Music is always so much deeper than notes
It’s now 5 am and I’ve just finished ironing my suit for tomorrow’s 9:15 class after having driven back to New York with Jay Sgroi from the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It is a such a beautiful facility, warm and perfectly designed to encourage the expression of communal feeling. I’m writing now to preserve the afterglow of this experience.
The Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra played my music with such passion and zeal last night, I can’t sleep. Music is always so much deeper than notes. And a group of musicians dealing with the pressure of performance showcases a confluence of aspirations put to the test of execution. This test can bring out the best and worse in us. With young musicians, there is a palpable sense of fresh excitement because performing itself is still new. Each concert has a life and story of its own and a lot of how you feel about yourself can ride on every concert. (And if you’re especially neurotic or a perfectionist, a lot can ride in every note!) Well, tonight, our young people over delivered.
Where can I begin, they proved maestro Jan Wagner’s deep respect and belief in their attitude and ability. I loved the way he always, from our first meetings, verbalized an ultimate faith in them. The way they rose to the challenge of approaching the variety of unfamiliar styles, other types emotions and a different way of developing thematic material, justified that confidence. I loved what they brought to they stage! Jan was relaxed and a total pleasure to work with. He was masterful in his pacing and nuanced understanding of this proud young orchestra. I was impressed with how he approached each member as a person, with patience and care.
As a trumpeter let me say first how proud I was of principal trumpeter Nathaniel Hussell. Nate played his tail off. I want to go around the orchestra and tell you what I loved but have to settle on touching a few people in representation of the entire ensemble.
Start with Katelyn Kaiser playing the piccolo with a sparkling rhythmic verve and deep deep character, go on to the rich woody tone and fluid velocity across all registers of clarinetist Jacob Moyer, what about the thematic imagination of trombonist Nathan Davis and the genuine humanity in his sound, let’s address the foundation, the gravitas and unforced weightiness of Jeff Jacobson’s tuba rounding out the bottom. I don’t want to forget the grace and sophistication of concertmaster Jingjing Nie’s playing or the unforced quality of her leadership. Cellist Michael Puryear is most for real. He plays with fire, refinement and a definitive belief in the sound and purpose of his instrument. I can’t forget, Erin Reilly on the viola, stepping up with poise and authority and to improvise a beautiful chorus in front of the orchestra, or Alexandra Lee who jumped all over the flute with an authenticity in a way that would have made Richard Egües, of the fabled Cuban Orquesta Aragón, quite happy. Mr. Michael Hollin sang through his french horn, got the core of his emotion into his sound and gave us all a taste of it….Oh yeah…the percussion section handled their business with definition, dynamics and boodie-shaking joy. They kept us in the groove.
After every performance, we musicians tend to analyze everything. We will discuss what was good or bad (in our opinion). Sometimes, we listen to a recording, if there is one, and formulate a more definite opinion. We all know that tape doesn’t lie. But I conclude with something the great baritone saxophone player Gerry Mulligan once told me about Charlie Parker. “Man, Bird’s sound! You had to be in the room with him to hear it. It’s not captured on any recording!”
You had to be in the room tonight to experience the feeling our young musicians brought to the stage. I am forever grateful to them and to Washington Performing Arts and the inimitable Doug Wheeler (to whom this concert was dedicated) and to everyone at Shenandoah University and Conservatory. Great people.
I also want to say it was uplifting to hang with my lifelong friend and colleague Murray Horwitz who is Director of Special Project for Washington Performing Arts and who remains a true American original.