Now Hear This: an interview with Margaret Fischer, flute

The 39th annual Basically Beethoven Festival concludes this Sunday, July 28, with an afternoon of music for flute and strings. Local artist Margaret Fischer is a featured performer and she’s participated in this interview for our audience to get an insider’s look at the concert.

When did you start playing the flute? Why did you choose the instrument? Did you learn other instruments?    I started playing the flute when I was 10 in my elementary school’s 5th grade music elective class. The woman who ran the program became my private flute instructor from 6th grade until I started college. Unlike here in Texas, where the kids get to try out instruments under the watchful eye of pros to determine what they’re suited for (I think of it as the “instrument petting zoo”), I was just told to pick one of a bunch of instruments on a table. The flute was the shiniest, so that’s what I chose! Luckily for me, I took to it well. Piano was my first instrument but I only took lessons for less than a year – it was evident that I was never going to be a pianist! I haven’t had any formal training on other instruments but I can play basic guitar chords. 

When did you decide to become a professional musician?    I think I was around 15 years old when I decided that I wanted to pursue music as a career. There was no one magic moment or lightning bolt where everything changed – I just woke up one day and realized that I couldn’t imagine spending my life doing anything else.

Does being a classical musician influence what music you listen to for fun?    Because I’m exposed to so much music for work reasons, sometimes I fall in love with pieces that I never would have encountered any other way, and I will crave listening to it even when the performance is long over. I listen to lots of non-classical music as well, and I don’t think it’s weird to have a diverse playlist. It’s like having a wide variety of food in your diet – music is food for the ears!

There’s no “standard” ensemble on today’s program, such as a woodwind quintet or string quartet. How did you decide what to include on your program? Did you decide on ensembles first, or build an ensemble around the pieces you chose?    Alex McDonald had asked me if I had any “wishlist” pieces that I wanted to play, and the one that immediately came to mind was the Mozart flute quartet in D Major. I played many woodwind quintets while in school, but it’s a rare opportunity for me to get to collaborate with strings, so I jumped at the chance. The Debussy was another wishlist piece for me (in its flute/piano incarnation), so it was very exciting to discover this arrangement for the exact instrumentation that we already had for the Mozart! To balance out the program, we thought it would be nice to feature the ensemble in duos.

What piece or recording should everyone have in their music library?    Ah, this is such a hard question! There’s one specific CD I’m rather attached to – it’s a 1983 recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The climax of that piece has an unbelievably vocal quality to it, it astounded me when I first heard it! The recording is on Spotify, but it’s better experienced from the CD.

What piece on the program are you most looking forward to sharing with our audience, and why?    I’m excited for the entire program! But, I think the Mozart will be a particular treat. I hope the audience has as much fun listening to it as we are having playing it!

What advice would you give 14-year-old you?    Slow down and practice your fundamentals more!! It’s not about how fast you can play today, it’s about how well you can play years from now. You’re in this for the long haul, so take the time to do things right.

Bonus question: flutist or flautist?    A rose by any other name would smell as sweet! I don’t have a preference, but “flutist” seems to be more commonly used in America while “flautist” seems more commonly used overseas.


Now Hear This: an Interview with Alex McDonald, Festival Director and pianist

Dr. Alex McDonald is well-known to our audience as the Basically Beethoven Festival Director: if you’ve attended the concerts you have heard his introductions, his phenomenal playing, and his groan-inducing musical puns. Here he gives our audience insight into the 2019 Festival and the June 21 program in particular, when he will be one of the Featured Performers.

Where did the name Basically Beethoven come from?   When FACP Co-Founder Rogene Russell founded the concert series, Mostly Mozart had been making waves in New York City for more than a decade. I think that’s where the alliterative part of the name came from. As to why ‘Beethoven,’ I think he was chosen because of his incredible appeal, passion, and his role at a turning point in the development of art music.

Why come to Basically Beethoven? What if someone doesn’t know much about classical music?                Firstly — its free! But perhaps more importantly, Basically Beethoven has great music of all kinds! We hope to have something for everyone: from the humorous to the profound, the sweet to soulful, sad to joyful. Our programming features both treasured classics to new, award-winning works. And, as an added bonus, our world-class artists are local. If the performance inspires you to want to know more or even pursue your own musical journey, the performers live relatively close by! 


Is there a specific piece being performed for the Festival this year that you’re particularly excited about?            I am excited to present Schumann’s piano quintet – which is a long-time favorite. And the chance to perform Beethoven’s  Piano Trio op. 1, no 1 (his first published work) is very exciting to me. 

What’s your job like as festival director? Do you have a favorite part of the gig – programming, performing, people, etc.?     This is an easy one. My favorite part by far is just listening to the music! Moody is such a great performance space, and the artists are such incredible communicators. The repertoire they choose is a wonderful extension of who they are as people. It feeds my soul and challenges me to go practice!

There are a lot of composers featured throughout the festival other than Beethoven. How do you decide who and what to program every week?     I always like to hear from the artists about what they want to play. To me, this helps keep the sense of creativity and interest and variety.

2020 will be Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the 40th annual Basically Beethoven Festival. Are there big plans in the works, and can you offer a sneak peak of anything to come?    There are big plans! No hints yet – but stay tuned. We are beyond excited at what is to come. 


Now Hear This: an Interview with Evan Mitchell and Jonathan Tsay, piano

Evan and Jonathan not only share a stage but a piano at the second concert of the 2019 Basically Beethoven Festival on Sunday, July 14. The program features music for “piano four hands” which is when two pianists share one instrument. They’ll be sharing the stage as performers for the first time for our Festival audience! They sat down after a rehearsal for our Q&A to give an insider’s look at what they’re doing and how they got here.


How old were you when started studying piano, and when you realized you could be a professional musician? JONATHAN: I started studying piano at 5 ½ years old – the realization that I could be a professional musician happened well after it probably should have, right after undergrad when I got my first significant paycheck from doing outreach concerts with The Cliburn (for the Cliburn in the Classroom program) for the first time. EVAN: I started at age 7. I was fortunate never to have had teachers or my parents say I couldn’t be a professional musician. I started to consider it more seriously in seventh or eighth grade after attending a competition held at a conservatory, when it hit me the students there pretty much did this full-time.

On the 14th, you two will be playing several pieces originally written for full orchestra. Can you explain what an arrangement is? EVAN: An arrangement is basically when someone has taken a piece of music and rewritten it, without changing the notes, for different performing forces. Sunday’s program all went from orchestral to piano settings, but the opposite happens frequently as well, where a piece (Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, for instance) starts as a piano work and is expanded for a larger ensemble. 

Do you all have experience arranging music yourselves? JONATHAN: I guess that’s sort of a yes and no answer for me. The extent of arranging for me is taking a piece that has already been reduced for piano (usually concerto accompaniment reductions) and adding or subtracting elements here and there based off of what I think sounds closer to the original orchestral texture. There’s a bit more leeway with the actual notes on the page when dealing with arrangements/transcriptions than say, a Beethoven Sonata.

What is different about learning/performing pieces like this (originally written for large ensembles) than for a more standard piano work? EVAN: With one person playing a solo piano work, there’s a degree of flexibility often built into the way the music is written — especially in the Romantic period — and sometimes added at the performer’s discretion. A large ensemble, though, has such inertia that changes in speed need to be really proportional. Think: the difference between a jet-ski and a cruise ship. To play in a fluid way and evoke all the colors of the orchestra, without some of the flexibility you’d normally have when interpreting music at the keyboard, is tricky.

How did the two of you meet and start collaborating? JONATHAN: Evan and I met while doing Cliburn in the Classroom (Evan as the pianist and me as host), and while we had been doing different concerts together for The Cliburn and Ensemble75, this concert Sunday will be the first time (out of many, hopefully) that we share the stage both as performers.

What makes playing piano four hands (two pianists sharing a keyboard) unique or special versus two pianists on two pianos performing one piece? JONATHAN: Real estate. Pianists are so very used to having the entirety of the keyboard (and the bench!) to themselves that once another body is added to a single keyboard, all of the angles (arms/hands/feet relative to the piano) change. Quite often there will be passages that require one person to play a note and then cede the note to the partner much quicker than if they were to be playing alone — a significant part of rehearsal is spent working out the choreography/traffic jam. On the plus side, the individual parts are usually a bit easier to learn and I have learned quite a bit from Evan during rehearsals, which is one of the main reasons I collaborate with people. EVAN: You really have to play as one, which is harder in some ways than playing as two polished performers in dialogue. The way you have to balance sounds across one keyboard, sometimes while contorted into pretty uncomfortable positions, is deceptively difficult.

Last year we had a program featuring two pianists on two pianos. Why would a composer choose to write something with pianists sharing one keyboard? JONATHAN: Like, pianos are expensive, man. Composing/arranging for one piano (whether it’s for one or two pianists) rather than two pianos increases the likelihood of it being performed. EVAN: But a full orchestra is expensive-er. And that’s exactly why many of these pieces were arranged for four-hand piano in the first place; before the advent of recorded sound, this was the only way for most folks to experience this music aside from hearing an orchestral performance.

The pieces you all will perform are all connected in a few ways: they have been in movies or TV shows, were all written in the 19th century; how did you choose your program for Basically Beethoven this year? JONATHAN: Very basically, I asked Evan about some pieces that would be a good fit with the Debussy (which I had performed before, but the two-piano version) and we negotiated around some works and they all happened to share the “outdoorsy” theme. EVAN: They’re all crowd-pleasers, which makes it fun for the audience. They also all happen to rely a lot for their effectiveness on orchestral colors and different timbres, which is a rewarding challenge for us to have to recreate on the piano.

What type of music did you listen growing up? What do you listen to now? JONATHAN: I listened to lots of things growing up — I think if you look up my Now Hear This from 2016 there’s a Dolly Parton story in there (Editor’s Note: indeed, there is!). It ranged from classical to alternative rock to whatever Taiwanese karaoke hits my parents sang. My current collection in my car (SD card reader is amazing) includes Radiohead, Hiromi Uehara, OutKast, Bill Evans, The Roots, other random collections of songs made for various road trips from artists I couldn’t name, as well as CDs of music of Lowell Liebermann, Evgeny Kissin’s 1984 debut performing both Chopin concerti, and the Cezanne Quartet’s album of music by Kevin Puts, Mendelssohn, and Bartok. That’s some of what I listen to when/if I’m not listening to a podcast. EVAN: I grew up right outside New York and loved going to jazz clubs throughout middle and high school, and whenever I’m back that way to visit. Classical’s always been part of it, especially from my high school years onward. I recently made a trip to Houston, and I’d say the drive was divided between Punch Brothers, Nas, and Tchaikovsky.

What piece or recording should everyone have in their music library? EVAN: Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing the Rachmaninoff Fourth Concerto; Murray Perahia playing anything by Mozart or Bach. JONATHAN: Carlos Kleiber – Tribute to a Unique Artist.

Which piece are you most excited to perform on the 14th? EVAN: Probably the Mussorgsky. A Night on Bald Mountain is lots of fun, and with such a catchy opening, it’s one of those pieces that everyone, even musicians, thinks they know but may not actually be all that familiar with all the way through. JONATHAN: The Rossini. I have basically one moment that I need to get around (the first part of the Lone Ranger theme – harder than I expected!) and then I get to sit back and watch Evan sweat out all the hard parts.


Now Hear This: Kimberly Osberg, composer

The 2019 Basically Beethoven Festival opens with an afternoon of music for the clarinet, including a recent work by Dallas-based composer Kimberly Osberg. Read on to learn more about her influences, what Billy Joel and Igor Stravinsky have in common, and get insight into her piece Interplay, which will be performed at the July 7 concert, “The American Sound.”

 


 

Composer Kimberly Osberg

What does a week in the life of a composer in Dallas look like? Do you have time to compose built into your day?    I’m fortunate enough to be working with the Dallas Chamber Symphony, both for event operations and as librarian. Both jobs can get pretty time-intensive near concert time, but the flexibility of working from home most of the season allows me to make my own schedule—so my week can change a lot! I like the variety, however – it makes every day feel like a new one, which can be a really helpful way to reset after a bad composing session or a long day at the concert hall. Some weeks are less about writing music (I may not write a single note!) and more about meeting musicians or hearing new work; other weeks are more about learning new skills to help my business grow; some weeks I find time to write every day. There is always something going on in Dallas, so – especially as an artist – it’s been really great to adjust my schedule regularly in order to experience what the metroplex has to offer!

 

 

What kind of music do you like to listen to? Does what you listen to influence what you write?    I grew up listening to classic rock and jazz, and I think a lot of the rhythms and musical concepts I work with reflect that. In the last few years I’ve really challenged myself to branch out in my listening: I listened to a lot of dead, European composers when I was in school, so since graduating I’ve been moving away from that to see what the world of music has to offer—and it’s a lot! Rap, hip-hop, trance, indie rock, folk metal, experimental electoacoustic installations, the various trends in film music  – there’s a vibrant and meaningful community for everything, and I try to listen around as much as I can. I end up synthesizing some facet or sound or rhythm or texture from everything I listen to – but always within the context of my own soundworld. For example, I don’t try to write rap or use their instruments in my music, but sometimes the rhythmic interplay that an artist like Kendrick Lamar can pull out from text alone really changes the way I think about setting text in my own work.

 

 

When did you decide to pursue music, specifically composition, as a career?    It was more of a gradual realization that I would be pursuing composing. I wrote my first piece when I was in high school – for full orchestra – and I really loved the experience of writing music for my friends and trying to think of ways to make the piece fun for them. From there I ended up at the Tanglewood Institute, where it hit me that there were living people writing concert music—like, a lot of them! That summer really made me think about pursuing composition, and throughout the course of my liberal arts degree at Luther College it became more and more clear that writing music was going to be my full-time path.

 

 

Walk us through the process of receiving a commission to write a piece. Do you have constraints like time or ensemble size, or is that usually up to you?    Because I went to small schools for a large part of my education, it was always the case that you found the ensemble before writing the piece. For that reason, commissions have usually been the result of conversations between myself and musicians who were interested in working together: this means that the ensemble size/instrumentation is usually preordained by whoever I’m talking to. In short, I don’t write a piece and find players later. I always find the players first, and it’s usually my job to tell the players I’m interested in writing for them (though more players have approached me recently, which is very exciting!). Time constraints, technical features, extended techniques, mutes and so forth are things I discuss with the performers directly as I work on the piece; I like to make musicians part of the process because they feel more invested in the work, and they also tend to know a lot more about their instruments and capabilities. My favorite experience is to add something new to a musicians’ toolbox through my music—a new technique, a new favorite way to play their instrument, a new way to interact with their fellow performers—but I try to do so in a way that makes them feel comfortable enough to try.

 

The biggest two exceptions to this were my opera (which was my undergraduate thesis, though I had singers in mind as I wrote), and Rocky Summer, the work that was just premiered by the Dallas Chamber Symphony this past spring. Both were pretty challenging for me, because I was composing in a bubble—away from the input and collaboration of players. I still worked through issues and adjusted things in rehearsal, but the bulk of composing for these commissions was done in isolation.

 

 

As a composer, do you rely more on inspiration or a certain process to write your music? What inspired or helped you write your piece Interplay?   I tend to think of inspiration as “conscious excitement.” Once I get all the constraints—how long, will it be one movement or four, what instruments, what techniques do the musicians want to try out, what are the musicians’ goals, what is the venue, what other pieces are being programmed, etc.—I start generating ideas that I think will fit those constraints well. 

 

In the case of Interplay, the musicians and I had wanted to work together, and they had an upcoming concert at the Dallas Contemporary for an exhibit on work by internationally-acclaimed artist Ian Davenport—they would be performing a concert in front of the artwork at the gallery. [In composing,] I had not just the interests of the musicians, but of the artist, and the Dallas Contemporary to consider as well.

 

I met with the musicians, and we talked about what kinds of goals they had—they wanted to demonstrate the range of colors their ensemble had, the technical capacity of each individual, and their strength of playing well off of and with one another. The artist walked me through his exhibit and showed me several paintings, but one in particular seemed to be the one he really wanted the piece to be about (from his “Colorfall” series). After speaking with him, it was exciting to learn we thought about our crafts in a lot of similar ways—balance, a changing relationship with the art over time, rhythm and color, vivacity, and so on. The musicians and the artist talked a lot about relationships—colors and lines playing off each other in real time—so I had a title, Interplay, and the concepts I needed to work with

 

 

Some composers write their music at coffee shops, some have hidden cabins out in the mountains, some carry notepads and write down ideas as they come. Where do you like to compose, and why?    I wish I had a cabin in the mountains! Many of my favorite works in my catalogue have either been written in or about mountains. Since I travel a lot and maintain a pretty busy schedule outside of composing, I don’t tend to tie myself down to any one “composing place.” All I really need is some quiet, my laptop (or some paper), and my headphones. There are some great coffee shops in Dallas, but all of them play music over the speakers, so unless I’m really focused it’s actually pretty distracting to work there most of the time. Composing at home is usually my default these days.

 

 

Do you have a favorite piece, composer, or genre of music?   My two favorite composers growing up were Billy Joel and Stravinsky. I’ve had a lot of other favorites over the years, but those two have remained constant since I was in high school. It’s basically impossible for me to pick a favorite piece, but there are a lot of really great living composers out there right now; ones who I really admire include Andrew Norman, Nina C Young, Sky McKlay, Jake Heggie, Katie Balch, Joel Thompson, Kevin Puts, and Chris Cerrone.

 

 

What’s your favorite sound?    I really love the sound when you drop one wooden bowl into the other: that satisfying *clack* is one of the most perfect sounds I can imagine. Also laughter – people have so many unique, interesting, quirky laughs. Least favorite sound?    I despise wet, chewing sounds. I know they can be used effectively, but it hurts me.

 

 

What advice would you give 14-year-old you?    Soak it all up! The world is a really beautiful, exciting, vibrant place with many hidden wonders if you’re brave enough to look for them. Always be kind, even when someone won’t return that courtesy to you. Be the person people aren’t afraid to mess up around. Be bold in accepting and fighting for yourself when necessary, but be open to the idea you may not always be right. And always know where your health insurance is accepted.


Now Hear This: Matthew Ho, violin

Matthew Ho comes to our stage after having performed as a Rising Star recitalist during the 2018 Basically Beethoven Festival. Of course, he hasn’t been idle since July! In fact, Matthew is one of the finalists of the Lynn Harrell Concerto Competition sponsored by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Beyond the stage, Matthew is a high school student and competitive ice skater. (No, we don’t know how he does it all, either!) FACP is thrilled to have Matthew perform this Saturday with pianist Yurie Iwasaki at the Charles Barr Memorial concert.


Matthew Ho at the 2018 Basically Beethoven Festival

What piece on the program are you most looking forward to sharing with our audience, and why? I am very excited about this program. It has many great pieces from composition, violin performance, and listening points of view. If I had to pick one, I would say “Nightclub 1960” by Astor Piazzolla. This nuevo tango includes a section of interesting percussion sounds. I had to practice it quite a bit and consult a friend who is now attending Juilliard. My teacher has confirmed, I am doing it just right! I hope you all will find it as surprising as I did when I first heard it.

 

In addition to being an accomplished musician, you’re a competitive ice skater. Can you tell us more about that? Yes, I have had been ice skating since I was very young. I started at a mall rink and now skate regularly at Farmers Branch Children’s Health rink. I am working on my triple jumps right now and have been doing pairs skating for two years now. My pairs team was ranked 6th place in Juvenile Pairs at the 2019 Geico USFS National Championships at Detroit this past January. It was a great experience to compete at Nationals. We hope to do it again this coming year.

 

What’s your typical daily schedule to fit in all you have to do? My daily schedule changes from day to day. During weekdays, it usually starts around 6:45am so I can get to school. School runs from 8 a.m. – 3 or 4 p.m. I then rush to my various after school activities such as ice skating, violin lessons, or rehearsals. Like many of my classmates, I don’t get home until almost 7:00! I quickly take a shower, have dinner, and then start homework and practice violin. The nights are usually long. On Saturdays, I wake up even earlier for ice skating training.

 

How do you unwind? Hmm…sleep is good. Watching TV, texting my friends, and day dreaming are all great – if I have the time.

 

What kind of music do you like to listen to? I like to listen to classical music and some pop music. Recently, I have liked songs by Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, and some Asian pop songs.

 

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? My favorite composer changes depending on my mood and what I am playing at the time. If I had to pick one right now, I probably would choose Astor Piazzolla. Not only will I be performing it in my Saturday program, I also recently performed one of his trios at my school. His music is interesting to listen to and play.

 

What do you plan to do after high school graduation in a few years? Will you continue studying music in college? After high school graduation, I hope to take a relaxing vacation and maybe have a concert tour (this is a big maybe). I do hope I will have been accepted to one of my dream colleges. Yes, I am planning on continuing my music education in college.

 

What’s your favorite sound? Least favorite sound? My favorite sounds change often, from the lyrical, soothing sound of a violin to just white noise. Right now, I think the light tapping of rain sounds quite soothing. My least favorite sound would probably be scratching, like nails scratching on a chalkboard.


Now Hear This: an Interview with Ann Hung and Stanislav Chernyshev, clarinet

Ann Hung and Stanislav “Stas” Chernyshev not only play the same instrument; co-lead Opus Nova, a new chamber music series in Fort Worth; and will perform together at FACP’s Bancroft Family Concert: WOMEN OF NOTE; but they are also married! The dynamic duo took a moment to give our audience a glimpse at the program, which focuses on female composers, and some background on their lives and careers.


What piece on the program are you most looking forward to sharing with our audience, and why? Ann and Stas: Missy Mazzoli’s trio “Lies you can believe in.” Not only Missy Mazzoli is one of the most inventive living composers these days, she is also close to our age and speaks the musical language of the 21st century.

When did you start playing the clarinet? Why did you choose the instrument? Did you learn other instruments? Ann: I started to play the clarinet when I was 10. My mom actually chose it for me, simply because it is an easy instrument to carry around. I also play the piano, and I started the piano when I was 5. Stas: I started the clarinet when I was 13. I heard Benny Goodman play the clarinet on the radio and immediately fell in love with the sound. That’s what made me want to learn this instrument. I also play a little bit of piano, I started at the age of 8.

When did you decide to pursue music as a career? Ann: I have been in music school since 3rd grade. Of course there are some difficult times when I just wanted to play outside with friends instead of sitting in front of a music stand and practicing, but music brings me so much of joy, I’ve always known I wanted to do something that relates to it. Stas: I decided to be a professional musician after I won my first solo competition at age 15.
 
Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Ann: It’s hard to pick just one, and it changes with time. Lately I’ve been in love with Scarlatti, Ravel, and Beethoven. But Brahms has always been my favorite to listen and play without a doubt. Stas: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

What advice would you give 14-year-old Ann and Stas? Ann: Practice and listen to music as much as you can! Enjoy the time that practicing is the only thing you need to worry about (ha-ha)! Stas: I would definitely give myself lots of life advice if I could go back! If we are talking about music,  I would suggest myself to practice more and attend as many concerts as possible.

What advice would you give to a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college? Ann: Know that you are going to spend the majority of your time alone in the practice room whether you are free or not: holidays, weekends, finals–doesn’t matter. If you still think that’s something you want to do, then yes! Follow your heart! It’s a hard path, but I guarantee the result is just as gratifying as it can be. Stas: If you decide to pursue music as your career practice hard, but don’t forget to have a life as well. Your life experience is what makes your music unique. The music has to be personal and it has to come from your heart.

What’s your favorite sound? Ann: The waves from the ocean. Stas: I recently heard a Mariachi group, one of the instruments there called guitarron (basically a bass guitar), absolutely blew my mind.

Finally, when you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert to you hope to hear? Ann and Stas: Beethoven String Quartets

 


Now Hear This (again!): an Interview with Jolyon Pegis, cello

When Jolyon Pegis, Associate Principal Cello of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, played our Bancroft Family Concert series last season, we conducted a “Now Hear This” interview to get to know the musician and the program for that day. For this go-round, we asked a few more questions to get that behind-the-scenes peek our audience loves. Enjoy! And we’ll see you this Saturday, November 10, at 3 p.m. for Dynamic Duos: the Bancroft concert featuring Jolyon with DSO violinist Maria Schleuning.


 

Jolyon Pegis & Maria Schleuning

What piece on Saturday’s program with Maria are you most excited about?  I’m probably most excited to perform the Kodály Duo. We haven’t performed this work in over 10 years. It’s so well written for both instruments and is fun to perform. The audience will find it entertaining and very satisfying.

Can you explain a bit about what your role as Associate Principal Cello is? What’s your function with the other musicians/within the cello section?  There are two things I need to accomplish as an Associate Principal. If you attend a DSO concert you’ll notice that I am sitting directly behind the Principal. My first goal is to play with the Principal. If I don’t, it will make the job of the section much harder since I will essentially block their view of what the Principal is doing. I also help transmit information from the Principal to the rest of the section. The other duty of anyone who is an Associate Principal is to cover for the Principal if they are off that day. That means you have to be ready to assume the duties of the Principal, sometimes with little notice.

You last played for us in March 2018. What brought you back to play for our audience this season?  This program is the first of a series of concerts that Maria and I are giving. We’ll repeat this program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in December.

What cello piece or recording should everyone have in their music library?  In my last DMA concert in March I performed the Vivaldi Cello Concerto in B Minor. I learned about this piece from a CD of Vivaldi Concertos featuring the cellist Heinrich Schiff. I really love this CD. I think this is a good one for your collection!

 

An excerpt from Jolyon’s interview in March 2018:

Is chamber music for cello a big part of the repertoire? Yes, it is. These pieces are interesting because they are really chamber concertos. I was surprised to learn many years ago that Vivaldi wrote about 35 of these concertos for cello and Boccherini wrote 15.

How old were you when you started playing cello? Why did you choose it? Did you learn other instruments? I actually started with the violin. I played from ages 5 to 8 and then switched to cello. I’ve always liked the lower register and darker sounds of the cello. I also played the piano throughout high school.

What type of music did you listen growing up? I come from a family of classical musicians so it was strictly classical in our house growing up. With three violinists in the family I heard a lot of violin concertos as a kid. I know we wore out many records from constant playing. Although I preferred playing the cello I really liked listening to certain violinists more than anything. Fritz Kreisler and Pinchas Zukerman were my favorites.

What do you listen to now? I spend so much of my time in rehearsals or performing that sometimes I prefer silence after a concert. The radio stays off on the car ride home! Or I prefer a book on tape.

What advice would you give 14-year-old Jolyon? If you really want to improve, you need to practice consistently and you need to practice smart. It’s so important to have a plan when you get to work. I wish I learned this at an earlier age.

What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college? Music is a very demanding profession. If you’re not all in, don’t do it. If you try to do a double major as a “back-up,” you most likely won’t succeed. The most important thing you will do in college is practice – probably 4 or 5 hours a day. Anything that gets in the way of doing that needs to go. After college you aren’t going to get hired because of your degrees, grades, extra-curricular activities etc. You’ll get hired because of how well you play.


Now Hear This: Alexander Kerr, violin

Now Hear This: an Interview with Alexander Kerr

The 2018-2019 season of our Bancroft Family Concerts kicks off with an impressive program: Dallas Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Alexander Kerr, joined by DSO pianist Anastasia Markina, shares the music of Leos Janacek, Antonin Dvorak, and Ludwig van Beethoven.  

In addition to holding the Concertmaster position in Dallas since 2011, Mr. Kerr is Professor of Violin at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, the Principal Guest Concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and maintains and hearty concert schedule filled with solo and chamber music engagements. Welcome to our stage, Alex!


Alexander Kerr, DSO Concertmaster

Can you explain a bit about what your role as Concertmaster is? What’s your function with the other musicians/for the conductor?  I believe my roles as a concertmaster are as a facilitator and liaison. Whether through my body motions, or suggestions I make to the orchestra, I try my best to help the conductor in front of me realize his/her vision. I also act as intermediary between sections of the orchestra, and between the orchestra and the conductor.

 

What piece on the program are you most looking forward to sharing with our audience, and why?  Janacek’s Sonata! It is a rarely performed work and I find it to be a beautiful and exciting piece – there are so many characters and gorgeous harmonic moments.

 

You started the violin at age 7. Why did you choose the instrument? Do you play anything else?  I began studying the violin purely by chance. I started with the piano at age 4, studying with my mother (an amazing teacher, by the way!). She drove me so crazy that I begged to play anything else. So, I strode into my elementary school orchestra director’s office and asked if I could play the cello. Unfortunately, there were none available in my size and she needed a violinist. The rest was, as they say, history!

 

When did you decide to pursue music as a career?  I think I realized I would be a musician in my middle teens. I was traveling through Europe and thought to myself, “music can take me all over the world and I can get paid to do it!” In fact, my mom recently found a post card that I sent her and my stepfather from Rome, detailing that exact moment.

 

In addition to playing with the DSO, you are a professor at Indiana University. How is it splitting your time between the two locations?  Juggling my two lives isn’t easy but I love both so much, I can’t imagine giving either up! When in Dallas, I teach my students via an internet teleconferencing system, so they never lose the continuity of their lessons. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it! It fulfills me as an artist.

 

What type of music did you listen to growing up, and what do you turn on now? What kind of music do you share with your children?  I grew up listening to almost everything and my current playlists range from hip hop, to jazz, Classical, 80s and 90s pop, hard rock, and folk music. My kids listen to everything I listen to: they are very much into Broadway musicals, hip hop, and pop.

 

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? I always vacillate between Brahms and Beethoven – it really depends upon the individual piece.

 

What advice would you give 14-year-old Alex?  Never let fear guide your life. Be courageous, even when life sends you the most humbling challenges you can imagine.

 

What advice would you give to a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college?  Practice, practice, practice.

 

What’s your favorite sound?  The sound of the ocean. Your least favorite sound?  An ambulance.

 

Finally, when you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert to you hope to hear?  I’d love to be a part of a performance of the St. Matthew Passion, Bach conducting, Mozart as my stand partner, and all my friends surrounding me.


Now Hear This: Jared Schwartz, bass

The final concert of the 2018 Basically Beethoven Festival is a look at “Art Song,” intimate pieces by French and American composers performed for us by operatic bass Jared Schwartz and pianist Mary Dibbern. We interviewed Mr. Schwartz so our audience can get to know the local musician before hearing him at Moody Performance Hall on Sunday. Read on to learn why he stopped being a pre-med student to focus on voice, and when he “decided to give singing a chance.”


What piece on the program are you most looking forward to sharing with our audience? “Jeanne d’arc au bûcher” (Joan of Arc at the Stake) is a French song by Franz Liszt. Joan is preparing to walk to the pyre to be burned alive at the stake. You get to experience all the emotions of her fears and her faith as she ascends the platform, and then passes into heaven to find her eternal reward. Every time I sing this piece, I have to stop for a moment afterwards and thank God for such incredible music.

 

How old were you when you started studying voice? Why did you decide to, and did you learn any other instruments? I started piano at age 3 and originally thought that would be my path. I was actually a piano major in college, and I grew up studying violin and French horn. Additionally, I sang in (and accompanied) choirs and musicals, but never actually studied singing until halfway through my sophomore year of college at Bethel College, thanks to my voice teacher, Vicky Garrett. A year and a half later I auditioned for graduate school at the Eastman School of Music for voice and, after I got in, decided to give singing a chance. After graduate school, I have flown every six or so weeks to NYC to study with my voice teacher of the past 11 years, David Jones. Singing is definitely my favorite of all my instruments, but they all influence my singing.

 

When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician? I began college as a Chemistry/Pre-Med/French Horn/Piano major (yes, all four).  It was absolutely insane. I had a blast learning so many different things but I was sick every two weeks from lack of rest!  After one semester of that, I decided to hone in on music and use medical school as my Plan B. At this point, I think music is where I’ll stay.

 

What type of music did you listen to growing up, and what do you listen to now? I grew up making a lot of music in church, whether contemporary Christian or classical. I also did lots of musicals, so show tunes are practically in my DNA. I grew up in a small town in Indiana of about 3,000 people, that just happens to have an oratorio society, so I grew up singing in Messiah and other oratorios, as well. For growing up somewhat in the middle of nowhere, I was very fortunate to have a multitude of musical experiences.

 

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To sing? My favorite composer to listen to, as of late, is Mieczysław Weinberg. His orchestral music, particularly his cello concerto, are sublime. My favorite composer to sing is Verdi, particularly his Requiem. He knew exactly how to write for the bass voice. He elevated basses from silly buffo roles to real, emotional, powerful lyrical singing. I also like to sing songs I’ve written. Then the only person I can blame for writing something difficult is myself!

 

What advice would you give 14-year-old Jared? Your love for music will carry you much further than you can ever imagine. Just keep making music, keep pushing yourself, keep learning, and keep enjoying every note and every step you take along the way. Also, practice SLOWLY!

 

What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college? Study as many instruments as possible!  The more well-rounded a musician you are, the greater your palette of expression will be on your (eventual) chosen instrument. It is very easy for me to think orchestrally because I have studied nearly all the instruments in the orchestra. Also, read the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’ve read it three times and my artistic confidence expands every time.

 

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound? My favorite musical sound is the cello, or anything in D-flat major. Non-musically, I love the sound of water, whether the ocean or a great thunderstorm. My least favorite sound is music sung without any meaning behind it…or snoring (I’m a light sleeper).

 

When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear? I’d probably have all the great Wagnerian singers of the past (Birgit Nillson, Hans Hotter, Jon Vickers, etc.) bust out some giant gospel music number with a huge orchestra and choir, and probably some dancers, too, to keep things really exciting! It would be rockin’!

 


Now Hear This: an interview with Deborah Brooks, cello

Ms. Brooks, cellist with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, joins flutist Shauna Thompson and pianist Shields-Collins Bray for the July 8 concert of the Basically Beethoven Festival. Read on to her thoughts on Beethoven’s storytelling, her favorite composers, what she would have changed about herself in high school, and more!


Deborah Brooks

What piece on the program are you most looking forward to sharing with our audience?  The Beethoven Sonata is special to me as I have vivid memories of chamber music readings while a college student that often went well into the night. It’s a happy piece that works well in the summertime, and the first movement seems complete in its storytelling.

How old were you when you started playing the cello? Why did you choose it and did you learn any other instruments?  I began lessons on the piano at age 5 with my father. While learning violin in the fifth grade, we learned that the one cellist in our little elementary school orchestra was moving away. So, thinking that I would be bored playing the violin another year, I switched to the cello to fill the gap. Then I fell in love with the deeper sounds. I continued piano and theory studies all through high school, which was invaluable in my overall music training.

When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician/performer?  The 8th grade. Seriously. It has just been my passion for as long as I can remember.

What type of music did you listen to growing up, and what do you listen to now?  Both of my parents had music degrees, so I was listening to Mozart Overtures and late-Beethoven string quartets while a toddler. We had season tickets to the Abilene Philharmonic since elementary school. As a teenager, I would listen to some pop music in high school. Now, I often listen to music that I’m preparing for upcoming concerts or classical favorites that speak to my soul.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play?  Brahms and Mahler. It’s hard to choose between those two. They are both so emotionally complex in their music.

What advice would you give 14-year-old Debbie?  “Seriously, Debbie, talent is not enough. You need to practice more! Quit being quite so social!”

What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college?  If you think that you might do anything else, then don’t major in music. It has to consume you, like there’s nothing else in the world that you want to do. Then you will have sufficient drive and curiosity to learn everything you need to learn, as well as fit in all of the practice time.

 

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound? Favorite sound: Rain falling on parched earth or waves hitting a beach. Least favorite sound: Anything that is so annoyingly repetitive that it’s like torture.

When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear?  Mahler conducting an orchestra of all of the great orchestral players that have gone before me playing the end of his Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection!