more random musings

I come up with these ‘random musings’ posts every now and then. What do they mean? Mostly they mean that I’m thinking about what I’m doing in a new way and becoming more engaged in my music making. Or I am just bored and want to write something. Take your pick.

This week we’ve been rehearsing a wonderful (if very traditional) program of Glanert, Mozart, and Brahms with a stellar young violinist (Benjamin Beilman) and excellent guest conductor (David Danzmayr). So, some observations relating to the rehearsal period and first two concerts. Tickets here.

  • Mozart is really, really hard to play. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, immediately discount any of their other opinions as completely worthless. Part of the difficulty, as I see it, is that Mozart’s writing is so perfectly symmetrical and logical. One’s phrasing and musicianship must be equally as impeccable to pull off a performance better than merely solid. Beilman really has the goods here. Lustrous tone, beautifully in tune, interesting ideas.
  • It’s been just under five years since we last played Brahms’ First Symphony, and I’m struck by a number of things. First, our woodwinds, playing as a choir as they must often do in the works of Brahms, are simply phenomenal. Such blend and unanimity of phrasing! And their solo work is also good – Martha Long in her big solo in the last movement, Martin Hebert in his leaping, yet sinuous solo in the first movement, John Cox with the gorgeous alphorn call in the last movement. And our brass in their chorale, etc. Deep bench and more than a few star players. We’re so lucky here.
  • There is little as terrifying as the pizzicato entrance and accelerando in the last movement introduction. So much can go so wrong and be so audible to everyone! But when it comes off well, it’s electrifying!
  • In the string chorale (reminiscent of Beethoven’s 9th finale) in the last movement, there is nothing better than playing the descending counter line in the violas. Especially when the section is allowed to really play. So much fun!

Those are my musings for today. Hope to see you at one of our concerts!

murakami on creativity

Japanese author Haruki Murakami has a new book of conversations with the eminent conductor Seiji Ozawa (available for pre-order, in stores November 15, 2016). In a piece promoting the book at The Guardian newspaper, he has this great quote about creative people:

Creative people have to be fundamentally egoistic. This may sound pompous, but it happens to be the truth. People who live their lives watching what goes on around them, trying not to make waves, and looking for the easy compromise, are not going to be able to do creative work, whatever their field. To build something where there was nothing requires deep individual concentration, and in most cases that kind of concentration occurs in a place unrelated to cooperation with others …

Purchase the book below (


(Kindle edition)

(Hardcover book)

the arts are the local oasis

I had an epiphany today. And a little bit of a nervous breakdown. I was at a little Chinese wok shop out on the Eastside this afternoon. They had a huge HD television that was facing my direction. It was impossible to ignore. CNN was on, and it was a roundtable discussion leading up to the closing of the polls for what they were calling “Super Tuesday Two”. I don’t have broadcast or cable tv at home, so I haven’t seen this sort of media in well over a year. The hype level was extraordinary.

I felt my pulse quickening. My mind became jumbled and full of worries. I really felt that my blood pressure was rising. I shook it off, tried to concentrate on my meal and my companion, and soon left to go home. Once home, I did a brief look around online. The view from there wasn’t much better. Everything was as wrong as wrong could be. The sky was not just falling, it was on fire and full of giant pieces of jagged rock. I felt like I was being shouted at from every direction. Every voice was diametrically opposed. Even my usual sources that used rational and even judgement, and those with ample perspective were taking the hardest possible lines on both sides of whatever issue was being ‘debated’. My entire realm of experience outside of actual face-to-face conversation is like being screamed at for most of the hours in each day.

But do you know when that goes away? Well, when I’m asleep for one, or in the arms of my beloved, for another. But also when I am making music. When am practicing, nothing else exists for me but the notes on the page and my desire to realize them with perfect fidelity. When I am rehearsing with my friends in a chamber group, or in the orchestra, I’m thinking about a dozen things at once – none of it concerning anything happening outside the confines of the rehearsal room, or the concert hall stage. When I’m performing for an audience of a half dozen, or thousands, all that matters is what I and my colleagues have to say, and how the audience receives that communication – sending it back to us in that mysterious alchemical transubstantiation of live performance.

This, I realized, is the cure. You can make beauty. You can make ugliness. But only through the arts can you create that chimera of beautiful ugliness that transcends each and causes us to lose our self, and become part of something more. Through art we are transfixed, transformed, and transported. I’m so proud of what I do, and what my friends and colleagues do. We don’t often get much appreciation on the level of national discourse, but ultimately, all politics is local, and we are making our localities much more hospitable and humane places to call home. That is something to be proud of.