John Adams and violinist Midori
Composer and Violinist
Composer John Adams and violinist Midori talk candidly with Terrance McKnight, in a joint interview, about their collaborative works and individual music projects. We find out how the parents of both artists' played a roll in them becoming musicians. For John it was his father who gave him his first lessons on clarinet; by 4th grade John was writing music. For Midori, she was 4 when her mother began giving her violin lessons; instructions that Midori still uses to teach her students today. Midori explains how she interprets John's music and why his violin concerto forces her to play harder (she says, "I love this concerto, but it is strenuous for my hands..."). John talks about the challenges he faces as a contemporary composer stating that much of the classical music world is focused on a small repertoire of famous works. He discusses the responsibility of composing "On the Transmigration of Souls"( a work commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to mark the first anniversary of 9/11) in a way that would not be exploitative. John explains, "I finally realized that the only piece I could write was about the survivors"
Principal Flute, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
To perform Kaija Saariaho's Aile du Songe (Wing of Dream), the ASO's Christina Smith learned to sing, speak, whisper, vocalize and whoop into the flute. She talks with GPB's Sarah Zaslaw about that process, considers whether this concerto is an inherently sexist piece, and describes the idea of freedom that birds in flight represent. Listen to Christina and Sarah's previous interview.
Carl Nitchie and Juan de Gomar
Principal Bassoon and Contrabassoon, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
In conversation with Sarah Zaslaw, ASO bassoonists Carl Nitchie and Juan de Gomar help us spot bassoons' wooden bells in the orchestra, recall Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice in Disney's Fantasia, and sing their instruments' main tunes from The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Paul Dukas. Nitchie describes the piece as 10 very busy minutes.
Principal Trombone, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Atlanta principal trombonist Colin Williams doesn't feel like a senior musician yet. He says he believes in continuing to learn from everyone, and in every area. Talking with Sarah Zaslaw, he describes his realization, after years of feeling competitive with his fellow music students, that all that mattered in an audition setting was what he himself wanted to communicate and how he himself played. And he discusses the roles of the players within Atlanta's trombone section. Listen to Colin and Sarah's previous interview.
Principal Horn, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Principal horn in Atlanta since 1975, Brice Andrus tells Sarah Zaslaw what made him switch from trumpet as a kid: the chance at a band trip from Atlanta to Chicago. Andrus talks about his favorite Beethoven moments; being married to a section mate; playing P.D.Q. Bach's Oedipus Tex, during which his instrument is assembled piece by piece; laying down horn tracks for Bruce Springsteen's Devils and Dust; and performing a Wagnerian duet with Elmer Fudd.
Principal Horn, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Christopher Rex chats about the his role as "office manager" of the ASO cello section, his musical education (from childhood in Florida, to bus commutes across Pennsylvania, to music studies at Curtis and Juilliard, and on into the Philadelphia and Atlanta orchestras), how bow holds are like golf club grips, what's on his iPod, and his fascination with Zuni Indian "fetish" animal carvings. The starting point of the conversation is Dvorak's Cello Concerto and the love story Rex recently realized is built into the music: Dvorak's affection for his sister-in-law.
Juan Ramirez, violin
Violin, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Hailing from the "really deep South" (Mexico), Juan Ramirez studied with famed violinist Henryk Szeryng and trained at the New England Conservatory. This was Ramirez's 32nd season in the ASO. He's also a composer of music, a founder of festivals and foundations, a conductor of youth and student and community orchestras, and a teacher. Beyond that, he tells Sarah Zaslaw about his sideline as a connoisseur of chili peppers (62 varieties grow in his yard) and his experience as a member of the Grammy Awards classical selection committee.
Viola, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
A native of Warrior, Alabama, Catherine Lynn landed back in the South after graduate studies in Michigan and ten auditions around the country. Speaking with Sarah Zaslaw, she talks about the audition phase of life, adjusting to the schedule of a full-time orchestra, and the excitement of those precious few moments when the viola section really gets to shine, as well as her outside interests (current fave TV show: ABC's Lost).
How merely competing in, let alone being the first American violinist to win the gold medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1978, opened doors to him. What violins he owns and performs on (from Strads and a Guarneri to brand-new instruments). How many concertos he tours with in a given year (an unusually large number). How his relationship to the Brahms Violin Concerto has changed since he first performed it as a teenager. Who his toughest critic is (hint: he's married to her).
In Atlanta to conduct his Violin Concerto, Oliver Knussen (silent K, rhymes with fussin') tells Terrance McKnight it all began in a New York deli in 1968, with a casual introduction to a young violinist named Pinchas Zukerman. Decades later Zukerman premiered Knussen's concerto. It has also been championed - and memorized - by Leila Josefowicz, who performs it with him and the Atlanta Symphony.
Knussen's "career" as a composer-conductor began at age 15, when, in full media glare, he stepped in to conduct the London Symphony (in which his father was a bassist) in the premiere of his own First Symphony. Knussen also talks about the success of his Third Symphony, making music communicate, why after years in the US he returned to the UK, varied reactions to his childrens' operas based on Maurice Sendak, his work-in-progress Cleveland Pictures, his difficulty with deadlines, how he composes (the kitchen table works, so do airplane seats), and his heavy consumption of old movies and notable TV series (he calls Larry David a genius).
Roberto Abbado and Jon Kimura Parker 1 & Roberto Abbado and Jon Kimura Parker 2
Conductor and Pianist
In a joint interview, conductor Roberto Abbado and pianist Jon Kimura Parker reminisce with Terrance McKnight about their past collaborations. We hear how Parker warms up backstage with the challenging bits (he says Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 is all challenging). How conducting the Atlanta Symphony is like driving a Ferrari (very responsive). The two men's influential uncles: for Roberto Abbado, it's open-minded and famed conductor Claudio; for Parker, it was his exacting first piano teacher in Vancouver, Uncle Edward. Abbado describes getting the conducting bug literally overnight, at age 15. Parker recalls transposing at five, describes the difficulty of forcing himself to play on the cracks between piano keys as Prokofiev demands, and enthuses about being a distinguished visiting artist at Georgia's Columbus State University.
After banter with Terrance McKnight about their past encounters and Georgia's fine concert halls, Christoper O'Riley settles in to talk about "the sexiest piano concerto ever written," Ravel's G Major Concerto: its jazzy and bluesy elements, the solos within it for wind players and the harpist, and dealing with the cadenza. O?Riley borrows the idea of adding connecting chromatic notes between the trilled notes in the cadenza, the better to emulate the sound Ravel had in mind: a musical saw.
After discussing his program with the Atlanta Symphony music by Robert Pound, Beethoven, and Liszt'conductor Michael Morgan tells Terrance McKnight he decided in elementary school he had to be a conductor (giving the beat just seemed so easy). His early conducting idols were Bernstein and Solti, with whom he got to work later on. He describes what makes an orchestra great, including the quality of the very instruments; the family's LPs he wore out on his little record player; and his parents' support at a time when African American orchestral conductors were unheard of.
With his composing career in full bloom, Osvaldo Golijov talks with Terrance McKnight about his opera Ainadamar (which the Atlanta Symphony performed and recorded on DG). That it was his first real stab at writing an opera. What it's about. What attracted him to Federico Garcia Lorca as a topic. How Golijov worked with playwright David Henry Hwang to develop the libretto. The use of a laptop computer as an instrument, with hoofbeats and rifle shots evolving into flamenco rhythms. The difference between versions of Ainadamar at various stages. Listen to Osvaldo and Terrance's previous interview.
Redheaded French conductor Stephane Deneve animatedly discusses staying fit on the road, finding the music of Guillaume Connesson (whose Glimmer from the Dark Age he conducted in Atlanta), the feat of sightreading orchestral scores at the pianohis new gig as music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and left-handedness. He also tells Terrance McKnight how French, German and American orchestras generally differ, and says he aspires to grow ever more open and accepting, in music and in life.
Dynamic young Swiss violinist Julia Fischer talks with Terrance McKnight about her early violin studies with the Suzuki method, the growth of her career from age 8 onward, the relaxation she enjoys on long flights (when airline employees aren't overzealous about her bow), feeling married to her own Guadagnini violin (vs. playing an instrument on loan, which feels more like an affair), the understanding nature of her real-life human fiancé, the relatively small size of the violin repertoire (vs. the huge rep for piano, which she also plays), and finally, her view of music as its own, untranslatable language, expressing things that can't be said any other way.