It’s almost Thanksgiving. Time to think about what we’re thankful for. I’m only writing about it now, a few months after the fact, because I’ve been waiting for the video (below) to be uploaded onto YouTube in order to share with you.
The older I get the more I enjoy working with student musicians. Their enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and there’s nothing more rewarding than when you’re able to impart some little suggestion or word of wisdom and see an immediate improvement and see the proverbial light bulb go on.
Don’t tell anyone, but the experience for me conducting the first ever Baroque string orchestra at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute last summer might have been more of a blast for me than for the students. I hope they gained as much insight into string ensemble playing and the thrill of the music of Vivaldi and Telemann as I had in working with them for two weeks until the performance at Seiji Ozawa Hall on July 23.
It’s wasn’t all peaches and cream. The BUTI kids have full schedules everyday of orchestra, chamber music, individual lessons, sectionals, and master classes, and to have rehearsals from 8:30-9:30 in the morning added to that was enough to make me tired just thinking about it.
This group of thirty students was certainly talented, but transforming them into a polished ensemble in only four rehearsals was our challenge. They were not only unfamiliar with the repertoire, they had only been playing with each other for a few weeks, and that was in the full orchestra.
The first rehearsal was pretty rough! There’s a presumption that Baroque music is pretty much all the same style, “plays itself,” and that technically it’s easily, especially compared to the “big” repertoire of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. But, because of its clarity and transparency, what Baroque music does is expose every little flaw in one’s technique and musicality. If you can play Baroque music well, you can be confident you can play anything well.
Little by little, the students’ ears woke up, even so early in the morning. The growing improvement, along with the enthusiasm, was marked from one rehearsal to the next. The students were learning how to listen to each other, how to play as a unified group, how to develop their ensemble skills, and–gaining an understanding of the remarkably different things Vivaldi and Telemann were after–were really starting to bring the music to life. After the last rehearsal, two students approached me, unsolicited. One said she had never played Baroque music before and the experience had really opened up a whole new world for her. Another (with a big smile) said that she had come to the first rehearsal with the attitude that playing Baroque music was going to be boring, but that it had really thrilled her. After hearing those comments, I had no worries about the performance.
At the concert, our two compositions began a program that included full orchestra works conducted by Maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya, concluding with the Brahms Symphony No. 2. The entire concert was beautifully played, and my older brother, who came up from New York to hear the concert, made the comment that, for college students, the orchestra played amazingly well. When I made him aware that they were, in fact, high school students, he couldn’t believe it.
As musicians, we perform for the audience in front of us. But we also have a deep commitment to future audiences, and there’s no greater validation for what we do than passing along what we’ve learned from previous generations to eager young minds and hands.
Please enjoy this video: the performance of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute’s Baroque String Orchestra performing the Concerto Polonese, by Georg Philipp Telemann.