Winter 2019 Issue
The Show Must Go On
by Janis Nilsen
Most emergency substitute conductors are... well, conductors.
On December 8, 2018, the musicians of the Charlotte Symphony were in the pit warming up for the second of eighteen scheduled performances of The Nutcracker. Backstage, ten minutes before curtain, it had become apparent that the ailing conductor would not be able to perform. Where could we find a substitute conductor on such short notice?
Although he was not scheduled to play that performance, Charlotte Symphony hornist Richard Goldfaden was in the Performing Arts Center assisting with operations. Richard offered to take up the baton and start the first act, in the hope that the ailing guest conductor would eventually be able to take over.
Armed with a borrowed baton and a first violin part, the Detroit native climbed the five steps to the podium as the slightly puzzled musicians enthusiastically shuffled their feet. (This is musician applause. It takes two hands to clap and ours are holding instruments.) Richard bowed to the audience, acknowledged the orchestra, then turned around, gave a perfectly clear upbeat in exactly the right tempo and off we went.
No one knew or cared that Richard had no formal training in conducting. What he had was four decades as an outstanding orchestral musician performing under conductors’ direction, watching their motions, reacting to their gestures, reading their minds, observing what worked and what did not. And though he had only briefly studied The Nutcracker score with an eye to arranging parts of it for horn ensemble, he virtually had the piece memorized from listening intently while performing it. Richard is a highly astute ensemble player.
While his performances of The Nutcracker as a hornist number in the hundreds - many of them with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's choreography - not once had Richard seen the dancers on the stage. The horn section is seated under the stage against the back wall of the pit for sound projection. Ballet is a special challenge in that the music must support the movement of the dancers. The conductor conveys the tempo, style and timing from the dancers to the musicians. S/he is the only person with a view of the entire stage, even the wings.
In the first act the pieces mostly proceed directly one to the next - until the dream sequence when the clock strikes twelve, that is, the percussionist strikes the chime 12 times in a tricky coordination with the choreography on stage. Percussionist Brice Burton was also positioned under the stage with the dancers out of his view. Harpist Andrea Mumm anticipated this challenge and slipped to the front corner of the pit where she could see Drosselmeyer’s gestures and relay the timing to Brice. Problem solved. Teamwork.
Act Two is composed as a series of unique dances. Each begins with dancers entering the stage and the orchestra starting the music in perfect synchrony. Charlotte Ballet’s production manager, Liz Shinkle, was positioned in the pit with headset and microphone. She relayed the backstage timing to Richard so the orchestra could meet the dancers’ entry. Unconventional, but effective.
Richard calls the feeling of his conducting debut a mixture of fear and exhilaration. Asked how he liked the view from up there, he replied, “I looked around at the orchestra and everyone was smiling at me. It was definitely encouraging, but even more importantly, heartwarming.”
CSO at Northwest School of the Arts
by Erinn Frechette
The Musicians of the Charlotte Symphony were joined by Northwest School of the Arts Chamber Orchestra for a side-by-side concert at the high school on October 24. Proud parents, siblings, and friends filled the newly-renovated auditorium. Resident Conductor, Christopher James Lees led the concert. Concertmaster Jirah Montgomery (Senior) was elated by the opportunity to perform with the CSO. “It kind of gives me a look at what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life because I do intend to be playing for the rest of my life. [I’m] going to college for music performance,” she said. “I learn things from them [CSO musicians]…so it’s very beneficial!” Jirah received a bow for her beautiful solo in John Williams’s Star Wars: Princess Leia’s Theme.
Matthew Wryals (Senior, Violin) echoed Ms. Montgomery’s sentiment stating, “It was definitely a learning experience seeing how well such an advanced group functioned. I wish we could do it again sometime.” Matthew will be enlisting in the United States Navy upon graduation. When asked about continuing on violin he said, “The violin has become a part of me so I think in my spare time I will keep practicing.”
Paws for Applause
by Allan Rosenfeld
If you take a close look at the musicians of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in a concert, you may notice there are a number of new faces in the ensemble. In the past year and a half, we have welcomed Austin Williams, Alex Wilborn and Jonathan Kaplan on trumpet, Jason McNeel on double bass, Sam Sparrow on clarinet, and Olivia Oh on bassoon as our newest members. Plus, shortly we will be joined by Taylor Marino as our new principal clarinetist.
You may wonder how these musicians earned a spot on the symphony roster.
Simple: remember the Gunfight at the OK Corral? Well, they won the musical version of an old west gunfight. Instead of gaining employment through a typical business interview, they prevailed in a professional orchestral audition.
When a position opens up in the orchestra, it is announced to musicians worldwide via an advertisement in the national musician’s union journal. Players apply to be invited to the live audition (our most recent clarinet audition had 144 applicants for one job). Those musicians who pass the initial resume screening are sent a list of solos and excerpts from the orchestral repertoire to prepare for the live audition. The list of music they must perfect is far beyond the challenges of one ordinary concert. The most difficult technical or musical challenges on the instrument are all presented in a comprehensive fashion on the audition list. The level of instrumental mastery required to competently play the list can only be achieved through years of devoted practice and intense study.
Once the musicians receive the audition list (usually 4-8 weeks before the audition), they literally put their lives on hold for the many weeks and hours of practicing required to have every solo ready to play perfectly on demand. There are entire music conservatory courses, workshops, private lessons, and books devoted to the “art” of taking auditions! The mental and physical aspects of performing at a peak level for a short period after a long preparation phase are very much akin to the feats of an Olympic athlete.
The day of the audition, rigorous arrangements are made to ensure the anonymity of the candidates. An audition committee (comprised of five CSO musicians and the music director) listen and evaluate the candidates from behind an expansive screen, which keeps the players out of view of the committee. The candidates are presented to the committee in random order, with an assigned number to use as identification. The candidates are not allowed to communicate directly with the committee; they must convey any messages through an onstage audition proctor (a CSO musician assigned to this task). Carpeting is laid out on the stage floor to mask any possible gender-specific shoe sounds, like high heels.
The audition begins with a preliminary round where each candidate plays the same abbreviated set of excerpts (picked by the committee from the longer full audition list) in a short time frame -usually less than 10 minutes. This allows the committee to evaluate 5-6 candidates per hour and winnow down the field of musicians to a semifinal round. Quite often, an audition will stretch into multiple days and multiple rounds, eventually ending with a final round of 2-5 candidates. The stakes grow ever greater as players progress into the later rounds. Imagine the stress of warming up backstage, getting ready to play your few minutes in front of the audition committee, all the while a cacophony of sounds can be heard as the other candidates feverishly play the same solos over and over!
On the other side of the screen, the audition committee has the exhausting task of listening to the same music played repeatedly by one candidate after another. The responsibility is huge: each candidate deserves equal consideration and attention, requiring hours of concentration on the part of the committee members. Openings in the orchestra occur rarely, and appointments oftentimes are career-long positions.
Eventually a winner is chosen, and excitement mounts as the screen is dropped. The newly chosen orchestra member, no doubt thunderstruck after just receiving word of his/her good fortune from the personnel manager, is introduced for the first time to the committee. The victor is literally the last person left standing after a musical gunfight. No bullets were fired, but a heck of a lot of notes ended up flying around!
An Interview with Gene Kavadlo
by Allan Rosenfeld
After playing 43 seasons in the Charlotte Symphony, principal clarinetist Gene Kavadlo is retiring from the orchestra. I sat down with him recently to talk about his career and retirement. The following record of our conversation gives a glimpse into his past experience as a clarinetist, and his future aspirations:
Gene, you’re retiring from the orchestra at the beginning of this season. What do you plan to do with your time?
I probably will be a lot more spontaneous with taking off and going places. I envision myself maybe getting up in the morning and saying, “Hey, why don't we take up and go to Charleston for a few days?” and things like that. I'd like to explore more of Tennessee. There are places there that I think are interesting and exciting to visit, such as Nashville. Also, I have a cousin who lives in Alabama. I’d like to visit him and see more of that area. I envision myself just jumping into the car and saying, “Let’s just see where the road takes us”. I like seeing small Southern towns and maybe going to a down home restaurant.
Will you keep playing the clarinet?
Oh yeah, I'll still play. I'll put more of a focus on my klezmer [Jewish folk music]. Maybe I'll just write down more arrangements, increase the repertoire, and play more gigs. I especially enjoy playing klezmer concerts as opposed to playing for a wedding or a bar mitzvah. I don't consider what I do to be a party band, I consider it more of a concert experience.
Are there some things you feel you have done that have contributed to your longevity as a principal clarinetist in an orchestra? In particular, is there any career advice you can give to budding young clarinet players?
I think you have to maintain a constant curiosity about your instrument and about the music you're playing, otherwise you can get bored. And it's easy to get bored if you do a lot of the same things over and over. But for me, I think I've had a constant curiosity about what can I do to make things better for myself as far as my playing, as far as the equipment I use. Experimenting...all successful musicians do this. Always questioning - how can I improve, how can I make it better. Being a good musician goes hand-in-hand with having an ability to solve problems, because playing an instrument well really is about knowing how to solve problems. If you're a good problem solver and you have that curiosity about trying this or that... trying something different... “maybe I can do it better if I do it this way”... I think that helps maintain your interest and helps with executing the music. You agree?
I do, and I've noticed over the years, as part of that curiosity, that you like to go to the International Clarinet Conferences. How often have you attended those?
Almost every year.
Wow, that’s a lot of conferences.
Well, it's a learning experience going to those events. You hear some fabulous playing, and I think a lot of people may not admit this, but whenever you hear another player you're kind of measuring yourself against that player, whether you admit it or not. You kind of want to see how you stack up. Definitely a learning experience...those conferences cover just about every aspect of playing.
They also have a lot of equipment on display.
A lot of equipment… it's like being in a candy store. A clarinet candy store!
Speaking of clarinet candy, I noticed that, like any good clarinetist, you have a ton of old reeds lying around here in your studio. What are you planning on doing with them?
I'm going to make reed jewelry! Reed necklaces, reed bracelets. (chuckles)
Are you going to miss that part of playing the clarinet?
No…No. I think for any clarinet player, maybe any reed player, one of the biggest frustrations about playing the instrument is being so dependent on the reed. I mean, you hear this all the time, players saying: “Oh God, I don't have a good reed”. So not having to worry about that is really going to be a pleasure.
I'm so jealous!
I mean, I'll still concern myself about reeds but not to the same extent... I won't have that pressure of playing in the orchestra... always being on top of the reeds. One of my teachers made a comment to me one time, which I'll never forget. He said that you have to learn how to sound good on bad reeds. And that's true. I mean more often than not you're playing on a reed that's got some discomfort, some flaws, but you just have to overcome it and not let the listener know that you're having a problem with the reed.
You still have to make it sound easy even though it's not easy.
Yes, and I think we've all had the experience of going into a concert thinking you had a good reed and then at some point in the concert something changes. And man...what do you do? You have to get through it... but that can be nerve-racking. I think the quality of the reed has a lot to do with the quality of your nerves.
After 31 years of playing clarinet next to you, I know that even in the most stressful moments of playing in an orchestra you seem to keep your cool. But having said that, there still must be some particular pieces of music that make you nervous.
There are some pieces that, when I look at the repertoire that we're going to do at the beginning of the season, if I see a particular piece in the line-up I say “Oh no!” I do not look forward to playing the Ginastera: Variaciones Concertantes, for example. That's something that can give you an upset stomach. And there are things in the repertoire that, thank God, I have never played, and have no desire to! Some tough things that have just never come up... Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Le Coq d’Or. I’ve never done that and am perfectly happy keeping it that way! And there are some things that are not technically difficult but just, you know, musically difficult that I stress over. I'm thinking of Respighi: Pines of Rome, for example. You have to be so careful about making those wide intervals sound beautiful and easy, which they're not. I think they're the same things that any clarinet player stresses over. That's why they're audition pieces!
Great, we’ll make sure to schedule those pieces next season for the new principal clarinetist! (laughter)
Here, There, Elsewhere:
Musicians of the Charlotte Symphony Performing Beyond the CSO Stage
by Janis Nilsen
The versatile Charlotte Symphony Musicians perform in other settings, different attire, widely varied combinations and sometimes on instruments other than those we play on the Symphony stage. This regular column in the Soundpost will keep you apprised of our activities around town and around the globe.
Providence Chamber Music Series
Concerts begin at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of Providence United Methodist Church, 2810 Providence Road. Events are free and open to the public.
Sunday, January 13, 2019 Two Great Russian Composers
Quintet in G minor for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass, op. 39 (1924) by Sergei Prokofiev
Erica Cice, oboe; Samuel Sparrow, clarinet; Jenny Topilow, violin ; Kirsten Swanson, viola; Jason McNeel, double bass
String Quartet no. 2 in D Major (1881) by Alexander Borodin featuring Blue Ridge Chamber Players, Tatiana Karpova and Jane Hart Brendle, violins; Matthew Darsey, viola; Nick Lampo, cello
Sunday, February 17, 2019 ‘There shall be time no longer’
Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) by Olivier Messiaen
Samuel Sparrow, clarinet; Oliver Kot, violin; Jeremy Lamb, cello; Emily Jarrell Urbanek, piano
Sunday, March 24, 2019 Dedicated Compositions
Prelude for Solo Clarinet in B-flat (1987) by Krzysztof Penderecki
Allan Rosenfeld, clarinet
Piano Trio in A minor, op. 50 (1882) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Tatiana Karpova, violin; Oksana McCarthy, cello; Tomoko Deguchi, piano
As part of a recent series of concerts stepping into other genres of music, our versatile violinist Jane Hart Brendle appeared at The Evening Muse with the rock band The Mood Kings.
Also on Jane’s tour of unconventional venues for Symphony musicians, she was joined in Hilton Head, SC at The Jazz Corner by violinist Lenora Leggatt, violist Benjamin Geller, and cellist Jeremy Lamb in a collaboration with Noel Friedline and his jazz trio. This “Classical/Jazz” melding orchestrated by Noel opened with Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The arrangement included all of Vivaldi’s score with the addition of musical conversations between the jazz trio and the string quartet. After Barber’s moving Adagio for Strings, they concluded with a rousing rendition of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The “blown away” audience has demanded a repeat performance as soon as their schedules permit.
Sights and Sounds Concert Series, Raleigh NC
March 3, 2019 at 2:00 pm at the North Carolina Museum of Arts East Building, SECU Auditorium, 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, North Carolina 27607
Charlotte Symphony musicians Samuel Sparrow, clarinet, Oliver Kot, violin, Jeremy Lamb, cello and Emily Jarrell Urbanek, piano perform Olivier Messiaen’s epic wartime Quartet for the End of Time and a new orchestration of Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (“Zodiac”) as part of the “Sights and Sounds Concert Series” sponsored by Chamber Music Raleigh.