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!

Now Hear This: an Interview with Quinn Mason, composer

Audiences at the first concert of the 2018 Basically Beethoven Festival will hear the World Premiere of Quinn Mason’s String Quartet No. 5. Mr. Mason is quite an accomplished composer, regardless of his young age. He grew up in Dallas and graduated from North Dallas High School. He first became acquainted with Fine Arts Chamber Players through an in-school demonstration by one of our troupes, and eventually was part of our scholarship program for private lessons.

Enjoy this interview with Mr. Mason to learn more about his process for composing, his history (including his first time in the audience at the DSO with rock star Sting on stage), and his interests.

Why was the String Quartet No. 5 selected for this concert?  This one is a representation of my current style. I’d say it marks the emergence of the compositional voice that I experiment with today. The fourth movement of this quartet has been performed before, but this is the first time the entire piece has been performed in public – it’s a World Premiere.


How old were you when you started playing an instrument? When you started composing?  When I was 10 I started piano classes at my elementary school. That led to an interest in exploring music more. I took private lessons and had extra practice on the keyboard after school. That led to improvising, exploring, and creating music.

After piano, I started the cello about 2 years later; and I did the recorder at school. Cello was my first experience playing with an ensemble through orchestra, the New Conservatory of Dallas. In high school, North Dallas High School, I joined band for the first time in the percussion section.

I was 10, actually, when I started composing. I even drew my own staff paper for my earliest pieces!


Can you walk us through your process of how you compose a piece?  Sometimes the idea comes first, sometimes the rhythm comes first. I’ll take all the ideas and put them in a little black notebook I keep. Eventually, I’ll put all the notes together and order them. Then one idea – a theme – will come to the forefront and I might voice that with a particular instrument, then fill out the other sections … essentially, it’s taking ideas and shaping them into a larger picture.


When did you decide to pursue a career as a composer?  In high school. It was my band director Mr. Warmanen who encouraged my composition by letting me composer for the band and letting me compose my own pieces for the band. And this was after I’d taken some time off from music in middle school.


What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now?  My mom brought me up on ’80s and ’90s music, mostly R&B and hip-hop. So, classical music was something I had to seek out on my own through the radio. I still listen to classical music, but I’ve recently gotten into salsa music and Latin music, in general.


Growing up in Dallas, what were some arts organizations you interacted with?  FACP – I was a scholarship student and received free cello lessons in elementary and middle school. Once I left the cello, FACP was able to facilitate composition lessons for me.

I grew up in the audience at the DSO. First performance was seeing Sting in Peter & the Wolf at the DSO. I still remember that! That was a school trip.


Who’s your favorite composer to listen to?  Igor Stravinsky is my favorite of all time. It used to be Tchaikovsky, but once I heard “Rite of Spring, I thought – this is my man. The reason why I like Stravinsky so much is because he experimented with different styles, but he always sounds like himself at the same time. That’s unique and inspiring.


What advice would you give 14-year-old Quinn?  You’re not going to be an actor, stop writing screenplays. Practice more piano, listen to a lot more contemporary music because it’ll really open your mind. And, just be yourself – don’t try to be someone else.


What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college?   Make lots of friends and be very social because music is a universal experience and very collaborative. Be nice to everyone and don’t burn your bridges – those connections can really help you in college and in your career.


What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Favorite sound – I’d have to say the sound of an orchestra tuning up. It’s very refreshing to hear lots of open strings and warming up. Least favorite sound – when people clap after the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.


When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear?  I want to hear Stravinsky conduct his own “Rite of Spring.” That’s what I really want to hear.


Now Hear This: an Interview with Rebecca Glass, viola

Plano-native Rebecca Glass recently earned her Doctorate of Musical Arts in viola performance from the renowned Cleveland Institute of Music. She returns home this week to perform in recital with Alicja Basinksa, piano, at our final Bancroft Family Concert of the season on May 12. The duo will perform works by Frank Bridge, J.S. Bach, and Johannes Brahms. Not only is hearing a solo viola concert rare, but Dr. Glass is a unique performer as she is blind. Read more to learn a bit about how she started playing, how she learns music, and more!

Was there one piece on the program that you especially wanted to perform, or were you equally interested in all three? While I like all the pieces on the program, the Brahms sonata is my favorite. It is definitely the most musically and emotionally complex. Another wonderful aspect of the sonata is that it equally showcases the viola and piano parts. Alicja and I have been performing together since 2011 and when I chose the program for the concert the Brahms sonata came to mind not only because I really love the music, but also because I knew that Alicja’s artistry would make this piece a great experience for both the audience and for us as players. As for my overall program choices, this concert afforded the opportunity to select works from varying composers that display the beauty of the viola and at the same time offer an engaging and interesting recital for the listeners.

How old were you when you started playing viola? Why did you choose it, and did you learn other instruments? I didn’t begin studying the viola until I was 13. I was originally a pianist since age 3. I decided to learn the violin in second grade. Over the next five years the violin’s high register didn’t endear it to me, my parents, or our poor cat. Eventually I kept covertly transposing violin melodies down by an interval of a fifth and finally took that as a sign that I should switch to the viola. Besides studying both viola and piano through high school, I also briefly spent some time with the Chinese erhu.

Can you walk us through your process of how you learn a piece? Is there Braille for music? There is Braille music, however I mostly use it for my own note taking purposes or occasionally score study for music theory. I learn all my viola repertoire by ear. That goes for orchestral, chamber music, and solo literature. Here I owe a huge thank you to Barbara Sudweeks, assistant principal viola for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, for recording all my music for the last 14 years. The parts she records for me include not just a played line, but she also tells me important markings such as dynamics, bowings, articulations etc. There is hardly any viola music available in Braille so Barbara’s work in making my music library is truly incredible.

When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician? I never truly considered a career in anything but music. The real question for a while was which instrument.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? Growing up I mostly listened to classical music, though occasionally an oldies station or the inevitable country music would end up on the car radio. Now days, I have a very wide range of tastes in music. Since our family is passionate about overseas travel, I have ended up bringing home folk music from many different countries. I also love both European and American music from the ’30s and ’40s. Classical music is still my mainstay in terms of listening, but as I spend the majority of my time practicing it, other genres can be a welcome break at the end of the day.

Growing up in Plano, what were some arts organizations you interacted with? I played and also toured in the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. I regularly attended DSO and Dallas Opera performances throughout high school.

Different sections of the orchestra have different roles. Can you explain what the viola’s focus is? We are the middle voice in an orchestral string section. Violas usually provide harmony and/or counter melodies, not to mention comic relief.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? It seems like my favorite composer is always changing, but right now I’ve been enjoying Brahms, the late works of Mozart, and Debussy.

What advice would you give 14-year-old Rebecca? Worry less about comparing your musical and academic accomplishments to fellow students. Time would be better spent focusing on pursuing long-term goals. Every orchestral chair test is not a make or break situation. 🙂

What advice would you give a high school student who wants to pursue music in college? Use your time wisely in preparing. Talk to students at the college or conservatory you are hoping to attend and find out what kinds of achievements really make a difference when your auditions and applications are being considered. High school goes quickly. Prioritizing your practicing so that you can ultimately present the best audition possible can give you a real edge at the collegiate level just like in real life.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? My favorite would be the evening call to prayer in Istanbul. If you ever find yourself there, try to find a high place to listen so you can hear calls of the many muezzins echo throughout the city’s thousands of mosques. As for my least favorite – no offense intended to any brass players that might be reading this – but some of the sounds that come from those instruments while warming up can be truly hair raising!

When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear? Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

Now Hear This: an Interview with Ted Soluri, bassoon

Ted Soluri, principal bassoon of The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, played on our Bancroft Family Concert in February 2017. He was kind enough to answer our “Now Hear This” questions at that time, which you can revisit here. For this go-round, Ted is telling us a bit about his debut CD, Sempre Libera, which is the basis for his April 14 Bancroft concert.

Ted Soluri

Where did the idea to do the CD, and this repertoire, come from? I always knew my first CD would be music “stolen” from another instrument. Bassoon music just isn’t what I wanted to do as my debut offering. With that in mind, I went through a fair amount of music for cello, violin, voice, anything I could find. Ultimately, I decided on vocal music because of the enjoyment I got from working on it.

What is it about opera, specifically, that drew you to the program? What is it about the bassoon that made opera arias a good fit for your recording? I fell in love with opera in college after I attended a performance of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at Florida State University. After that I surrounded myself with singers and opera. In graduate school, I was introduced to the recordings of Maria Callas. I was so taken with her concepts of breath control, phrasing, vibrato, etc. that she has since become, in many ways, another teacher of mine. So, when I was looking at voice music to put on a debut album, opera arias made perfect sense!

How did you select the pieces? Honestly, there was a LOT of trial and error. Arias I may love might not work on the bassoon. In fact, we made last minute changes due to that very thing. You get through a first reading of a piece and you know right there that it isn’t going to work. So, you try another. And another. I also wanted to make sure that I represented as many different voice-types as I could. I didn’t want an album of all-tenor arias, for instance.

​For the most part, what voices typically sing the arias featured? What voice most easily lends itself to transforming into a melody for bassoon? The arias are for all voices. I have soprano, mezzo, tenor, and baritone arias. And within that, there are differences in the voice-types. i.e. coloratura soprano, dramatic tenor, lyric baritone. Incidentally, I also tried to get a variety of countries represented as well as varying musical eras. The tenor fits most naturally in the bassoon’s own register, but other voices work well, too, as you’ll see.

The pianist on your program, Valerie Trujillo, joins us from Tallahassee. How did you two begin working together? And, how do you prepare for performances when you live so far away from one another? Valerie and I have known each other for many years through some overlap at Florida State and a few summers we were both working at the Santa Fe Opera. About two months before we were to record, she and I met, read through everything, and worked on the more difficult arias right then. Everything else came together in the days before the actual recording. For this concert, we will work for a few days here in Dallas.

Valerie’s position at Florida State University is professor of vocal coaching and accompanying, and the coordinator of the voice and opera programs. [NOTE: read a Q&A bonus with Valerie below] Does Valerie’s experience with opera help you as a performer and, if so, how? Valerie’s input was immense and invaluable! Her knowledge of these works was a constant guiding force. We talked a lot about voice-isms and bassoon-isms and how to marry the two while always keeping our eye on the musical integrity of these composers.

And, in a nutshell, what was the process for creating a CD: from idea to recording to release, can you walk us through that? This project was a long time in the making. But that is mainly due to funding and timing issues over the years. After arriving here in Dallas three years ago, I checked with Valerie to see if she was still up for it–and she was. I already had Azica Records in mind as the label because I’ve known those guys for 25 years and their work is incredible. With everything finally lining up, we set up a three-day recording session and the rest is audio history!

Spotlight on Valerie Trujillo, piano

Valerie is on the faculty at Florida State University, where she is professor of vocal coaching and accompanying, and the coordinator of the voice and opera programs. We wanted to get her perspective on what vocal coaching is, and how that relates to this program. She explains:

A vocal coach is not a voice teacher. A coach is usually a pianist (not a singer!) who works with singers on language, style, and literature. That person usually serves as the singer’s accompanist as well. Most singers have both a teacher and a coach who work together to develop the singer into a complete performer. Vocal coaches receive training in the three main singing languages (Italian, French and German), song and operatic repertoire, as well as accompanying vocal music. It is, indeed, a specialized field!

In the repertoire that Ted and I will be performing, Ted plays these arias the way a singer would sing them–minus the words, of course. He breathes where they breathe. He phrases the way they phrase. Even though he has no words to sing, it is clear he knows the meaning of what he is playing and where the arias occur within the context of each opera.


Now Hear This: an Interview with Jolyon Pegis, cello

Associate Principal Cello of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Jolyon Pegis comes from a musical family (growing up with three violinists), and has a musical family (his wife Donna and son Alex play the cello, too). Mr. Pegis is our featured soloist on the program this Saturday for our Bancroft Family Concert: Baroque & Classical Masterworks. He performs cello concertos that bridge the gap between the two musical eras.

What piece on the program are you most excited about? What should we listen for? I’m especially excited about the Vivaldi. It happens to be a family favorite. My wife Donna and son Alex are both cellists and we have enjoyed listening to this piece many times. I’ve always wanted to play it. Also, the Boccherini is so fun and challenging to play. It’s been a lot of work to learn, but totally worth it.

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.

Your son Alexander, also a cellist, was a featured “Rising Star” performer during the 2016 Basically Beethoven Festival. What’s it like as a father to see him perform? It’s so interesting because on the one hand, knowing his playing as well as I do, I’m completely confident that he’ll be fine in a concert. Despite that, I’m a nervous wreck!

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? I really love French music. Especially Faure, Debussy, and Ravel.

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.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Anybody who has ever spent any time in the Great Lakes region will know what I’m talking about. It you walk along the shore of any of the Lakes after a few days without wind the lake will be so flat it will look like glass. However, right at the water’s edge there will appear tiny wavelets that wash up the shore. They are only a few inches high and make a very soft “brushing” sound. This might be my favorite sound. It’s either that or bagpipes. Believe it or not, I love bagpipes! My least favorite sound is when I step outside on a quiet evening and hear traffic in the distance.

When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear? The slow movement of the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony.

Now Hear This: an Interview with Trio Kavanah

Kavanah (pronounced kah-vah-NAH) is an ancient Hebrew word that specifies the intention and sincerity of heart needed for effective and honest prayer.  As Trio Kavanah, violinist Grace Kang Wollett, pianist Trevor Hale, and clarinetist Daniel (Danny) Goldman strive to express that same sincerity in the music they create and share before audiences. Among other musical endeavors, Ms. Wollett plays for The Dallas Opera Orchestra as does Mr. Goldman, and Dr. Hale keeps a full calendar as a Dallas-based pianist.

Trevor Hale, Grace Kang Wollett, and Daniel Goldman

How did the three of you come together to form Trio Kavanah?

GRACE: It started from a casual chamber reading.

TREVOR: Danny and I met with a desire for collaboration, and we decided to form a trio. Danny introduced Grace into the mix, because they knew each other from the Dallas Opera. We have been playing together ever since.

DANNY: I was dying to play chamber music. Orchestra auditions and performance had consumed my life, and I wanted to collaborate with a pianist. Trevor came highly recommended so we met and jammed. Then I decided to randomly invite Grace because we were at Juilliard together and both in the Dallas Opera Orchestra. The energy and vibe was so positive and fun during the first reading that we kept meeting, and then decided to make it into something legit.


How old were you when you started learning your instrument? Why did you chose your instrument? Do you play other instruments?

GRACE: I was 7 when I started on violin, and I was drawn to it just because I really liked it. I moved around a lot, so my parents preferred a small instrument. I can also play piano, guitar, ukulele, records, and some viola.

TREVOR: I started when I was 8, and loved the unique variations of sound on the piano. In addition to piano, I occasionally play harpsichord.

DANNY: I picked up the clarinet at age 11 when the band director presented instruments to students, and I liked the clarinet because it was black and had shiny keys. Plus, my dad used to play clarinet in high school, so it struck a chord. I started on piano, dabbled in accordion (yes, I took private lessons on accordion, don’t judge me). Since clarinets come in various shapes and sizes, professionally I have to play E-flat clarinet (the baby one), bass clarinet, and basset horn from time to time.


What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? 

GRACE: As a child, I listened to classical music and Broadway musicals. I’ve stuck with listening to classical as an adult, and also listen to Christian contemporary and indie tunes.

TREVOR: I grew up listening to classical, jazz, and classic rock. My favorite non-classical musician was rock guitarist Eric Johnson (Cliffs of Dover still one of my all-time favorites). Now I enjoy some pop, hip-hop, and R&B, and obviously I love classical as well!

DANNY: I think a lot of ’80s/90s music like also Annie Lennox, Gloria Estefan, Santana, and Pink Floyd. Now, I go for hip-hop, classical, chill-hop, jazz, some forms of EDM [electronic dance music] but not too intense. Really, I like all sorts of stuff: one moment it could be Coldplay, then the next moment Mozart C Minor Mass (omg so good).


Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play?

GRACE: My favorite for listening is Elgar, and playing is Mozart.

TREVOR: This is tough to choose only one! To listen I would have to go with Beethoven. I love performing Rachmaninoff with Chopin tied for first!

DANNY: To listen, Ravel. To play, big orchestra Mahler. But, I go through phases! Mozart is another favorite to play.


What advice would you give to your 14-year-old self? 

GRACE: It’s okay to feel awkward about everything! Keep finding your voice.

TREVOR: In the real world you have less time to practice, so create effective practice methods early on.

DANNY: Being unsure, low in confidence, shy, confused, even lost, is actually essential at times. Don’t fight it by faking it. Keep finding what you want to do and how you want to do it. Don’t feel pressured to be so assured of your craft, especially at a younger age. Things start to line up and then true confidence kicks in. Then you’ll have the essential ability to be sensitive and emotionally open while being thick-skinned and impervious to the haters and rejection. It’s a weird combo.


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

GRACE: If you can’t imagine doing anything else – if through thick and thin you think you’ll feel the same – go for it with everything you’ve got!

TREVOR: Musical progress is like the stock market. Sometimes you only see the rewards over the long term. Other times you see drastic ups and downs with profits and losses. Music is no different: ride the wave out. Music in college is where you invest in the long term, while soaking up as much knowledge during the short term.

DANNY: Understand that even if you have a successful career in music, you might struggle with money for a period. Be absolutely sure that you are OK with that. And make sure you can handle 50% rejection. Yes, that’s right – about 50% rejection! The good news is that if you follow through with it, your future workdays won’t be work at all: they’ll just be your dream and you’re doing what you love 24/7. It’s pretty sweet.


What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? 

GRACE: My favorite sound is my 2-year-old son’s laughter. My non-favorite is the engine sound of crazy speeders who cut me off on the highway!

TREVOR: I love the sustained sound of the cello. It is magical. My least favorite would have to be the tuba (sorry tubists!).

DANNY: My dog Oliver’s grunts and snorts when he greets me after a long day at work are my favorite sounds. Non-favorite, if I had to choose one, maybe Dubstep.


When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear?

GRACE: The voices of angels and everyone there singing and praising God.

TREVOR: An entire concert performed by Mozart on violin or fortepiano.

DANNY: I have to go with Trevor on this one: watching and hearing Mozart perform with other expert instrumentalists of his time, and getting to talk to him after.

Now Hear This: an Interview with Angela Fuller-Heyde, violin

Angela Fuller Heyde joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as Principal Second Violin in 2009. An advocate of new music and chamber music, Ms. Heyde leads the ensemble at the Bancroft Family Concert on January 27, 2018. Ms. Heyde and FACP Artistic Director Rogene Russell settled on the idea to stage Franz Schubert’s “Trout,” and the concert program was crafted by adding Duo by Alan Hovhannes to the afternoon. This piece for violin and cello has special significance to the violinist: the work was commissioned by Ms. Heyde’s father for her mother.

Tell us: what is about “The Trout” that made you want to put an ensemble together? This has always been a favorite of mine. I grew up watching a VHS recording (remember VHS?!) of Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Jacqueline du Pré, Zubin Mehta, and Daniel Barenboim performing “The Trout.” The joy and interplay amongst that group of friends was inspiring – and of course the playing was, too!

Why was a Fine Arts Chamber Player concert the place to perform the piece? We felt that the FACP audience would love to hear this favorite.

You started playing violin at age 3, with your mother as your teacher. Why did you choose the violin? How long did you study with your mother, and what was it like transitioning to a different teacher? I chose the violin because that was my mom’s instrument and I wanted to be like her! I studied with her until I was 9. She basically had to drag me to another teacher, I was so afraid of the change. The teacher she brought me to, Sally O’Reilly, was and continues to be a second mom to me, her wit and warmth made the transition manageable.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? As a kid I tried hard to listen to the music my friends listened to (all I can remember at the moment is ’80s Madonna), but in my heart I knew I loved classical music, and that’s what we listened to at home. Now I generally prefer quiet, or in the car I listen to NPR or an audio book. I listen to stuff my husband listens to: U2, Coldplay. I like that a lot but don’t necessarily seek it out myself.

What type of music do your children listen to? I take my 2-year-old to Music Together classes, so we listen to the CD from class together – some classics and some beautiful children’s songs from around the world. My 11-year-old likes pop. I am always amazed to hear her singing along to music that I put on in the car for her! She also is a big fan of the Suzuki Book 3 CD. (Ha!)

Different sections of the orchestra have different roles. Can you explain what the second violin section’s focus is? The role of the second violins is that of backup singers. The first violins are Beyonce, and we are the backup singers. We support, harmonize, and often do the same things as the first violins at an octave lower to fill out the sound. Sometimes we provide more of a rhythmic current, while they get to sing away at the melody. It can be very interesting and rich, though sometimes I would rather be playing the first violin part!

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? It is very hard to name a favorite. I love Beethoven: I think his violin concerto is absolutely perfect. I love Shostakovich, and I love Brahms. Brahms is very satisfying to play. As a second violinist I always appreciate Bruckner. He really used the second violins as equals, giving us a lot of incredible material to dig into.

What advice would you give 14-year-old Angela? I would tell 14-year-old Angela to have a little more fun and practice a little less. I was so serious and so focused, I feel like I missed out on normal kid stuff. On the other hand, I might not have gotten to this place in my career!

What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college? I would tell them to make sure that they are with a great teacher, and make sure that they find a great teacher for college, not just to go to a school with a fancy name. I would tell them to practice well, but live a little, too!

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? My favorite sound is my 2-year-old’s voice when she says, “Hi, Mama.” Least favorite sound is the sound of people chewing. Arg!

When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear? Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World.”

Now Hear This: an Interview with Colin Davin, guitar

Guitarist Colin Davin, on faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music, enjoys a robust performance career which brings him to Dallas on November 11 to perform alongside Emily Levin, principal harp for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The program features new and known works: music they have arranged for their instruments, and a contemporary piece the duo premiered at the 2017 Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival. A performance clip of Mr. Davin and Ms. Levin can be seen here.

What piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? The whole program has been a true delight to rehearse and perform, but I’m particularly excited for the finale, Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo. It’s our own transcription of this magnificent Spanish ballet score, and it’s full of incredibly beautiful lyricism, flamenco-inspired harmonies and rhythms, mystical storylines–what more could we ask for? Given the richness of the original orchestral score, it’s also a wonderful opportunity and challenge for us to present the vast range of instrumental colors and effects on our two instruments.

Is chamber music for guitar a big part of the repertoire? What is a typical performance for you: solo, chamber ensemble, orchestra, etc.? Chamber music is a huge part of what we do as classical guitarists. Personally, I’ve always thrived on collaboration, and relish working with great musicians who bring out new elements in my own playing, the vibrant discussions about how to realize a phrase, match dynamics or rubato in a certain way, and so on. As for a typical performance, there’s no such thing! This fall alone I’ve been a concerto soloist, given a solo recital, performed duos with Sharon Isbin (who was my teacher at The Juilliard School) and with Emily Levin (prior to this concert, that is), and performed with the new music ensembles Present Music (Milwaukee) and Talea Ensemble (New York City). My parts for the last of those called for three different guitars, mandolin, Appalachian dulcimer, autoharp, and a curious Turkish instrument resembling a banjo called the cümbüş.

You are based in Cleveland and Emily Levin, your duo partner, is here in Dallas. How did you two connect and start working together? How do you work on music together? Is there a lot of traveling, or do you Skype? After first meeting at the Aspen Music Festival through our mutual friend Grace Browning, another wonderful Dallas-based harpist [editor’s note: Ms. Browning performed with Ms. Levin as part of the Dallas Harp Quartet for FACP’s Bancroft Family Concert in October 2016], Emily and I began working together while both living in New York City. Lucky for me, I saw a solo recital she was giving, so I pretty quickly had the thought that this was someone I’d love to work with. Shortly after we had decided to make our collaboration a serious duo, we were each offered wonderful opportunities outside of New York–Emily with the DSO, and me teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, both in Northeast Ohio, where I grew up. Rather than let the duo fade out as might be expected, we doubled our efforts and put in some serious work to solidify our full-length program.

I’m allergic to Skype rehearsals–potential issues of delay, sound quality, etc. drive me crazy–so I’d rather take a few days off and come to Dallas, or find time in New York together, where we are both still active.

How old were you when you started playing the guitar? Why did you choose the guitar? I started playing guitar at the age of 7, and unusually, I started on classical. Most kids, of course, want to play electric rock/pop guitar, but at that early age I hardly knew any better! My father had long played the guitar as a hobby, and is an enthusiast of many styles of guitar playing. One of his favorite players, the brilliant folk-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, had suggested in an interview that beginners should start with classical, and could then easily adapt that technique and musical understanding to other styles. In my case, classical stuck early on, and has been my passion in life since the early days!

Do you plug in and play electric? I do play some other styles, and occasionally, quite a few other instruments in the plucked family. Over the years I’ve played electric guitar, banjo, mandolin, oud, rubab, dulcimer, and a good handful more. Often, these are in contemporary-classical contexts, but I’ve certainly had opportunities to play rock, jazz, and some other “popular” genres. In fact, I’m a member of a semi-active folk/Americana band called Cathedral Parkway.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid? As a kid, I was raised on the great folk and rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Joan Baez, etc. As I got into middle school and high school, I was a big fan of REM, The Beatles, YES, King Crimson, and a whole swath of jazz musicians. That said, I was absolutely listening to a lot of classical music as well, with a particularly affinity for the Beethoven Symphonies, Rachmaninov Piano Concertos, and anything in the hands of the English guitarist Julian Bream.

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? This is a tough one–there’s so much brilliant music that’s all so different, beautiful, and exciting! So if you’ll indulge me, I’ll go with one “old” and one “new” for each question. Favorite composer of the past to listen to: still Beethoven, though the experience of hearing his music has come to mean so much more to me as I’ve matured. Close second, or maybe even tied: Benjamin Britten. To play: J.S. Bach, whose music continues to reveal its depth and complexity every time I come back to an old piece or start to work on a new one.

Favorite modern composer to listen to: my friend Caroline Shaw, who somehow manages to weave intricate processes into expressions of absolutely sublime sound and emotion. Her music is nothing short of a revelation. Favorite composer of today to play: Joan Tower, whose solo guitar piece “Clocks” and flute and guitar duet “Snow Dreams” are both evocative, exciting, and a real journey in sound. It’s terribly difficult music to play, but deeply rewarding and worth the energy.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? I’ll offer a musical favorite and a non-musical one. Musical: the sound of the last note of a large orchestral work (let’s say Mahler’s 9th Symphony) ringing in the concert hall, the audience’s collective breath held as the final hint of that resonance and the silence that follows are savored. Non-musical: the sound of a busy city waking up in the morning, before the sounds of people and traffic are yet boisterous enough to drown out the birds. And for reasons mostly of professional anxiety, the sound of speakers feeding back or loudly popping is truly awful.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? This is another tough one! I would love to see Mozart lead a performance of Don Giovanni, or the peak of Beatlemania.

Now Hear This: an Interview with Eunice Keem, violin

Eunice Keem is the Associate Concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a position she’s held since 2014. Ms. Keem was the driving force along with FACP Artistic Director Rogene Russell in putting together the Bancroft Family Concert series season opener on October 14.

Was there one piece on the program that you especially wanted to perform, or were you equally interested in all three (Szell, Strauss, Piazzolla)? I definitely wanted to perform the Strauss and Piazzolla – the Szell was suggested to me by Rogene. I had no idea it existed until recently!

Why was a Fine Arts Chamber Player concert the place to perform the pieces? I feel like it is the ideal situation for a chamber music concert – presenting the lesser known works, in addition to more popular pieces, to an audience who is open and perceptive to experiencing them is always fulfilling for a musician.

How old were you when you started playing violin? I started playing violin when I was 4. It was technically chosen for me – I received it as a gift for my third birthday. Actually, I didn’t know what a violin was; I was just enamored by the little black violin case wrapped with such a huge shiny red bow (I guess one could say I am a sucker for packaging!). I also played piano briefly for a few years, as well as flute for very short period of time. Violin was the one that really stuck!

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? I grew up listening to mostly classical music – my family always had the classical radio station on in the mornings. I first started branching out in my teens, and listened to a whole slew of genres. These days, I enjoy most kinds of music. The only genre I am not terribly keen on is country. Am I allowed to say that in Texas?

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical violinist like? According to others, violinists apparently are: self-centered, perfectionist, neurotic divas who always leave their practice door open just a little bit so everyone can hear how brilliantly and virtuosically they are playing (I can’t take credit for this line: thanks to “Toby Appel’s Irreverent Guide to the Orchestra”). However, I’d like to think we are simply musicians who care a whole lot about what they are playing and sound like!

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? It’s impossible to name just one! They all provoke such different experiences, both as a listener and a player. Of course, Bach is always a winner. Cleanses both the ears and the soul, and I find it so wonderful for centering and keeping oneself in playing shape.

What advice would you give 14-year-old Eunice? For 14-year-old Eunice, I would have given two pieces of advice: (1) Ask this question in times of insecurity (it’s an oldie but goodie) – what would you do if you weren’t afraid? (2) If what you have been doing so far is not working for you, it might be time to consider trying something different. You’ll make a whole new set of mistakes in the process – which often ends up being a good thing!

What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college? Besides working and practicing as hard as you possibly can, expose yourself to as many different musical experiences as possible. Play as much chamber music as you can (all different groups), participate in orchestra, attend all kinds of concerts, and not just the ones for your instrument! Travel, if at all possible. It doesn’t mean having to spend lots of money on lavish trips, but getting as much exposure as you can to different cultures and languages and experiences will enrich one’s soul as well as their music making. And finally, I do strongly believe it is always good to have a long-term goal in mind. However, keep an eye on the process of how you will get there. Oftentimes, that will lead to doors opening in other amazing directions you may not have anticipated.

Now Hear This: an Interview with Shields Bray, piano

You may know Shields Bray as principal keyboard of the Forth Worth Symphony Orchestra (he’s held the position since 1986) and as host of the FWSO pre-concert discussion series (since 1993). Get to know him this Sunday, July 30, as a critical piece of the chamber music ensemble for our final Basically Beethoven Festival concert “Americana!”

Bray, Buddy 2017 bwWhat piece on the program are you most excited about? What should audience members listen for? They’re all such beauties, but I’m especially attached to Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio. It appeals to musicians because it’s so well-written, and to audiences because it communicates so directly. That’s true of all her work. The Bernstein clarinet sonata is perfect in front of the trio: it’s one of his earliest pieces, and one of his most appealing. He knew the character of instruments, and how to bring that character forth. Copland was one of Bernstein’s mentors, so I like having that connection in the program. Appalachian Spring is, of course, one of the great achievements in American music. It started life as a ballet for Martha Graham, and it really has never been out of the mainstream since. 

As a pianist, what do you love about chamber music? How is it different from playing in a large symphony or solo? Learning to play the piano is such a solitary pursuit, and pianists don’t generally have large-ensemble experience when we’re young. It’s why I love playing with instrumentalists and singers. I love that shared experience. It’s also why, after 30 years, I still really love orchestral playing. I like being part of a bigger effort.

How old were you when you started playing piano? Why did you choose it? Did you learn other instruments? I was 8 when I started, which is about four years late, really. I think it chose me. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.

What type of music did you listen to as a kid, and what do you listen to now? I listened to top 40 until midway through high school, and then I suddenly didn’t listen to the radio anymore. Now I do, but to NPR. For music, I listen to singers, mostly. There’s something about the human voice – the immediacy of it, the warmth.

You are based in Fort Worth. What would surprise out-of-towners about Fort Worth? I love Fort Worth. I love that, as a city, it gets behind its arts and stays behind them. I love that Forth Worth has a feeling for its history, too. 

It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments in an orchestra. What’s a typical pianist like? I wonder if there IS a typical pianist! We do practice an awful lot, and most pianists talk about pianos and what goes on under the hood. 

Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? To listen to: Mozart. That’s perfection. I played him a lot when I was young, and I hope I’ll get back to him when I’m 70 or so. He’s a lot to live up to. For the past 15 years or so, I’ve jumped at every chance to play Messiaen. He’s a real original, and I’m fascinated by him.

What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? My favorite sound is the ocean. My least favorite sounds are sirens of all kinds.

Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? I want to hear Mozart play the piano!