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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NOI, Day 27

Hmm, I probably shouldn't blog so late at night. I end up doing things like sharing my deep thoughts on conductors' pants.

Today we had a masterclass with the concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony, who's been here coaching sectionals for the first violins and also playing in the section at times to offer guidance. Kristen, who played in the masterclass, asked him if using an open A string in a certain passage in a Beethoven excerpt was acceptable. He answered that of course it was, and all of us in the room smiled and sort of giggled. You see, the concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony, who was here for the second week of the festival doing coachings, sectionals, and masterclasses, instructed us quite emphatically that open strings were never acceptable in orchestral playing (except for G, of course), and even Mozart and Beethoven ought to be played in fourth position to avoid open strings at all costs. Since her time here, pretty much every other visiting faculty member has contradicted that advice.

First, the associate concertmaster of the National Symphony said last week, "Oh, you hear sometimes these rumors about concertmasters who won't let anyone in their section use open strings, but I've never met anyone like that... maybe it's just a myth! I can't imagine that anyone like that actually exists." {Everyone who had worked with Ms. No Open Strings Ever smirked, but didn't say anything.}

Then, we told today's masterclass teacher about the aforementioned woman and her Zero Tolerance For Open Strings Policy, and he laughed, saying, "Yes, I've heard that she's a bit of a looney."

So, we are all amused to have encountered such an interesting orchestral player, but relieved to be subsequently told that this is NOT in fact that norm in orchestral playing.

While those of us in the first violin section for this week's concert were working with the concertmaster of Baltimore, a violinist from the Philadelphia orchestra was running sectionals and masterclasses for the second violins. I slipped into their classroom and caught the end of their masterclass today after ours was over, because I kept hearing how amazing this woman was. Her sound is incredible! She was demonstrating the passage on the G string from the second page of the Sibelius concerto -- a section on which even great soloists can notoriously sound crunchy, pressed, or scrubby -- and her sound was absolutely silken but still with great articulation and clarity. I was blown away.. it made me want to pack my bags and move to Philly to study with this woman. I heard her telling the students that she and her husband (principal clarinetist in Philly) firmly believe that if you're not always challenging yourself to improve, and always working towards a goal, then you're probably sliding backwards. She's just passionate about developing a good sound, and never stops working towards making it even better.

She's funny, too; she was talking about tone and sound quality and then, mentioning her husband, said with a dismissive wave of the hand, "Clarinet! Like that's a hard instrument! Why would I want to hear the clarinet when I play the violin? But I always tell my husband I love his sound because it's not clarinet-y at all. I actually hate the clarinet."

And apparently, I am told that in sectionals earlier this week, regarding a passage in Rite of Spring she said:


"The strings won't really be heard in this section, because the brass will be playing so loud. This passage is every brass player's wet dream."

And then laughed, and said hastily, "I shouldn't have said that!"

Of course, anyone who's ever known a brass player knows exactly what she means. Brass players live for Mahler, Wagner, Strauss, and anything else on which they can blow their brains out in pursuit of playing louder than everyone else.


  1. I think I know who you're talking about! Was that Dara Morales? If so, how cool! My husband studied with her and said she was the first teacher (actually she was the assistant to his teacher when he was in the prep program there) who bluntly told him that he wasn't as good as he thought he was. Ha! That got him thinking about always going for a better sound. Sounds like the kind of teacher we all could use...

  2. Actually, it was Amy Oshiro-Morales... Dara Morales is principal second there, right? Too many Moraleses I guess. :)

  3. You do realize that no one, absolutely no one, could possibly stop at "warning, reader discretion advised"?

  4. Woops! Haha, wrong Morales! Yes, I think Dara is assistant principal second. Never met her, but heard great things from my husband. I think her actual words to him after playing Ziguenerweisen (this was maybe when he was 13 or 14) were: "Do you think that sounded good? Because it didn't." Things changed after that, lol.