In this week’s edition of the best Carnegie Hall stories: Listen to composer Meredith Monk talk about performing on the stage of Carnegie Hall, an unusual marriage proposal, and rubbing elbows with legendary Arthur Rubinstein.
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Listen to Meredith Monk's story here›
Read more of Walter Winterfeldt's story here›
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In this week’s edition of the best Carnegie Hall stories: Legendary cellist Rostropovich makes quite the first impression, bass-baritone Eric Owens thinks to himself, "Maybe someday," and a long-time subscriber finds a connection beyond the walls of Carnegie Hall.
Read more of Clive Gillinson's story here>
Read more of Eric Owens's story here>
Read more of Deborah Wythe's story here>
Trumpet player Lincoln Valdez is one of one a handful of musicians who have participated in the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America each of the orchestra’s first three years. Ever since Lincoln received his acceptance to the 2013 orchestra, NYO-USA has played a special role in his family’s life as well. His mother, Eun Y. Kim, writes about what NYO-USA means to her and her family.
Carnegie Hall. Growing up in Korea, I remembered the hall’s name because it carried magic and demanded awe: Only the best musicians in the world performed there. When a Korean musician (often with exceptional talent) appeared at the Hall, it became national news to inspire all aspiring musicians of Korea. Although my uncle was a music professor, it never occurred to me that my own family member would ever play at the venerable Carnegie Hall—not once, but three times.
My son, Lincoln Valdez, was 17 when he became a part of this wonderful venue. I still remember the time and place, as if it were a major historical event, when I got the e-mail from NYO-USA and how ecstatic I was. Since then, the NYO calendar has been our family calendar, and the last three NYO experiences changed Lincoln’s life and ours. Each year, Lincoln eagerly waited for the music selections and spent endless hours practicing because he enjoyed it. In Korea, where music was a required class until high school, I thought I knew a lot about classical music. Lincoln showed me how little I knew. His eagerness helped us to learn about the composers, conductors, and soloists—so our lives have been enriched. But most importantly, we have gotten to know the future composers, conductors, and soloists within NYO-USA. These amazing kids will shape the music world. I remember the first year, when he came back from the tour: “Mom and dad, I have met the most interesting people and made amazing friends.” After each tour, he returned home inspired and transformed. As the first NYO conductor, Valery Gergiev, said, “These kids come to NYO as children and leave as adults.”
Sadly, it’s time for us to say goodbye to NYO-USA. Lincoln will be 20 in 2016. So the last concert of 2015, at Hong Kong Cultural Center, was particularly emotional for us. When violinist Soyeong Park cried, my husband and I also shed tears. My 85-year-old mother who just had flown in from Korea also had tears of joy. We were also at the season-ending concerts at Royal Albert Hall in London in 2013 and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2014, so I know the final concert is hard for all the musicians as well. “I miss my home family, but I don’t want this to ever end,” one NYO member told me.
Fortunately, their friendships and lifetime connections will never end. For Lincoln, NYO-USA has become his extended family. When he attended an admit week at a college in Boston, his first-year NYO buddies arranged a reunion. In turn, he hosted a get-together for NYO admits at Stanford. His NYO friends became a part of our family: We got to have pizza with Lincoln’s friends in London, Korean food and ice cream in Los Angeles, and a fusion lunch in New York City.
We also joined Carnegie Hall Friends. I reminded Lincoln of his obligation to support NYO and Carnegie Hall when he is able to do that, quoting a Bible verse with which Bill Gates’s mother inspired his son to do something great: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” Thank you, NYO-USA. Thank you, Carnegie Hall. Thank you, all the sponsors and staff. Mostly, thank you, members of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, who have made our lives magical for the last three years.
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As the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America's tour of China comes to a close, conducting apprentice Christopher Vazan recounts his impressions of the cities they visited. From the wide expanses of Beijing, to the awesome skyscrapers of Shanghai, to the final stop in wondrous Hong Kong, Christopher found that each city possessed its own unique character.
Fifteen days. Seven cities. Just enough time to get a snapshot impression of each. Our first stop was Beijing. By the end of the 14-hour flight, most people in the orchestra had colds, stomach aches, and ear or eye infections. But we made it to firm ground all in one piece, and soon were on an air-conditioned bus to our hotel. Beijing is quite possibly my favorite city that I have ever visited. I had read horror stories of TV screens in public places depicting the sunrise because the real thing was invisible behind the smog. I was expecting throngs of people and filthy sidewalks. But my three days in Beijing left me with precisely the opposite impression. Though it is home to a population of more than 20 million people, the city covers a huge area (larger than the state of Connecticut!), and the streets are spacious and relatively clean. Most importantly, Beijing left me with a distinct sense of authenticity, caused by the myriad traditional Chinese buildings interspersed among the colorful, high-rise apartment buildings. We made an excursion to the Great Wall of China, a couple hours’ drive from the city. It is far more magnificent than any picture can convey (and quite a workout to walk along!)—a truly humbling experience to imagine the number of hours and lives spent in order to build it. When we visited the Forbidden City, Chinese tourists, unused to Western faces, would often ask us to pose for pictures. We performed that night in a colorful, brightly lit hall for a youthful and energetic audience.
NYO-USA musicians visit the Forbidden City in Beijing. (Photo: Chris Lee)
Next, we flew to Shanghai. Driving to our hotel at night, the contrast was immediate. Where Beijing was ancient and spread out, Shanghai was hypermodern and vertical. I couldn't keep my eyes off of Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world. Shanghai gave me a new perspective on what a large city can be. As a native New Yorker, I have always been in awe of the enormity of my hometown—every other city I have been to has been small in comparison to the Big Apple. Not Shanghai! On our sightseeing day, we went to the 88th-floor observation deck of Jin Mao Tower. The city is breathtakingly enormous. Our concert in Suzhou was a run-out from Shanghai, so our time in that city was the most limited. We spent the morning in a museum close to the concert hall and returned to Shanghai after the performance. The hall bore a strange resemblance to the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, SUNY, where we had spent a majority of our rehearsal time during the two-week training residency at the beginning of the program.
After four nights in Shanghai, we boarded a plane to Xi’an—the only portion of the trip that took us to inland China. Aside from the overwhelming pollution, Xi’an is a lovely city replete with beautiful sights. It was the ancient Chinese capital for many centuries, so the city is full of ancient buildings and artifacts, many of which remain to be unearthed! The most significant archeological discovery in Xi’an so far has been the Terracotta Army; the emperor of the Qin Dynasty had ordered a whole army of terracotta infantrymen, archers, and cavalrymen on horses to be built in his tomb to protect him in the afterlife. Thousands of soldiers have been found already, but the excavation is expected to continue for decades to come.
Christopher was dazzled by the skyscrapers of Shanghai. (Photo: Chris Lee)
Finally, we flew back to the coast for our last three stops: Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. We did not stay long in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, but had a pleasant visit to each city. Both were very modern and very large. The concert hall in Shenzhen had the most beautiful interior, with an elaborate organ behind the stage and red seats extending far up into the many balconies. The morning after the concert in Guangzhou, we boarded a train that took us directly to Hong Kong. After passing through immigration, we settled into our final hotel, located right on the harbor between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong Island is one of the most fascinating human settlements in the world. On the north side is a densely populated financial capital, the most vertically built city in the world. In the middle of the island is a steep, mountainous region that rises above the tallest buildings. And on the south side, there is a luscious beach dotted with a few small colonial British buildings. From either side, it is difficult to imagine the utter contrast that is found just a 15-minute drive away. This metropolis and its haven give the city and its diverse inhabitants a palpable, ever-present sense of wonder that distinguishes Hong Kong from any city I have visited before. I hope to be able to return to China and Hong Kong many times in the future, as there is so much more to explore! After all, our conductor, Charles Dutoit, is on his 25th visit, and he seems as excited as ever!
View Christopher's profile, and learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
Horn player Mark Trotter looks back on the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America's residency, from initial introductions and rehearsals to the orchestra's first performances in China. He also reflects on the unique skill set and level of courage that playing in the brass section requires.
On June 27 at 7 PM EDT, Purchase College, SUNY, registered a 2.7-magnitude earthquake. Its epicenter was the stage of the Music Building’s Recital Hall, and it began as a low, dull rumble, softly creaking the wooden floors. The tremor intensified, shivering up the walls and delving into the foundations, the backlash of an intense sonic propagation. Yes! The 2015 NYO-USA brass section, formerly scattered blue stars on the “Meet the 2015 Orchestra” webpage, had converged, cases open, instruments out, and the repercussions were thunderous.
Six hornists, four trumpet players, three trombonists, and two tubists, from eight states, but it took less than five hours after touch-down in Purchase to connect in our first self-led brass choir rehearsal. While the strings fretted over seating auditions, the winds whittled away at reeds, and the percussionists oriented themselves to their new toys, we brass were compelled to begin, and that meant noise.
I stepped into that room uncertain and uninformed. Though an NYO rookie, I “knew” two of the other hornists—Jack McCammon and Jasmine Lavariega—in passing from college auditions. I nodded greetings to Ethan Shrier and Aaron Albert, trombonists I’d met at Interlochen Arts Camp, but the rest were unfamiliar names from cities I didn’t know. And so, when I entered with my faux-alligator-skin horn case (I’m from Florida!), it was with a touch a trepidation, a measure of anticipation, and an overwhelming urge to put names to faces and faces to instruments and instruments to lips so that we could get things rolling.
The horn section rehearses a passage from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)
I watched as the others filtered in from the elevated rear entrance, jostling through rows of seats, before gathering on the empty wooden stage. Lincoln Valdez, Brent Proseus, James Vaughen, Anthony Brattoli, Matthew Gajda, Jack McCammon, Nivanthi Karunaratne, Jasmine Lavariega, Michael Stevens, David Alexander, Aaron Albert, Benjamin Smelser, Ethan Shrier, and Ethan Clemmitt. (Thank God for NYO lanyards and ID cards.) We are diverse, yet from that first informal session, our brass melting pot bubbled with unfettered chemistry. Despite our disparate color, gender, valve oil preferences, and music idols, we belonged together. And together, we bring a sense of “realness” to the music. A weight. A solidity that the listener can touch and feel as we color the sound—sometimes darkly, often brightly—always passionately enthusiastic, shining.
Our first official brass sectional was led by Erik Ralske, principal horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and we deeply valued his knowledge and laid-back, confident ease. With the assistance of David Krausse (principal trumpet, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), Ko-ichiro Yamamoto (principal trombone, Seattle Symphony), and Dennis Nulty (principal tuba, Detroit Symphony Orchestra), he coaxed our ensemble, subtlety shaping and bending our playing in ways we were only too eager to learn. Soon enough, orchestra rehearsals dominated the weekly schedule, and we set aside self-gratifying brass arrangements of the Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare, Finlandia, and Lincolnshire Posy for masterworks by Tan Dun, Beethoven, and Berlioz.
In the orchestra, we eagerly arrayed ourselves in front of the percussion, our kindred spirits in sonority. Seated on a riser in a rigid arc, the horns and tubas flanked the centered wall of trumpets and trombones. Directly in front, the woodwinds waited, entrenched in their grid while the strings sprawled, filling the rest of the stage. We were set apart, and yet connected, united in purpose yet unique in musical disposition, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
You see, the brass life confounds most other musicians. While our string friends took wing as toddlers and mastered etudes in fifth grade, most brass players don’t muster passable long tones until middle school. Once you’re actually able to form a note on a mouthpiece, it may still take a few years of roaming up and down the section to find your niche, and by that time, our woodwind friends are running double octave chromatics at 120 beats per minute. For this reason, we’re overlooked. Sure, it may appear that we have fewer notes, easier parts, and lots of rests, but there’s a story behind that.
“I think I can” won’t cut it, and in NYO-USA’s 2015 brass section, I’ve admired the collective determination that declares, “Bring it on!”
Playing brass is fickle and fraught. Every time the horns go bells-up in Tan Dun or, in Berlioz, the tubas blast the “Dies Irae,” the trombones cackle in “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” or the trumpets shout the riotous fanfare in “March to the Scaffold,” there is a risk. We are seated above the orchestra, playing on instruments designed to project, and any imperfection rings to the back of the auditorium with angelic clarity before echoing back. We rarely have time to duck. No, brass is not for the faint-hearted.
Yet, it is Beethoven’s brass section that gives the “Emperor” Concerto’s opening its dignified, regal flair. When Berlioz’s “Reveries, Passions” movement closes on a low whisper, the brass measure the boundaries of that poignant pianissimo. We are both the lion and the lamb, and we must not err. Our personalities wildly range from morbidly introspective to exuberantly giddy, but on stage, we fall lock-step into the brass psyche. It doesn’t matter how our chops feel, if a valve is sluggish, or if there’s excess water resisting the water key, the baton is up and it’s time to play: convincingly, sweetly, heroically.
In short, it takes serious guts play brass. At the same time, it demands a certain amount of chill. Since mistakes are inevitable, we have to roll with whatever happens. A high-strung brass player can’t recover in time to nail the next entrance, rapidly approaching in five measures. “I think I can” won’t cut it, and in NYO-USA’s 2015 brass section, I’ve admired the collective determination that declares, “Bring it on!”
View Mark's profile, and learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
Violinist Helen Wu is one of 25 members of the 2015 National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America with roots in China, having visited her relatives in Guangzhou many times as a child. Now as a young adult, through her travels with NYO-USA she has gained a new perspective and deeper appreciation for the beauty and culture of this country.
Visiting China for the first time in almost a decade is a simultaneously sentimental and intellectual experience. With age, I have gained a greater understanding and appreciation for culture, especially that of my own heritage. As we visit the cities of China, the architecture, the tourist spots, and many of the sights carry a degree of familiarity to me. While others squealed with excitement about visiting the Great Wall for the first time, I smile at the prospect of seeing it again after my last visit as a seven-year-old. When I was last in China, I was very young, fascinated by the country’s intense heat, wondrous architecture, and long history. The greatest part of what I knew of the country, however, was my relatives, and what I felt were hordes of extended family that I saw each time I visited.
Now, almost a decade later, I’m much older—I have learned so much history and lived more years of life. Through my travels and world history classes, I’ve gained more context for all that I see. Yet part of me still marvels at the sights of China—the winding Great Wall, the Shanghai skyline, the Terracotta Army, and so much more. Exploring China and the rich culture of my ancestors has revealed to me the incredible feats of the Chinese people and has created a pride in me about the history of my people. My understanding of China is no longer limited to my extended family and has expanded to indulge my curiosity of the society and culture surrounding them.
Both of my parents hail from Guangzhou. Though I’ve visited the city several times before, most of my memories consist of visiting family as a young child, attempting to converse with my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins in broken Chinese. Oftentimes, I have listened to my parents and my violin teacher, who is also from Guangzhou, reminisce fondly about their hometown, sharing memories of streets and places they used to frequent as children. Hong Kong also houses some of my extended family, who will be attending our concert there. Exploring Guangzhou and Hong Kong through the avenues of music and NYO-USA will grant me a greater capacity to understand the culture of my ancestors and experience the setting of my parents’ childhood in a different way.
As a person of Chinese ancestry, the cultural exchange between China and the United States through music resonates strongly with me. I see myself as a product of Chinese-American cultural exchange, in a way. Though I identify with American culture, into which I have been born and raised, Chinese culture has made an indelible impact on my childhood and my character, from the Chinese languages I understand to the mooncakes I love eating with my family during the Chinese moon festival each year. For me and even for those in the orchestra who cannot speak or understand the Chinese language, performing in China has provided a novel way to connect with Chinese culture and to share our passion for music and our American culture through a universal language we all can understand.
View Helen's profile, and learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
Thumbnail photo by NYO-USA violinist Matthew Chow.
In this week’s edition of the best Carnegie Hall stories: Tim Gunn’s grandmother gave him the grandest present imaginable, a stage seat next to the legendary Horowitz, and a volunteer hopes it doesn’t start to rain.
Read more of Tim Gunn's story here>
Read more of Neil McKelvie's story here>
Listen to more of Irwin Wolin's story here>
Violist Faith Pak describes a typical meal with fellow musicians in Beijing, the first stop on the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America's tour of China. As she dines with her peers, it dawns upon her that NYO-USA is giving her a taste of "the real thing"—the opportunity to experience firsthand the life of a globetrotting professional musician.
Armed with a purple plastic card worth $20, cellist Sofia Checa, violinist William Yao, and I waded slowly through the teeming crowd at Food Republic, the food court underneath our Beijing hotel. Cashiers shouted from the food stalls that wrapped around the room, and the multitude of harsh white lights reflected off the new floors and the glistening array of pots and pans. Not a word of English was to be seen on the menus and shop signs, so Sofia and I were completely dependent on Will’s Chinese language skills.
Faith and the rest of the orchestra arrive at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. (Photo: Chris Lee)
After making a sweep around the perimeter, we wormed our way back to a Sichuan noodle stall. A mass of hungry people gathered around the counter, making no attempt whatsoever to form a line. People simply squeezed through and desperately tried to make eye contact with the workers. Sofia and Will emerged from the crowd with three steaming bowls of noodle soup. Meanwhile, I had managed to get a hold of two savory scallion pancakes by pointing and nodding my head vigorously at a bewildered cashier.
We scanned the tables for seats. The room must have been at maximum capacity. We slowly navigated the traffic jam, my friends laden with teetering bowls of hot soup, and I felt a familiar sense of airport panic. After several sweaty minutes, we finally found a table of NYO-USA bassoonists and squeezed in.
There was a brief silence as we dived in, slurping thick, steaming noodles heaped with chickpeas and dissolved hot pepper sauce that tickled the nose with its unforgiving spice. The scallion pancakes, perfectly balanced between soft and crisp, soothed the burn better than water. They reminded me of home—they tasted just like the savory Korean pancakes my mom whips up for lunch sometimes. Actually, everything reminded me of my home, New York City. There’s something about sitting at a crowded table with friends in a loud sea of other crowded tables. Eating at a chock-full restaurant in New York or Beijing, I feel a sense of privacy that I only feel in a big city, where all the strangers around me are moving fast to their own destinations. I feel cool because I realize that this is the real thing—I’m in a world-famous city, and I’m ordering food and walking fast and thriving! As I slurped up the last of the hot noodles, I had my tiny moment of triumph and joy.
View Faith's profile, and learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
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