Night on Bald Mountain

We’ve picked the final piece for the Spring concert for Highlands Chamber Orchestra — it’s going to be Night on Bald Mountain.  I wanted an epic show closer to get the audience on its feet.  I was pursuing a piano concerto kind of piece but there’s not enough time to prepare one with the soloist I was trying to recruit.  The HCO’s board and I bantied around a few ideas …. Die Meistersinger was a possibility.  But I got a recommendation from a string player to do Bald Mountain.  How could I say no?  🙂

chernabogNoBM has a little special place in my heart.  I played it ages ago with the Ottawa Youth Orchestra.  It was so much fun.  I first heard it on my CD of Mussorgsky’s Picture at an Exhibition with the Montreal Symphony and Dutoit so I was really happy to have a chance to play it.  And now I get to experience from the front of the orchestra.

To tell you the truth, I had looked quickly at NoBM because of it being a convenient one-movement symphonic poem with full orchestration (and well-known from Disney’s Fantasia) and thought the string parts were murder.  I even thought the piece might be too bang-crash-boom for a good performance.  i.e. it can very easily be overblown and plain old loud.  But I’ve quickly reconsidered that point of view.  Like with Sorcerer’s Apprentice last Spring, we have a few months to really perfect this and do really well with it.  Yeah, it’s dramatic, but I think we can invoke a demonic feeling while still being musical about it (conducting has really changed my view on dynamics and balance).  This is going to be a great learning and growing piece for the orchestra and for me.  I can’t wait to dig into our first reading this Friday.

The Mighty Berlioz

Today’s the day.  I’ve been waiting for this for a LONG time.  I did have a little kinda sorta second-hand brush with this a few years ago with the Highlands Wind Symphony.  I can’t count it for reals though.  So today it’s the real deal.  The genuine article.  From his pen direct to my baton…

I’m conducting my first original Hector Berlioz piece with an orchestra.  Namely, his ‘Marche Troyenne’ and the Highlands Chamber Orchestra.

With Berlioz as a whole, I feel like it’s going to be a life-long journey.  Conducting increasingly complex works of his as my conducting career progresses and as my skill and technique mature.  I do have a bit of a hit list of works of his and in [mostly] no particular order:

  • Overture to Benvenuto Cellini (the first Berlioz I played in the Ottawa Youth Orchestra)
  • Hungarian March from Damnation of Faust (the second Berlioz in OYO)
  • Roméo et Juliette
  • Le Corsaire overture
  • Waverley overture
  • Les Francs-Juges overtures
  • Symphonie Fantastique
  • Te deum
  • Requiem (maybe this one should be last with its HUGE proportions)
  • Love duet between Dido and Aeneas from Les Troyens – ‘Nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie!’

So I’m starting with the Trojan March — not terribly difficult, or at least not insurmountable parts (notably, strings); the tuba part isn’t totally scary; there aren’t two tubas required; the tempo isn’t super nuts and in cut time; the rhythms aren’t full of syncopations.  And it can be pulled off with a smaller orchestra.  In other words, the Highlands Chamber Orchestra will do its magic with it.

It’s from Berlioz’ epic opera, Les Troyens.  Like – 4 CDs kind of epic.  Like – a performance starts at 5pm and, with various intermissions, it ends around 10pm.  It’s big and not often performed.  The Trojan March appears in various forms and orchestrations throughout the opera and represents the people of Troy and their leader Aeneas as they leave Troy, find Carthage (and Dido) and eventually leave there for Italy and Rome.

I do have a challenge with this:  how to not make this sound marchy and clunky.  I do love a challenge.

New Year, New Concert Sessions, New Possibilities

Yay — 2016!  The Christmas season was pretty good, musically.  Three concerts that went very well.  Highlands Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra Toronto, but especially (and a little surprisingly) the Highlands Wind Symphony.  We nearly sold the house out, which is tonnes more audience than we’ve seen in a long time.  And the band played REALLY well.  It’s always a tough and fast adjustment to the Norther Lights Performing Arts Pavilion.  The sounds are so different.  But we did really well.  Particularly for ‘Christmas Lights’ that I conducted.  It’s a medley of various Christmas carols and tunes, with the Ukranian Carol present throughout.  The ending overlays it with ‘In dulci jubilo’ – almost like Berlioz in the ending of his overture to Benvenuto Cellini.  It’s really a lot of fun.

So then with 2016 — it begins anew.  Highlands Wind Symphony has had their first rehearsal this week and we’re sticking to a theme for this Spring concert:  An Afternoon at the Movies.  I’m going to be taking a second look at ‘Dances With Wolves’ – one of my favourite movie soundtracks in a pretty high quality highlights arrangement.

The Highlands Chamber Orchestra is also starting up this Friday and the core idea to our Spring concert will be concerti featuring orchestra members.  Flute Concertino by Chaminade, Havanaise for violin and orchestra by Saint-Saens, Concerto for two Horns by Vivaldi (rv 539), slow movement to Weber’s first clarinet concerto (that also features a gorgeous horn trio).  With also a possibility of a renaisance brass sextet and perhaps, if I can convince the soloist, a movement of a concerto for piano.

But wait – there’s more — that really vague post I did in the Fall about a new conducting opportunity… it’s back and can be identified now:  Counterpoint Community Orchestra.  Toronto’s LGBTQ community orchestra.  I played tuba with them years ago and in the Fall they let their long-standing conductor go.  This season will be filled three guest conductors, the first of which conducted them in a great Christmas/Holiday show in December.  The next conductor, a friend of mine, has already been confirmed.  That leaves one final opening and they will be announcing the position soon to take in applications.  Needless to say, I’m working on mine now.  I’m going to save the rest of this subject for a separate post.

For now — Happy Musical New Year to everyone.  See you in the rehearsal hall!

Godfrey Ridout’s Fall Fair

If there ever was a staple to the Canadian orchestral repertoire, it’s Fall Fair by Godfrey Ridout.  I’ve played it twice with Orchestra Toronto and I recall the first time I played it, my friend, Uri Rozen, who passed away a number of years ago, rolled his eyes in classic Uri fashion about having to play Fall Fair again.  In any case, it’s a freakin’ fun piece to play on tuba with lots of big brass sections and little nuggets just for the tuba.

But now I’m viewing the piece from the opposite side of the orchestra — I’ve programmed it in the Highlands Chamber Orchestra’s Fall Pops 2015 concert as part of the over-arching Haliburton 150th theme of Canadian, American and British music.  And seeing the full picture of the orchestra in play is wonderful.

First of all, Fall Fair is a tour-de-force of a piece. So many emotions and imagery being portrayed:  boisterous revelry, ho-down country fiddling, nostalgic look back to summer, and maybe even a little love theme in there too.

Here’s the bright opening with high woodwinds (plus trumpets and upper strings not pictured here).  Picc and oboe also introduce what I feel is the ‘excitement-and-anticipation’ theme as you’re on your way to the fair.  Also — keep that first bar in mind … it’ll come back later….


The opening and excitement theme: The Simpsons on their way to Duff Gardens — are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet?

Next is the major boistrous theme introduced fully by the trumpets and trombones, with a nugget for the tuba — you can’t help but come in bright and shiny to punctuate the phrase.


Bright brass, with hits from the horns and punctuation from the tuba.

The strings and some woodwinds also give us a hoe-down theme (think Aaron Copland’s Hoe-Down from Rodeo).  What kind of self-respecting county fair would not have some good fiddling going on?


A little fiddling hoe-down to get your toes tappin’

Next we have the main boistrous theme elongated in a solo for 1st horn.  I think we’re looking back to a great summer and wonderful memories.  Violins and celli take it on next to sweeten the moment.


ah — the memories of Summer … vacations, summer cottages, beaches, and good times with friends.

Finally we have a possible love theme introduced by the english horn with deep pizz by celli, basses and harp.  A nice big 3/2 to take your time in.  Violas and clarinet join in to help out, and the woodwinds over all repeat the theme.  Finally the whole orchestra is welcomed in with a big, deep and lush sound (dare I say schmaltzy?).  It’s goosebump material for me, whether on tuba or on the podium.


after a Summer apart, you spot your highschool crush and fall in love all over again

Take a closer look at that love theme though… the first four notes of it are the opening bar in the first pic above.  Clever, no?

You can discover more about Fall Fair at Ridout’s website, and have a listen to a recording at CBC Music.

Starting Season Four with the HCO

Here I am mostly through Summer 2015 and really looking forwards to the 2015-16 season coming up with the Highlands Chamber Orchestra.  We’re having a read-through at my place this coming Sunday – hopefully a decent turnout despite Summer holidays.

Last month, I settled on a draft program for the November 21st concert.  We’ve been sticking with a Pops feel with lighter music and this year the theme is “Haliburton 150” with Canadian, British and American music:

  • Canada:  Fall Fair by Godfrey Ridout
  • Canada:  Canada by Bobby Gimby (orch: Milton Barnes)
  • Canada:  Snowbird by Gene Maclellan (i.e. of Anne Murray fame)
  • Canada:  Beachcombers Theme by Robert Hales
  • America:  Variations on a Shaker Melody by Aaron Copland
  • America:  In October, from Suite no.1 by Edward McDowell
  • America:  Ashokan Farewell by Jay Ungar
  • Britain:  Nimrod from the ‘Enigma Variations’ by Edward Elgar
  • Britain:  Suite from ‘Pirates of Penzance’ by Arthur Sullivan
  • Britain:  Suite from ‘James Bond: You Only Live Twice’ by John Barry

Quite a swath of music there.  I’m looking forward to conducting every one of these for each their particular reason … ‘Fall Fair’ because I’ve played it twice in other orchestras, so it will be nice to experience it from the podium.  ‘In October’ because it’s from a 3-disk set of American orchestral music that Collin bought on a whim from iTunes years ago and I’ve always love it.  ‘Nimrod’ because it’s an emotional powerhouse of a piece and it’ll be my second time conducting it with the HCO.

The last time I blogged I mentioned getting Rhapsody in Blue in the mail — so long ago.  What a fun piece that was.  Lauren McInnis play it beautifully and the audience was roaring.  So much has happened since then … more reason to catch up soon.

And here we go!!!

We’re just a few days from September and the start of the 2013-14 music season and I’ve started already. A few weeks ago, Orchestra Toronto held a summer audition for two applicants for the open music director position. They were both pre screened and so were both really good. So much that the orchestra never sound so good. But boy, am I out of shape… especially for Tchaik 4. Whoa! Back to breathing and buzzing exercises!

Yesterday, I was a guest speaker giving a tuba techniques talk at Steve’s Music’s annual band clinic for school teachers. I talked about why I picked up the tuba in grade 9, why I loved it and what it takes to make great and quick strides on it when you’re starting out. I got some good questions from posture and position for small kids, to what to do about a really wet embouchure. And I got some good compliments too! It was fantastic! I can’t wait to do one of those again.

I also got the rental package for “Rhapsody in Blue” in the mail. Highlands Chamber Orchestra rehearsals start a week from today. I’m VERY excited about it. RiB is going to be a challenge to prepare for the November 23rd concert, but I know that the musicians are going rise to the occasion. They are as excited as I am!

Plus, at Steve’s, I picked up the scores and parts for “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” and “English Folk Song Suite” for the Highlands Wind Symphony. Both are band favourites of mine so I’m really looking forward to conducting them!

Next week, we kick it into high gear… Thursday, Orchestra Toronto is auditioning two more conductors and the Highlands Chamber Orchestra kicks off their season. It’ll be great to see everyone again and officially welcome Fall together!

Application for Apprentice Conductor

Well, hello there blog!  It’s been a little while.  I’ve missed you.  🙂

So here’s some big news – I’ve applied for the position of Apprentice Conductor with Orchestra Toronto.  It was announced last week and I started on my cover letter right away!

But as it turns out, the current music director for OT, Danielle Lisboa, is leaving.  She’s moving to Edmonton, I hear.  This puts a little kink in the plan of Apprentice Conductor – they will hold the applications until the fall once they [hopefully] have a new MD.

In any case, I’m super stoked about it!  It’ll be a great opportunity for me to learn with an experienced conductor and get some hands-on time with a large orchestra – especially it being OT because I know so many people.  The familiarity will make me really comfortable in auditions.  And, if I get it, at the discretion of the director, I could conduct a piece in concert!  Booyah!  And all I’d be learning I’d be taking back to the Highlands Chamber Orchestra.

Yay!  🙂

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.