Brown to be guest soloists with Schenectady Symphony

One of Schenectady Symphony Orchestra conductor Charles Schneider’s biggest thrills is to conduct yo

SCHENECTADY — One of Schenectady Symphony Orchestra conductor Charles Schneider’s biggest thrills is to conduct young musicians who’ve won the local music competitions, including violinist Leo Brown, who will play on Sunday’s concert.

“Leo is very well-grounded and has experience and phenomenal technique,” Schneider said. “He could be a major player.”

Brown, who was the Empire State Youth Orchestra’s co-concertmaster last year, won the 2007 Lois Lyman Concerto Competition and played Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen” last year with the ESYO. He also won the 2007 Anthony R. Stefan Scholarship Competition, which carries a $500 prize but no guarantee of a solo performance.

“I’m always happy to provide an opportunity for a young soloist,” Schneider said. “It’s a chance to test their skills and is good for the community for us to use one of their own.”

Unfortunately, there is often such a backlog of competition winners that Schneider is unable to schedule them. But last year, the SSO did a joint concert with the Niskayuna High School Orchestra where Brown was concertmaster. Because SSO concertmaster Michael Emery used to teach Brown, everyone got reacquainted and Brown said he thinks that helped him get the concert date.

But Schneider wanted him to do a concerto by an Italian composer because the Sunday concert is “An Italian Holiday” with music by Respighi, Rossini and Gabrielli. That stumped Brown, who only knew of Vivaldi.

“I didn’t want to play Vivaldi,” Brown said. “My teacher suggested Paganini.”

Setting standard

Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) was a violinist whose fabulous virtuosity and flamboyant personality set the precedent for what the public came to expect of a performance. His compositions are still considered the touchstone of a violinist’s repertoire if only for their sheer difficulty.

Brown, who is a freshman at Williams College, where he’s majoring in music and physics, studies with Boston Philharmonic concertmaster Joanna Kurkowicz. She suggested Paganini’s second concerto in B minor. The piece is new for Brown and Schneider.

“The first concerto has all the typical virtuosic flash and dash,” Schneider said. “But the second is more musical.”

Brown began working on the piece’s three movements last summer and found them very difficult.

“The concerto is good to work on with all the false harmonics and double stops. The third movement is famous,” he said.

He’ll play the work from memory because performing with the music is distracting. He is also glad this is not his first time in front of an orchestra, he said. Last year when he performed his solo with the ESYO, he was so physically nervous at the first rehearsal, he didn’t think he could play.

“Then I realized it was not the end of the world,” Brown said.

What may cause some difficulties is that he’ll only get two rehearsals, one of which is the morning of the concert and the only one at Proctors. Having a rehearsal so close to the performance can tax energy and nerves. But Schneider said it was the only day the SSO could get rehearsal time at the hall. The other rehearsal is at Schenectady County Community College.

Only one rehearsal at the hall may cause problems in the other pieces because Schneider won’t have the necessary time to work on the balances, he said.

Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome,” which the orchestra hasn’t done in years, has triple winds, tons of brass, an organ, celeste and piano. The writing may be fabulous, he said, but rehearsal is the place for the expanded orchestra to determine what it takes to evoke the dust of the horses, the sound of bird calls and the feel of the tramping of the Roman legions.


Gabrielli’s Brass Ensemble requires three brass choirs that must be placed about the hall to achieve the antiphonal effect. Schneider hopes he will get the placement right. For the 2008-2009 season, getting enough rehearsal time at Proctors has been supposedly solved, he said.

Also scheduled is Rossini’s “La Gazza Ladra,” which the orchestra has often performed.Brown, who is from Niskayuna, was also active in sports and on the school newspaper, The Warrior. Rather than choose to concentrate on music in college, he decided to major in physics because he loves mathematics and because he wanted to do something more applied than music. He also finds the connections between physics and math fun.

“Music wouldn’t exist without physics because physics is about soundwaves,” he said. “Their frequencies determine pitch.”

He doesn’t practice as much — only about two hours, he said, but his practice is now more efficient.

“I still feel I’m improving,” Brown said. “I just want to keep playing.”

This season, SSO patrons have been offered dinners after the concert that correspond to the concert’s ethnic theme. There may still be space to eat at 6 p.m. at Cornell’s on 39 North Jay. The cost is $32. A pre-concert lecture is also offered at 2:15 p.m. in the upstairs gallery space.

Schenectady Symphony Orchestra

WHO: Violinist Leo Brown, guest soloists

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

HOW MUCH: $7.50, $5

MORE INFO: 372-2550

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply