few of these articles from the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. (Click on links to read the articles.) Additionally, you can hear Sean Shepherd speaking about Magiya in the video below.

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