on the eve of a new season

August 30th marks the beginning of my 23rd season with the Oregon Symphony. Closing in on a quarter century! Wow, where did the time go?

My first season I came to Portland from the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, where I was a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. I really had no idea what was ahead of me. I had won the Assistant principal position the previous May, the graduated from Peabody Conservatory with my Graduate Performance Diploma. Sometime in June I got a call from the then President of the orchestra, saying that the Principal violist had resigned, and James DePreist wanted to know if I would accept the title of Acting Principal viola. I did, and it was quite a ride for someone who had only played with school orchestras, summer festivals, and had a position with a regional, per-service orchestra in Maryland. This year is a bit of a closing of a cycle. Principal violist Joël Belgique is on leave this season, and Carlos Kalmar asked me if I would fill in as Principal for this season. So I will, and it should be a less adrenalized experience this time around!  I’m sort of ready to come back, but also would love a week or two more to enjoy working in the garden, taking trips to the mountains and the beach, and just being a general homebody.

I’m not sure how frequently I will be updating the blog during the season, but be sure to sign up for email updates so you don’t miss new postings. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be in touch again soon!

dénoument

With a luminous octave ‘C’, it was over. Not just the magnificent 50 minute long String Quintet of Franz Schubert, but my season with the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. The music was of course vital to the experience, but not necessarily central to it. Because chamber music is, above all, about the musicians. How they interact both onstage, in the rehearsal period, and in those many informal moments shared over a simple meal, a glass of wine, and warm evenings on a porch.

I can’t think of a festival where I have felt quite as welcomed and ‘at home’ as I have here. It’s a family affair – husband and wife team Leo Eguchi and Sasha Callahan, Sasha’s mother Susan, and father John; and her sister Eve, and her husband Scott. They have all made this festival so very special, along with their friends, especially winemakers Jay Somers and Ronda Newell-Somers of J. Christopher Wines, who made their extraordinary barrel room available for two entire weekends.

What I love the most about chamber music is that making it well gets you inside of someone’s head – that you’ve never met before, or maybe knew but not very well – in a way that for non-musicians can take years to happen. There’s an intimacy there, and it’s no accident that one of my teachers, the late, great Michael Tree, said that a string quartet is a marriage with four partners. So, I feel extraordinarily lucky that I got to mind-meld with Leo, Sasha, Megumi, Greg, Kenji, Amelia, and Marilyn over these past three weeks. It made my already full and good life an even better place.

Thank you, all, my friends!

Note: click on a photo to see a larger slide show!

lenny @ 100

Today marks what would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. The internet has been awash the past few days with articles dedicated to this august event. So here I am to add to the tide. One of the things that struck me this year was just how many professional musicians have been either blasé or outright dismissive of this anniversary. Why is that, I wonder?

Could it be Lenny’s sheer omnipresence in our culture? Perhaps it is the presence of just a few celebrated works which are played over and over again. Maybe it’s also due to the absence of his active conducting presence. Is it the famous familiarity that breeds the facile contempt? I’m not sure, but I do understand it to a degree, perhaps even share it. If I just think about how many times I’ve played the overture to Candide in slapdash performances over the past 25 years or so…

But there is magic there, in the lingering presence of a man whose influence and championing of various composers, old and new, has left a lasting imprint on the cultural fabric of America. He performed large swaths of Haydn symphonies when most orchestras were playing them hardly at all – recording a good selection of them with the New York Philharmonic. He performed and recorded works of his own near-contemporaries and predecessors – Copland, Blitzstein, Harris, and Ives. He almost single-handedly brought the music of Gustav Mahler back into the mainstream repertoire (a la Mendelssohn and the music of J.S. Bach), and recorded the cycle masterfully in two highly-regarded cycles with the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. He wrote one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time in West Side Story. And he incubated an entire generation of young musicians (some of whom later became a new collection of American masters) with his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic.

Isn’t that enough of a legacy to deserve respect? What’s tiresome about that?

I wish I had a personal Lenny story. I came close, being an alternate to the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1990, which was the occasion of his last concert. But his ghost has hung over Tanglewood ever since, and when I was a Fellow there in 1994 and 1995, his music and legacy was a constant presence in both the programming and the philosophy of the festival.

Mostly, his influence on me came through his recordings. Especially the cycles of the Brahms and Mahler symphonies. I vividly remember the video of him reaching the main theme of the last movement of Brahms’ First Symphony and just standing there, and letting the magnificent Vienna Philharmonic do its Vienna Philharmonic thing, with that luminous and rich string sound. And staying up late at night to listen to the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony – so strikingly slow, with every possible drop of emotion wrung from each aching note. Good stuff. I may have new preferences for my current favorite interpretations, but revisiting these recordings is like going back through the geologic record of layers of sediment, and seeing where my musical formation really began.

Thanks, Lenny.