2012 Year in Review

It’s the final day of 2012. I’ve been thinking about this blog entry for a number of weeks now. How would I sum it up? Then this morning, a friend on Facebook put up this status:

In 2012 well I learned a lot. lost a lot. gained a lot. Must say hardest year to date but I’m still smiling happy new year everyone and a happy 2013 to all!

Nailed it! Continue reading

Wrap up of the Holiday Season Concerts

Yesterday was the last one.  I suppose I didn’t do that many, really, but it’s been an intense few weeks of rehearsals and driving around.  I subbed into the York Symphony’s holiday concert (plus 2 rehearsals leading up to it) because their tubist suffered an injury and needed surgery on his knee.  Ouch. Continue reading

Highlands Chamber Orchestra’s First Concert

Nearly two weeks ago, the still-brand-new Highlands Chamber Orchestra put on its first full concert! I was humbled to be chosen as their Music Director and it’s been an amazing ride for three months.
The first few rehearsals were surprising, if can be that honest. Pieces started sounding really good quite early on, especially Finlandia and The Great Gate of Kiev. We cut a piece by Liszt early on and nearly cut Peer Gynt after that. Doubt was setting into the orchestras board, including me, of our success at a concert. But we decided to give it ‘two more weeks’. To our shock, Peer Gynt came together really nicely. We could then spend time fine tuning it.
Also on the program was a double concerto for clarinet and viola by Bruch. What an amazing learning experience for us all!! Suddenly I wasn’t in charge. As a developing conductor, learning as I go, this was a surprise. Joking aside, conductors need some ego and confidence to lead an orchestra and shape a piece exactly the way they want it. Throw in not one, but two concerto soloists and we play a subservient role to their interpretation. And the orchestras role is changed too. They played it beautifully!! The strings to be so cognizant of playing ‘under’ the soloists, and the upper winds to be so patient to play in the tuttis only. The horns though had the interesting role of being pure harmonic background along with the bassoons. They had to achieve that delicate balance between ‘horn’ and ‘string’ sound.
The opening Finlandia was amazing!! The best they’d played it: dark, passionate, energetic and rousingly patriotic. It was probably my favourite piece of the night. The double concerto went surprisingly well too with the orchestra responding very well to tempo fluctuations that happen in concerto performances. Everyone was watching and listening. After a performance of a Schubert string quartet and a Brahms trio, we closed the first half with Elgar’s Nimrod. We had a running gag going in rehearsals where each week we played it slower than the last. We didn’t beat our record at the concert, but boy it felt great. I love conducting that one without a baton: it feels so good from my finger tips to my core.
The second second half contained some really challenging material, especially for the winds. Despite this, the orchestra still played very well. Peer Gynt had so many great moments, including the ending, and the Trisch-Trasch Polka practically played itself. The Great Gate of Kiev was amazing as well: the ending was so majestic and grand. It was a fantastic ending to the concert.
We were all riding a HUGE high after the concert. It was such an amazing accomplishment for everyone, and was really enjoyed by the audience. I don’t know if I could gush enough about how well itwent. No exaggeration.
No there’s talk about collaborations with choirs, a Summer Festival performance and an Opera Extravaganza evening. I’ve already submitted a draft program for the spring, which includes some baroque, classical and big romantic numbers. We’re already looking forward to the next concert.

The start of a new season

A new concert season is well underway and I’ve finally got a minute, or weekend even, to post as update. As usual, there’s lots going on: a few gigs already, including the best Highlands Swing Band gig ever at Camp Wanakita. The chemistry and the acoustics were undeniable!! Blam!!

But the big thing new for me is conducting the new Highlands Chamber Orchestra! Wow. It’s a lot of fun! Glen Carter conducted the inaugural concert in the spring and now I’ve got the reigns. It’s such a fantastic musical and learning experience for me. We’re performing Finlandia, the Great Gate of Kiev (from Pictures at an Exhibition, Tushmalov’s version), Peer Gynt and a double concerto by Bruch for clarinet and viola. The concert is November 18th in Haliburton village.

Finally, Orchestra Toronto has expanded their season this year to include two additional concert which are repeats of the first and third programs. The year’s highlight for me is Tchaik 4 in February (and one of the repeated concerts which is great). For the first concert, I’m included in a piece call Morceau Symphonique from Franck’s Rédemption. Not a blockbuster, for sure, but a catchy tune and a chance to play some high stuff on my Eb – in unison with trombones. I’m going to post a separate entry on that piece alone as part of my series of rep for tuba. Keep an eye out for that in the next few days.

Oh — a final thought on Montréal: I was genuinely shocked to find out the Canadian audition yielded no winner. It’s gone international. I could have continued to practice for it! Lol

The Amateur Musician and Dynamics

I’ve had some recent encounters with the sometimes-awkward relationship between amateur musicians and dynamics.  From my perspective (IMHO), it’s often about brass musicians not playing loud enough – not realizing the impact fortissimo really should make.

I think it comes down to three things: self-confidence, self-perception and embouchure comfort zone. I think those are also in order of increasing ease to fix – i.e. the last on the list is the easiest to fix.

Continue reading

Pines of Rome

I mentioned a long time ago that I share conducting duties in the Highlands Wind Symphony. This year, for my pieces, which mostly lean towards classical transcriptions, I’ve got Mars and Pines of Rome: The Appian Way. The latter is a complete bar-for-bar transcription (with just a little simplification in the alto sax solo, which is the English horn in the real thing).
In the past, I’ve gotten by conduction on general knowledge of a piece and they’ve been pretty straight-forward. The Appian Way though is deep. So many layers. The biggest challenge I need to overcome is how to interpret the page or two in fortissimo, yet still allowing the counterpoint to shine through and therefore keeping the piece meaningful. It’s going to take some score study to be sure and listening to various recordings. But I think I should seek out some advice from conducting friends and colleagues of mine. I’m excited for the learning opportunity I have here.

Yesterday’s HWS/HSB rehearsal

Highlands Wind Symphony and Highlands Swing Band.

Glen is on vacation, for Lorrie and I did the conducting.  I had a fantastic time yesterday. First off, I warmed up at home and practiced some of the Ralph Vaughan-Williams.  I’m loving returning to the first movement.  I can tell I’m sounding better than last year — I played that movement for auditions at the GGS (glen gould school) and UofT.  I’m also working on the second movement.  My goal is to play this with Orchestra Toronto in the next few seasons.

I considered using the term “some day” in that sentence.  But I don’t think that’s positive enough.  It’s not defined enough.  Like, I want to lose weight some day.  Do it now, dammit!  So I’m working on the concerto.  And I’m going to get lessons on it.  I’m going to perform it along with piano accompaniment.

And now I’m completely off-topic.

The rehearsal yesterday… I really enjoyed the conducting.  There are on and there are off days.  Yesterday, was definitely an ‘on’ day.  I think the ensemble really enjoyed it too. We made some really good breakthroughs in the Hounds of Spring.  I love that piece (and much of the band does too).  So many beautiful spots in it.  And I was surprised [sorta] that they voted the Shostakovich over the Bizet.  Both are dances.  Both have lots of repeat signs.  But the Bizet (Farandole from L’Arlesienne) is a tad more repetitive and layered (and loud!).  The Shostakovich (Folk Dances) has got some interesting fun stuff in it. Harmonies the band isn’t used to, I’m sure, being it Shostakovich.

Finally, swing band was nice too.  We read a few pieces from the books.  Most were fun. And a few were excellent.  I should see if I can get a solo in there for myself sometime. The swing band performed at the opening ceremony of Winterfest in Haliburton – the Seniors Winter Games.  It was a fantastic performance.  The HSB is a tight little group once we get the parts practiced.  And playing the bass line on tuba has done wonders for my C tuba playing.  It’s just a series of arpeggio exercises.  Love it!

So we’ll see what next week brings at the HWS – Lorrie is going to see about switching out that awful television mash-up piece for either one of mine or something from her own library.  I’m certainly looking forward to that!