NEW WORLD SYMPHONY PREPARES FOR SEASON
On September 3-6, 2002 the New World Symphony offered a weeklong teaching residency by 13 members of the Cleveland Orchestra. This was the fifth consecutive year that a series of workshops, master classes, and orchestral reading rehearsals have been presented. . The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the world's greatest and its first chair players are all masters of their instruments. The purpose of this intensive week of coaching was to prepare the young musicians of the New World Symphony for the coming season.
The NWS has 35 new members this season - more than one-third of the orchestra. This made the opening preparation week even more important. The offered their superb artistry and accumulated musical wisdom. Time and again they stressed that an orchestra must function as an ensemble - as a team.
"The most important thing I am trying to impart to the musicians is a sense of what playing in an orchestra requires - both mentally and physically. It is important that they understand what a privilege it is to make music," noted Ellen DePasquale, assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. During the orchestral rehearsals, DePasquale stressed precision and strong articulation. She was joined by violist Robert Vernon in urging that first chair players take responsibility for their entire section's performance. "Principals should be more active - giving cues, showing dynamics, demanding correct intonation," DePasquale said. Vernon added that the string principals are responsible for assuring that the bowing is uniform and the tone is large and full in their sections.
William Preucil, Cleveland's concertmaster and former first violin of the superb Cleveland Quartet, gave a master class that was filled with thoughtful, serious ideas about the art of musical performance. "Concentrating on perfection pushes back some good musical things," Preucil told the members of the New World's violin section. "You should not be thinking about technique when you are performing. Play the music and the technique will be there. To be a virtuoso is to make it seem like it is easy." He told a young violinist who played Mozart's "Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major," "This music begins like a flower blooming. Mozart's music should smile." When another violinist played the long solo from Richard Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero's Life"), Preucil advised "Make a hypocritical kind of whitened sound. Strauss cast himself as the hero of the work's title. This piece is full of itself. Milk it for all it is worth." At an orchestral rehearsal of Strauss's "Don Juan" Preucil illustrated how floating the bow on the strings can make a brilliant, virtuosic sound. He also carefully analyzed troublesome scores. "The violin writing in the scherzo of Schumann's Second Symphony makes intonation difficult. You have to feel it to know that it is right," he urged.
"I am talking about bowing techniques," Preucil told me. "I want to give to give these gifted young musicians a sense of how to and what to listen for when they are playing in an ensemble - what it means to play in a great orchestra. I am deeply impressed with these young people. The level of their playing is incredibly high."
When a first year New World fellow Juraj Stachel (from the Slovak Republic) gave a dazzling performance of Ravel's gypsy tinged "Tzigane" Preucil joked "This is a piece where you can not really do anything wrong. Play it like you are a country fiddler on a hot, muggy day." Violinist Stachel was deeply impressed by Preucil and the week's events. "It is overwhelming to hear great players around you, to hear the Cleveland musicians playing and thinking with you. What a wonderful sense of musical style they have! They have enlightened us. That is what they are about," an excited Stachel commented.
In a brass master class, Cleveland's principal trombone James DeSano emphasized balance between the instruments. He illustrated how the great conductor Leopold Stokowski expanded the sonority of the brass choir by instructing the musicians to produce a more rounded tone from the center of their instruments.
The Cleveland musicians were clearly impressed with their younger colleagues. The legendary oboist John Mack said the NWS members " are exceptionally talented young artists who play on the highest level." Mack, recently retired from the Ohio orchestra, now teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music and New York's Julliard School. Joshua Smith, principal flutist of the Cleveland Orchestra, added "The level of playing is very high. Where they need coaching is in the concepts of style and subtlety and that is why it is good that we are here at the start of the season."
The orchestral reading rehearsals were under the baton of Alasdair Neale, principal guest conductor of the New World Symphony and music director of California's Marin Symphony. "My challenge is to forge an identity, a unified approach, a team spirit. These musicians are eager to learn and the Cleveland players inspire them," Neale stated. The conductor added that he is particularly looking forward to the all British (Elgar and Britten) program he will lead this season.
The highly favorable comments of the visiting musicians were borne out by the strong orchestral playing in the rehearsal sessions. While these were not concert performances, the impressive string tone and beautiful purity of the oboe solos in Brahms's "Symphony No. 1 in C Minor" must be noted. The brilliant playing and luminous orchestral sound in the Strauss "Don Juan" were so impressive that Neale commented that it was ready for a public performance. The strong impression made by Neale in his initial appearances last season was confirmed by the warmth and vigor of his Brahms. He also captured the dark undercurrents that lye beneath the glittering surface of Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Weber."
The NWS musicians indicated that they found the week to be an enlightening experience. Richard Harris, a trombone player from Stourbridge, England in his second season with the orchestra, said "It is wonderful to get the insight of the Cleveland players - a great way to start a professional career." Harris also works on solo projects including a music video of Luciano Berio's dramatic performance piece "Sequenza". A first year viola player added "It has been a fun week for us. Violist Robert Vernon is the best there is. It is thrilling to have him around us."
At the conclusion of the final orchestral session, conductor Neale told the musicians "This has been a wonderful first week. You have been an inspiration to make music with." Violist Vernon added "We want to congratulate you. You are the best orchestral ensemble we have heard here." All of this bodes well for the ambitious NWS season to come.