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Noel & Anne Melvin
One of the first and most memorable people I met after moving to Columbus was Anne Melvin.  She immediately stood out, due to her incredible passion for the Columbus Symphony and its musicians.  I recall playing chamber music for a symphony fundraiser as one of  my first assignments here, and Anne was there, just bursting at the seams with enthusiasm for the orchestra.

Anne's support for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra spans over four decades, and remains as strong as ever.  She has served twice on the Columbus Symphony Board of Directors, and now serves as an Honorary Trustee of the orchestra.  Anne was a key member of the Columbus Symphony search committee which selected our highly acclaimed Music Director, Jean-Marie Zeitouni.

Anne is well known for her advocacy of music education and outreach to children.  Her belief in the symphony's mission to teach, educate and inspire has been demonstrated by her unwavering commitment to keep the music playing.  The Columbus Dispatch reported that a "record donation" from Anne Melvin and her husband Noel Melvin radically reduced the symphony's deficit during one of its most difficult economic periods (in 2008).  In 2009, Anne won the Greater Columbus Arts Council''s Arts Partner Award for her lifelong support of the arts, especially the Columbus Symphony.

A graduate of Smith College, Anne studied music history and theory at Capital University in Columbus while raising her 3 children.  She worked at WOSU radio as librarian and classical music programmer.  For many years, Anne volunteered as assistant in the Columbus Symphony music library.  She prepared musicians' parts and often came onstage after rehearsals or concerts to collect the musicians' folders.  Anne clearly enjoyed sharing her library skills as well as maintaining contact with the musicians of the orchestra.  Her support for the orchestra knew no boundaries.  I'll never forget the time Anne walked to the drugstore to buy cough syrup for me when I was sick during a rehearsal.

On November 22 Anne Melvin was honored at the 2011 National Philanthropy Day Celebration presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  Anne was aptly named "Outstanding Philanthropist" of central Ohio. During her acceptance speech, Anne explained how natural it was for her to help others because of the way she was raised.  Her mother, for example, had found homes for World War II refugees.  Anne spoke of her joy in associating with people, especially in the arts, who love what they do. 

2011 National Philanthropy Day honorees, featuring Anne Melvin, second from left, as Outstanding Philanthropist
"Art can embolden our creativity, vigorously stir our intellects and infuse us with wonder and delight."  -Anne Melvin

Thank you, Anne Melvin, for all you have done to infuse the people of central Ohio with wonder and delight.  The music plays on because of you.




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2 years ago | |
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Nothing compares to the thrill of performing as soloist in front of the orchestra.  Bassoonists do not often experience this phenomenon, so we might feel a bit like a fish out of water when we do.  How does a bassoonist go about preparing for such a momentous occasion?

During a summer festival after my freshman year at Eastman I spoke with a brilliant young horn player from Juilliard who was preparing to perform a Mozart concerto with the orchestra.  He explained that he lived the Mozart Concerto for months leading up to the performance.  "The concerto has to be your life," he explained. "You have to eat, sleep, breathe the concerto."

Legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz said in the video about his life that it's necessary to be 150% prepared for each performance. Although he did not elaborate on how to accomplish that, it is obvious to anyone listening to his recordings that he knew what he was talking about.
 
As soon as I found out last season that Columbus Symphony principal clarinetist David Thomas and I would be performing the Strauss Duet Concertino this season, I began listening to recordings.  (I do not like to listen to recordings close to the performances because I don't want to inadvertently mimic other bassoonists' interpretations.)  It's advisable to have a score on hand for studying the accompaniment.

The wood-shedding ideally begins many months before the performances.  Even though an orchestral player will undoubtedly have other music to prepare during the months prior to a solo performance, it's beneficial to begin working out the finger technique of the solo piece well in advance. 

For double reed players, there's the additional issue of reeds.  I stopped making blanks during the 3 weeks prior to the Strauss week because I wanted to focus on practicing.  That was OK because I had made plenty of reed blanks already, in advance.  But I did find it difficult to force myself to finish blanks right before Strauss week.  I wanted to practice, not work on reeds, and I resented the time I had to spend finishing blanks!  But it had to be done, since I always play on brand new reeds.

One of the most enjoyable things I did to prepare the Strauss was to play along with the Chicago Symphony recording with David McGill as bassoon soloist.  Of course, this Grammy-winning recording is outstanding, and David McGill sounds first-rate as always.  I had to restrain myself from playing along too often, because I didn't want to become set in my ways, addicted to that particular performance.

Strauss: Wind Concertos
The Columbus Symphony's music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni did an amazing job of handling the orchestral accompaniment in the Strauss.  David Thomas and I never had to worry about the accompaniment - we knew that we would be perfectly followed no matter what we did.  (That's rare.  I am accustomed to having to accommodate the accompaniment during solo and recital performances.) 

Jean-Marie Zeitouni asked David and me if we'd be willing to take a fast tempo in the third movement.  We said yes, because the brisk tempo really worked.  The tempo taken in the Chicago recording third movement was considerably slower, so it's a good thing I hadn't completely bonded with that recording.

In the past I have chosen to sit rather than stand for solo performances.  Orchestral bassoonists sit all the time, and usually there is little reason to go to the trouble of learning to play standing.  It's quite daunting to find the best possible combination of balance hangers, harnesses, neck straps, shoulder straps and right hand crutches!

For the Strauss I decided to put forth my best effort to stand.  I used a shoulder strap called the Wittman Spinstrap Model 700 (with no balance hanger or right hand crutch).  To me, this strap provides the best possible balance.  As all bassoonists know, after playing standing for a while, the left hand goes numb.  Fortunately, I was able to last quite a long time before numbness set in.  During the Strauss performances, each time I had even a brief rest in the music, I shifted the bassoon's weight to my right hand temporarily to give the left hand a break

It's wise to begin practicing standing well in advance of the performances.  In fact, even though the Strauss performances are over, I am continuing to stand while practicing and I'm planning to stand for my bassoon recital in May 2012.

One of the best ways to optimize your performance is to record yourself.  I had been using my iPhone to record myself, but wore out my phone in the process.  So I researched the best affordable recorders on the market and chose the Zoom H2.

The quality is outstanding.  Some musicians buy an external microphone to plug into this machine, but I found that unnecessary.  I recorded passages from the Strauss to figure out the best fingerings, places to take breaths, and reeds.  It is so much easier to assess one's own playing when hearing it recorded.

I also used the Zoom H2 to improve my ability to play while standing.  At first there was a wide gap between my execution of the Strauss bassoon part played while standing vs.sitting.  (It sounded a lot better when I sat!)   So my goal was to eliminate the gap.  It was especially helpful to realize from listening to the recordings that sitting did not necessarily eliminate any and all technical challenges!   (The piece remains difficult regardless of the player's choice to sit or stand.)

David Thomas and I began rehearsing our parts together about a month before the performances.  We had to be sure that our parts were properly coordinated, and for the rhythmically complicated Strauss, that's a major undertaking.  We also rehearsed with the Columbus Symphony's keyboard player playing the piano reduction before the first rehearsal with orchestra.

Traditionally, soloists do not perform from memory in works with multiple soloists, so for the Strauss, David and I used the music.  For solo concertos, though, wind soloists often do perform from memory.   The best advice I ever heard for memorizing (because wind players are not accustomed to memorizing our music) is to make sure that you can: A) write out the entire solo part, B) silently finger the entire part and C) hear in your head the entire part (all without looking at the music, of course).

The more you know about the piece you are performing, the better.  I researched Strauss's life and music, his late period of composition (he wrote the Duet Concertino when he was 83), and his programmatic intention for the piece.

For sure, it's best to leave no stone unturned when preparing for a solo performance.  Your chances of a successful performance will be enhanced by the assurance that you have done everything you possibly could to achieve that end.

In summary, these are the key elements for preparing to perform as soloist:

1.  Familiarize yourself with the composer and the history of the piece.
2.  Listen to recordings with the score.
3.  Begin wood-shedding many months before the performances.
4.  If playing from memory, test your visual, aural and tactile memory as described above.
5.  Build up a hefty supply of reed blanks.
6.  If you are going to stand to perform, practice the piece standing most of the time.
7.  Record yourself.
8.  Rehearse with the other soloist(s), if applicable, a few weeks in advance.
9.  Rehearse with a pianist playing the piano reduction of the score.

Gustavo Nunez and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra demonstrate in the following security cam video what the end result of thorough preparation can sound like:

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Here is another European bassoonist, Eberhard Marschall, also performing  the Mozart first movement.  This soloist even makes use of circular breathing.  I especially like his embellishments:



Although preparing for solo performances is a lot of work, it's very enjoyable work indeed.  The value of the opportunity to perform as soloist with live orchestral accompaniment is immeasurable.


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2 years ago | |
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Thank heavens that Richard Strauss had a lifelong friend in Hugo Burghauser!  Burghauser was the principal bassoonist of the Vienna Philharmonic, and he was the reason Strauss wrote his Duet Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon with String Orchestra and Harp.  The post-Baroque repertoire for solo bassoon with orchestra is....well...scant, so the Duet Concertino stands out as a late Romantic gem for bassoonists. Written when Strauss was 83,  the Duet Concertino fully embraces his late style of composition with its reduced orchestration and highly refined writing which pays homage to his beloved Mozart. 

This past week, principal clarinetist David Thomas and I had the good fortune to perform the Strauss with the Columbus Symphony  conducted by our music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni.  We performed the Strauss three times on the Columbus Symphony's new series in the Southern Theatre, a 925 seat hall with pleasing acoustics.


The first time I heard the Strauss (in a radio broadcast by a major orchestra), I was extremely disconcerted by the rhythms in the first movement.  I couldn't make rhythmic sense out of it!  Maybe that particular performance lacked accuracy, but even under the best conditions, the first movement of the Strauss sounds conflicting.  And it should!  As Strauss stated to Berghauser, the bassoon represents a bear who encounters a princess (represented by the clarinet)  The 1st movement meeting of the pair is awkward indeed, and seemingly ill-fated.

The piece opens with a clarinet solo (which David played with mesmerizing beauty).  Then the bassoon/bear enters in a lumbering fashion, in an ascending scale with grace notes:


During the Saturday night performance, I saw peripherally that a man sitting near the stage nearly jumped out of his seat.when the bassoon entered.  I thought to myself, "Good!  The bear has done his job!"  Right after that, of course, David evoked a shrieking princess, mirroring the man's reaction.

Next the bassoon/bear asserts himself soloistically for a while, and then the bear and princess engage in a rhythmically conflicting duet, part of which is shown below:


The clarinet and the orchestra parts are in 4/4 while the bassoon part is in 6/4.  The best way to deal with that is to think of the bassoon part in 12/8 in order to line up with the 4 beats per measure of all of the other parts.  When I began learning this piece, I thought at first that I could just think of those measures in 2, but accuracy is compromised with that approach.  It really is preferable to divide each measure of the bassoon part into 4 beats.

The slow movement is a tranquil romantic aria in which the bear woos the princess.  Although Strauss called for an Andante tempo, common practice is for it to be more like an Adagio.  This movement is a prime example of one which would benefit from circular breathing.  Clarinetist David Thomas used circular breathing, and I would have if I could have controlled the intonation.  As I have stated in prior posts, I am learning to circular breathe, but I have not yet progressed to the point where I can control the pitch.

The third movement is a dance between the now-enamored (assuming, of course, that the second movement was successful!) bear and princess.  It begins tentatively and ends full of joy.  Our conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni always manages to find the right spirit of whatever we're performing.  For this movement he asked for a snappy tempo which, although a bit challenging to execute, was just right and led to a highly energetic performance.  (Most recordings sound way too conservative in this movement, I think.)

The entire piece is replete with technical challenges for the bassoon, many of which appear in the third movement.  This passage is one of the trickiest, especially at a brisk tempo:


I spent a lot of time slow practicing the last measure with various rhythms.  I found it to be beneficial to begin the passage with a calm and confident mindset, not surprisingly. 

In the past, I have chosen to sit instead of stand when featured as soloist in front of the orchestra.  This time, I decided to stand.  Although it is harder to maintain the desired embouchure and finger control while the bassoon is suspended from a neck strap, shoulder strap, or harness, there are advantages as well.  The bassoonist looks and feels more like a soloist when standing.  Projection is enhanced by the increased distance from the floor.  Overall, I was convinced that standing would lead to a more effective performance.

When I was a student at Eastman, the bassoonists were being trained to be orchestral players rather than soloists.  We never stood.  However, I attended a recent recital by my teacher, K. David Van Hoesen.  Much to my surprise, he performed while standing (and circular breathing!).

My teacher, K. David Van Hoesen preparing for a recent recital
In order to successfully perform the Strauss while standing, I tried many different types of harnesses, neck straps, and shoulder straps.  (Having tried balance hangers in the past, I didn't use one this time, which turned out to be a wise decision.  The balance hanger brings the bassoon too close to the player, in my opinion)  I ended up choosing the Wittman Spinstrap (shoulder strap):

Wittman Spinstrap for Saxophone or Bassoon
Even with my chosen shoulder strap it was still a bit challenging to hang onto the bassoon during certain passages, like the ones below:


The bassoon moves around more when it is not anchored to a seat strap, so the player has to sort of hang onto it while playing.  That can lead to a sense of panic in passages like this.  It took me a while to figure out the obvious - that taking a calm approach worked much better.

Near the very end of the Duet Concertino, the clarinet, in the middle measure below, ascends in a rapturous scale:


It seems that the princess has adopted the bear's original stumbling ascending scale!  Now it's smooth and triumphant, and everyone lives happily ever after.

It's daunting for an orchestral bassoonist to suddenly step out in front of the orchestra as soloist, no question about it.  But it's also thrilling beyond words.  I can't wait for the next time.


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2 years ago | |
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Last night the Columbus Symphony performed a pops concert entitled  Chairman of the Board: A Salute to Frank Sinatra.  As I approached the Ohio Theatre before the concert, I struck up a conversation with a couple of audience members who happened to be entering the theatre at the same time. 

The woman asked when Albert-George Schram would be back.  Maestro Schram, a member of the Columbus Symphony conducting staff, is a frequent and popular conductor of our pops concerts.  I said that we were all looking forward to George's next concert, and that I wasn't sure exactly when that would be.

Then I decided to segue into a delicate topic.  I offered the notion that Maestro Schram would undoubtedly be conducting some of our Picnic with the Pops concerts next summer, in our brand new venue in the new Columbus Commons Park.  I asked if the couple would be attending Picnic with the Pops in our new downtown venue.  (The reason this is "delicate" is because some of our Picnic with the Pops fans are understandably wondering what the series will be like in its new urban environment.)
Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion in Columbus Commons Park, future home of  Columbus Symphony Picnic with the Pops
The woman replied that they didn't think they'd be coming downtown because they preferred the old location.  I decided to try to talk them into it, since clearly they were already comfortable with attending concerts downtown.  I assured them that the symphony was going to do everything possible to make the new venue at least as appealing as the old one.  I guaranteed that if they tried it, they'd not be disappointed.  They ended up saying that they'd give it a try.

As we parted ways, the man said, "Thank you for talking to us."  I was embarrassed that apparently, in that couple's experience, it's unusual for a musician to interact with a concert goer.  The symphony would not exist without the audience, and in fact I had said that when they initially seemed surprised that I spoke to them. 

Besides, I was presented with an opportunity to win over a couple of audience members for the new downtown summer pops series.  I know that our management is working very hard to convince the public that the move will be a positive one.  But management didn't happen to be there last night outside of the Ohio Theatre.  I did happen to be there, and I think it's wise for musicians to take advantage of any chance encounters which might present themselves, for the sake of preserving our own livelihood.  We are the orchestra's ambassadors.


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2 years ago | |
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As a constant metronome user, I am inseparable from my little Korg credit card sized metronome (which was a very thoughtful gift from a student).  That will never change.  However, I discovered a great online metronome which is perfect for practicing with other musicians.   David Thomas, principal clarinetist of the Columbus Symphony and I are preparing to perform the Strauss Duet Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon with String Orchestra and Harp.  We've been using this online metronome to ensure that we can both hear it clearly.  (We grew weary of passing  the little metronome back and forth, taking turns being the one who could hear it.)  Even through modest computer speakers, this metronome can be very loud and impossible to ignore.  When practicing by myself I sometimes prefer to use the online metronome just because it is so imposing.  I'll definitely use it during chamber music rehearsals from now on - it will be great for keeping quartets and even quintets in line!



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2 years ago | |
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Carl Orff's best-known work Carmina Burana is one of the most enduring masterpieces of the 20th century.  Its driving rhythms and simple (for 20th century) harmonies appeal to just about everyone - even those who think they don't like classical music!  A couple of weeks ago, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performed Carmina Burana under the direction of our Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni.

For bassoonists, Carmina Burana provides great challenge in #12 Cignus Ustus Cantat (The Roast Swan).  The following video of the Berlin Philharmonic with tenor Lawrence Brownlee conducted by Simon Rattle starts with the famous swan song bassoon solo:


12. Cignus ustus cantat (The Roast Swan)

Olim lacus colueram,Once I lived on lakes,
olim pulcher extiteram,once I looked beautiful
dum cignus ego fueram.when I was a swan.
   (Male chorus)
Miser, miser!Misery me!
modo nigerNow black
et ustus fortiter!and roasting fiercely!
   (Tenor)
Girat, regirat garcifer;The servant is turning me on the spit;
me rogus urit fortiter;I am burning fiercely on the pyre:
propinat me nunc dapifer,the steward now serves me up.
   (Male Chorus)
Miser, miser!Misery me!
modo nigerNow black
et ustus fortiter!and roasting fiercely!
   (Tenor)
Nunc in scutella iaceo,Now I lie on a plate,
et volitare nequeoand cannot fly anymore,
dentes frendentes video:I see bared teeth:
   (Male Chorus)
Miser, miser!Misery me!
modo nigerNow black
et ustus fortiter!and roasting fiercely!

The bassoon solo begins on high D and ends on a loud low C.  As bassoonists know, it is easier to slur than to articulate in the extreme high range, and this solo requires articulation of high D, high C# and high C.  That, along with the low C, is challenging.  This is the only solo in the orchestral literature for which I would consider using a high bocal.  (For every other solo, I just use my everyday Heckel CC1 bocal.)  The reason I'd consider using a special bocal for Carmina Burana is because high note bocals assist with articulation in the high range.  The problem is, high bocals do not assist with the low C!!

As usual, I began preparing the solo several weeks in advance.  I always approach as a beginner would, as if I had never played the piece before.  That's the only way to ensure the best possible performance, since many factors undoubtedly will have changed since the last performance.  The other musicians, the hall, the conductor, the interpretation, the soloists - so many things will be or could be different.  In my case, even the bassoon is different since I am now playing on a new 15,000 series Heckel.

The first factor I tested was the bocal.  In the past I used my high bocal, but I did not want to assume that it would be the best option this time.  The decision was not obvious, since my regular Heckel CC1 played the solo fairly reliably.  The one thing that bothered me was that the articulation was not as clear in the extreme high range, so I ended up choosing my Allgood brand high bocal.

The next factor to consider was fingerings.  I often consult with my Cooper/Toplansky The Essentials of Bassoon Technique when preparing orchestral parts.  I think it's beneficial to keep an open mind about fingerings.  High note fingerings especially have to be flexible, in my opinion.  I had to decide which left thumb keys to use for high C and C# in the solo for the best possible sound and pitch.  There were also several high D fingerings to test.  I go through such fingering analysis every time I prepare a solo.  That's one reason why I start early - it takes time to incorporate the chosen fingerings.

The reed is also critical.  The bocal and fingerings are useless without the right reed.  For this particular piece, precious few reeds can do the job.  I went through a significant number of reeds in the search for the ideal Carmina Burana reed.  How many?   Well, I thought a photo of the rejected reeds might be effective:


No, I am not exaggerating.  This is the number of reeds I "auditioned" for the swan solo of Carmina Burana.  There were 7 finalists and thankfully, one winner.  The finalists were the ones which had the best sound and intonation in the extreme high range AND which could also belt out a low C.  My search for this reed began 3 weeks before the first rehearsal, after I had already been practicing the solo for a while on practice reeds.  I wanted to groom several reeds for the swan roast.  The reed which originally came out on top ended up being demoted and replaced by another winner, but all 7 of the original finalists remained the 7 best reeds throughout the 3 week period.  Since they had been stable for 3 weeks, I didn't have to worry about them suddenly becoming capricious.

Some of those reeds were brand new and some had been made previously (over the past year or so) and had been set aside as potential high note reeds.  As I've stated before on this blog, I am not one of those reed makers who claims to be able to construct reeds for specific purposes (low, high, easy to control, etc.).  I have always found that it's better to assess each reed for its inherent characteristics, and possibly seek to enhance those characteristics through reed-finishing techniques.  Why?  Well, the bottom line is that a reed is a vegetable, and its true character is determined by nature, not by my reed knife. 

The only problem with my approach is that it requires A LOT of reeds so that there is always a large supply of reeds with various characteristics to choose from.  Since brand new reeds play better and sound better than old ones anyway, obsessive reed-making does pay off.

During the performance, I switched to my high bocal and high reed two movements before the solo in order to be sure that the reed was totally functional.  In that regard, the rehearsals were more difficult because the order of movements was unknown and there was no chance to play on the high reed and bocal prior to the solo.  That's OK - I didn't mind dealing with a handicap during rehearsals.  It made the performance seem easy.  Sort of.
my Carmina Burana high reed





2 years ago | |
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This past week the Columbus Symphony woodwind and brass players had a few days off while our Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni gave the strings, percussion and keyboards quite a workout in the following program:

Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta
Barber: Adagio for Strings
Bernstein: Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium)
Of course it seemed strange to attend a concert presented by my orchestra in which I was not performing, but I relished the opportunity to experience one of our concerts from the perspective of the audience.

This was no ordinary concert - it was the premier of the Columbus Symphony's new series in the Southern Theatre.   For the first time ever, the CSO is presenting four of its twelve Masterworks programs in the Southern Theatre in an effort to create a more personal and informal experience for concertgoers.  The attire of the performers for the Southern Theatre concerts is more casual, and beverages are allowed in the hall.  The series also features more interaction from the stage. 
There was an undeniable buzz in the air as the sizable audience prepared to experience the new CSO format.  The Southern Theatre is quite a bit smaller than our usual venue, the Ohio Theatre.  The smaller size provides a better connection between audience and musicians. I tested several seats, from the top of the third balcony to the front of the floor, and each location provided great views (and as I would later find out, fabulous acoustics).  A hush fell over the audience as the performers walked out onstage en masse, European style.

Before the concert began, Jean-Marie Zeitouni spoke about the Bartok, explaining in understandable terms how the piece is based upon the math concepts of the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci sequence. poster There was a slide show accompanying his speech as shown on the photo below:
I was completely blown away by the performance of the Columbus Symphony strings, percussion and keyboard players.  The superior acoustics of the Southern Theatre contributed to the success of the concert for sure, but the excellence of the concert is mainly attributable to Jean-Marie Zeitouni and the orchestra.  I have heard the strings play in the past when they performed works with no bassoons, but this performance was by far the most impressive.

Rachel with Mark O'ConnorViolin virtuoso Rachel Barton Pine joined the orchestra for the Bernstein Serenade.  Before beginning the piece, Jean-Marie Zeitouni explained that it was based upon Plato's Symposium on the true nature of love.  After delivering a splendidly lyrical and colorful rendition of the Bernstein, Ms. Pine further delighted the audience with a blues encore written by Corky Siegel.  Embracing the CSO's new format, Ms. Pine regaled the audience with a fascinating story about one of Corky Seigel's most ardent fans, conductor Seiji Ozawa.



And that wasn't the end of it!  The audience was encouraged to step into the adjacent Thurber Bar after the concert to mingle with the musicians, including Jean-Marie Zeitouni and Rachel Barton Pine.  The bar was packed - the buzz turned into a  ROAR.  Even though I hadn't been performing that night, I had the pleasure of meeting some enthusiastic audience members, several of whom showed off their freshly-honed comprehension of Fibonacci and Golden Ratio concepts.....




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2 years ago | |
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Paul Judy
Paul Judy
 Tony's Blog , published by Tony Woodcock, president of the New England Conservatory, features an intriguing post by Paul Judy, founder of Polyphonic.org.and former president of the Chicago Symphony.  In this post Mr. Judy lays out a truly innovative and informed plan for a functional orchestra model.

One of the first points established by Mr. Judy is that over the past 15 years, there has been little change or innovation in the way orchestral organizations operate.  I certainly agree.  The Columbus Symphony has tweaked itself more than most orchestras have, and it's thanks to those changes that the orchestra is still in business.  The Columbus Symphony is now managed by CAPA and the number of weeks in the season has been reduced.  Yet the basic model remains in place, and the following quote from Mr. Judy describes my primary concern:
"While the need for greater community engagement and social value has mounted, it is discouraging to see how little has changed. Orchestra organizations have done little to redefine the community services they should be providing and, thus, there has been little modification of the job descriptions of all employees, but especially those of musicians."
As I've stated in previous posts, I consider the orchestra's relevance to the community to be of tremendous importance.

Mr. Judy goes on to explain one of the major problems with the existing model:
"The ensemble of musicians— which is the very reason for the organization’s existence — is separated from and pitted economically and psychologically against governance — the management and board — and through them, against the organization’s audiences and contributors –and the local community at large"
In Columbus we have done our utmost to overcome that phenomenon.  The musicians and the union have gone to great lengths to work with (rather than against) our governance over the past two years, although admittedly, that is new behavior for us.  I believe that our effort to cooperate is a huge part of the reason why the Columbus Symphony is still in business despite extreme financial distress.

What exactly does Mr. Judy propose as a solution to the problems evident within the current symphony model?  (Warning: this is radical!)  Here's step one:
"Firstly, the notion of a “symphony orchestra organization” needs to be tossed out and replaced by the concept of a “musical arts and services organization.”  Such an entity would have a larger musician membership than a symphony orchestra, and its musicians would perform a wide range of classical and high-standard popular music. Among the activities would be symphony concerts performed in a central venue or venues. But more broadly and extensively, the organization would present a wide range of music in many smaller venues and settings throughout the community.  It would serve broad and diverse audiences, and such performances would be coupled and integrated with music education."
 I can imagine that the "musical arts and services organization" concept might not appeal to musicians who already have "secure" full time orchestral jobs.  But let's face it, the number of people in that category is diminishing, as orchestras fold and cut back!   I wonder how many musicians in the U.S. actually feel confident that their jobs are secure.

Aspiring orchestral players in college are being educated in entrepreneurship and the importance of thinking outside the box in order to create a career in music.  My guess is that those younger musicians would have no problem accepting the idea of the musical arts and services organization, with its extreme flexibility..

Perhaps this aspect of Mr. Judy's plan will appeal to all orchestral musicians, including those who are traditionally-oriented:
"Secondly, in another major departure from past practice, these new organizations must be musician-governed and musician-driven.  By this, I mean the legal beneficial control of the organization through its organizing documents needs to rest with the musician membership. What’s more, the central board/executive committee functions, and particularly the artistic decision making (personnel and programming), need particularly to be led by musicians."
It's been my experience that musicians often think that they are better-equipped to run an orchestra than those who are doing it, so here's our chance, if we choose to embrace Paul Judy's truly innovative model in which the musicians control the governance. In summary:
"We need to develop a new model for larger scale, musician-governed, diverse, and flexible musical arts and services societies. These entities would galvanize and liberate the creative potential of musician members, management and staff, and community participants.  They would better serve audiences, donors, and the community at large. And they would provide economic sustenance for the musicians, who would have the primary and controlling stake in the success of the organization."
What do you think?  Can you imagine this model succeeding?
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2 years ago | |
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Despite the economy, the arts remain strong in Columbus, as demonstrated by this week's well-attended pep rally for the arts held at Mershon Auditorium on The Ohio State University campus.

The event was called "A WAY FORWARD: Arts and Economic Development" featuring Rocco Landesman (Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts), The Honorable Michael B. Coleman (Mayor of Columbus), Leslie H. Wexner (Chairman and CEO, Limited Brands) and Douglas F. Kridler (President and CEO, the Columbus Foundation).

The four panelists and their moderator, Executive Director of the Ohio Arts Council Julie Henahan, made it clear to the audience that the arts do indeed stimulate economic development in ways both measurable and immeasurable.  What makes people love where they live?  The arts are a major factor, for sure, but it often seems difficult to gauge their actual value.  Well, here are some amazing statistics: 11,000 jobs in Columbus are “directly tied to the arts,” generating $330?million annually in economic activity and producing $36?million in tax revenue for Columbus and the state.

During the rally several local organizations were mentioned with great pride, including OSU and its Wexner Center for the Arts, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Columbus College of Art and Design and COSI.  The Short North Arts District, an area just north of downtown which was radically transformed into a thriving neighborhood and tourist destination by its many art galleries, shops and unique examples of street art, was cited numerous times as the envy of other U.S. cities.

It's exciting to live in a city like Columbus which has such a thriving arts scene.  I do wish, however, that the Columbus Symphony could be a little better integrated into the community.  Ideally, the Columbus Symphony would be present at major community events such as the Columbus Arts Festival, First Night Columbus and Red White and Boom.  I'd love to see the orchestra presenting free concerts in various locations throughout the community, even on college campuses like OSU.  Wouldn't it be fantastic if the Columbus Symphony performed at a Short North Gallery Hop one of these months?

One important step has already been taken, as the symphony prepares to move its popular summer series, Picnic with the Pops, to the new downtown park, Columbus Commons.  The symphony's role in the development of a vibrant downtown aptly demonstrates the tremendous importance of the arts.

As stated by Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, "Columbus provides a model for other communities seeking to marshal the arts for economic development."  May the arts in Columbus and in other communities throughout the country continue to thrive.


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2 years ago | |
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Tony Woodcock, President of the New England Conservatory, recently posted an interview with Columbus Symphony President Roland Valliere on his blog.  As a member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Committee I have had the pleasure of working closely with Roland and I'm glad to see him being recognized in this manner.  Considering the dire financial condition of the Columbus Symphony over the past few years, it's amazing that we still have an orchestra, and Roland deserves a lot of credit for that.  Here is Tony Woodcock's conversation with Roland Valliere:

A conversation with Roland Valliere of the Columbus Symphony

Posted on September 1, 2011 by necmusic Outsourcing Orchestra Administration: The Columbus Symphony Turns Crisis into Opportunity
Roland ValliereWhen Roland Valliere took over the Columbus Symphony in August 2009, the orchestra was on the brink of collapse. There had been a bitter work stoppage the previous year. The budget was unsustainable even after shortening the season and reducing the administrative staff.  There was no capitalization. The endowment had been spent to cover operating deficits. There was no line of credit, no cash reserves, no unrestricted endowment. And both the Music Director and Executive Director had left. Roland, who is all about reinvention and had masterminded a promising new high tech device that he believed would revolutionize the concert experience, felt there was an opportunity to turn things around by creating a new business model.  I talked to him—he is now the President and Chief Creative Officer– about the solutions he has put in place and how the orchestra is faring almost two years later.Tony: Just before you went to Columbus, you had switched gears, left your previous job as Executive Director of the Kansas City Symphony to become an entrepreneur. The project you were working on is a fascinating example of your creativity.  Tell me about that.Roland: I had created a prototype of what I called the Concert Companion—CoCo for short.It’s a handheld device that offers explanatory text, program notes and video images in real time with the music. It’s analogous to the audio guides you can rent in a museum. The audio guides offer an aural enhancement of a visual experience. CoCo offered a textual enhancement of an aural experience. With funding from the Mellon, Knight, and Hewlett and Packard Foundations, we were able to do three rounds of testing over about five years. Then, we began a startup with the Juilliard School to produce some educational products under the Juilliard name called “Juilliard Discoveries.” That was my path in the Fall of 2008 when the economy tanked.  We were about to launch the second round of funding for the Juilliard startup and, unfortunately, our lead funder was invested with Bernie Madoff! The project went sideways because of that. It was just at this moment that the Columbus Symphony  called.
Columbus SymphonyTony: The situation there was pretty dire, wasn’t it?Roland: Well, the orchestra had a checkered history financially but a stellar artistic reputation. In 2007-08, there had been a lot of public hand-to-hand combat with a messy work stoppage. Before the work stoppage, the orchestra had been on a trajectory of moving toward a 52-week contract and a budget of $12.5 million. But that budget couldn’t be funded.  When I came in, the budget had been reduced to $9 million, which was viewed as sustainable. To get to that figure, they had reduced the season from 46 weeks to 38 weeks and the staff from 28 fulltime and 10 part-time to 18 fulltime and 4 part-time. At that time, there were 53 fulltime contracted musicians.Tony: But, in fact, even those austerity measures weren’t enough, were they?Roland: No. But, as you know, the Chinese character for “crisis” is made up of two characters that mean danger and opportunity. I felt there was opportunity in the situation so long as the organization was not hemorrhaging so badly that it couldn’t be revived.  I felt it could be revived and saw a chance to do something new.Tony: Before you committed, you did something that was essential to your strategy.Roland: Yes, this was a critical thing. I met with the head of the union and the orchestra committee and talked about some of the ideas I had. I told them I would need to work with them in close collaboration as partners—even though that had not always been the case there. And I wanted some assurance from them that this was their goal as well. If the communications were transparent, open and honest—and I assured them they would be from my perspective, then we would have a chance to move in a new direction. They were very supportive of that. The position would not have been attractive to me otherwise.Tony: So, even the $9 million budget couldn’t be balanced?Roland: That’s correct. This was true for a variety of reasons. We needed time to ramp up, we had lost momentum with subscription renewals, we had lost credibility with the public, and this had impacted the Annual Fund. When I put together a budget and added up the annualized revenue from ticket sales, fees and contributions, I realized that the budget, really to be sustainable, was only $7.5 million—about $1.5 million from where we were. So I put together a White Paper, The 21st Century Columbus Symphony, with the view forward, a new vision, and a different future, plus the corresponding need to fund that vision to the tune of $1.5 million which we called a Transition Fund. We had success in raising that. But at the same time the Annual Fund, mainly due to the economy, was proving even more challenging then we thought. It went off the rails in January 2010.  We didn’t meet our December goals and since we didn’t have a safety net, we found ourselves in a potentially devastating situation. This was no surprise to the board and musicians because I had projected that we would run out of funds in March if we didn’t raise the funding in advance of that. When fundraising ran short in December, it became evident we would have a severe problem and not be able to make payroll in February.Tony: At which point, you turned to the board and musicians with four options?Roland: Yes. The options went from bad to worse, including reducing the number of full time players (from 53 to 21), moving to a freelance orchestra (with no benefits or guaranteed services) or folding the tent completely.  Ultimately we agreed to further reduce the season (from 36 to 25 weeks) and consolidate the administration with the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA).  This was very difficult, especially for the musicians, and remarkably was achieved in a spirit of collaboration.Tony:  So talk about the administrative reorganization.Roland: By reducing the season, we were able to realize $1 million in savings but we needed to get to $1.5 million. So, the next step was to talk to the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA)and its President and CEO William B. Conner Jr.
William B. ConnorWe discussed an administrative consolidation or merger, a process that took a month to figure out.Tony: Explain what CAPA is, would you?Roland: CAPA began in 1969 by saving from the wrecking ball the historic Ohio Theatre in Columbus, renovating that venue, and then operating it along with several other theatres it acquired/or managed in Columbus, New Haven, CT and other places. It provides shared services to a number of arts organizations including ticketing, marketing, public relations, finance, human resources, IT, and development/fundraising. What it offers each group is custom tailored to the group’s individual needs.Tony: Describe the Columbus Symphony’s organizational arrangement with CAPA.Roland: It functions much like a holding company. The Columbus Symphony’s board continues as before, with its own committees, fundraising work, Executive Committee, but the CAPA board has ultimate fiduciary responsibility. There is a kind of cross-fertilization on the two boards, with two of our board members, including our chairman Martin Inglis, sitting on the CAPA board. Bill Conner wears two hats as President and CEO of CAPA and as Managing Director and CEO of the Columbus Symphony.  He has management responsibility on a daily basis for the symphony.Tony: Your position evolved into something that’s probably unique in symphony management, isn’t it?Roland: Yes. A ship can have only one captain and we agreed that that should be Bill.  The board and musician leadership asked me to stick around to see the transition through and help set a future course. The CAPA arrangement went into effect in April 2010 and at that point I acquired a new title, that of President and Chief Creative Officer. I don’t think there’s another position like it in the industry.My portfolio originally consisted of four key areas:
1.    to abet the integration with CAPA
2.    to facilitate the conclusion of our search for a new music director—which we did and hired Jean-Marie Zeitouni, who is a terrific catch.
Jean-Marie Zeitouni3.    to lead the collective bargaining talks with the musicians’ union and negotiate a new contract before the expiration of the current agreement in August 2011. We did this last March and produced a new four year agreement. I thought it would be a six month process, but we concluded it in a week—a reflection of our resolve to work together, even in tough times, for the greater good of the organization.
4.    to create the “21st Century Columbus Symphony,” that is, to figure out the business model for going forward and guide this with CAPA and the Board. This is what I’m most focused on today.Tony: How does your position dovetail with Bill Conner’s?Roland: We’re joined at the hip, with Bill focused largely on the day-to-day running of the organization and me focused on strategy and innovation.  Both Bill and I, along the our Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni, report directly to the board through the chairman of the board.Tony: You are now about 1 1/2 years into the arrangement with CAPA. How is it working out?Roland: In the first full year of implementation, operating on a $7 million budget, we were able to eke out a small surplus. I had expected we would realize a savings of about $500,000 from the integration with CAPA, but in fact we were able to do better than that.  There was an upside in revenue, which we hadn’t anticipated. Both the City and the County stepped up to a major degree in way they never had before, each making multi-year $250,000 commitments. A number of corporations stood up too.We have a five-year agreement with CAPA and our goals are threefold:1.    stabilize the finances by balancing the budget, which we did last year and are on track to do this year2.    establish a cash reserve so we could have an operating fund. Part of deal with CAPA was that they provide us with a line of credit. That was a blood infusion that we desperately needed.3.    build up the endowment to $20 million or more to generate revenue for the operating budget.Tony: So, let’s talk about your vision for the 21st Century Columbus Symphony.Roland:  Well, there are several themes. Education is key.  We’re coming to see that music and the arts can be windows for developing creative and innovative thinking, the ability to problem solve. How can the Columbus Symphony make a contribution to that? How can we make ourselves more accessible—perhaps in part by making our content available in a time- and space-shifted manner. We need to stop focusing on the traditional model and figure out how we can serve our community in our unique way. We need to find a way for the orchestra to do R&D, something that takes money and the freedom to fail.Over the next one to three years, we’re looking at several things:1.    Maintaining a budget that matches supply with demand2.    Diversifying our concert locations so that next year instead of doing all 12 subscription concerts in the Ohio Theatre, which is too large, we will do eight there and four at the smaller Southern Theatre, fitting our repertoire to the theatre.3.    Experimenting with new concert formats such as one-hour Rush Hour concerts and one-hour Noon Concerts.4.    Utilizing the Internet and social media as marketing and education tools and offering more streaming or video opportunities.  We’ve discussed creating total access subscriptions, whereby premium subscribers would have access to the concerts both physically and virtually in a time- and space-shifted fashion.At the end of the day, the Columbus Symphony exists to serve our community through the wonder of great music.  It’s about connecting the music to people.In a world of lightning fast change, we need to embrace the opportunity that such change provides and muster the courage and resources required to take smart and calculated risks.




3 years ago | |
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