Orchestra, Chamber musicians reach out

Week of programs connect with local musicians
Philadelphia Orchestra assistant conductor Kensho Watanabe guides Play-In participants at SPAC Friday.
Philadelphia Orchestra assistant conductor Kensho Watanabe guides Play-In participants at SPAC Friday.

Categories: Entertainment

This past week about 200 young kids and their parents found out what a tuba was; another 250-plus children learned there was a connection between math, Mozart and Albert Einstein. And 95 local string players got to play under two internationally known conductors.
What was all this about?

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal tubist Carol Jantsch talked, played and answered questions at the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s first Sound All Around. The program has been running in Philadelphia since 1994 at least three times a year and introduces an orchestral instrument to 3-6 year olds.

Composer/pianist Bruce Adolphe, who is known to American Public Radio Performance Today fans for his Piano Puzzlers, donned a white wig on Wednesday at the Spa Little Theatre to portray Einstein. With three members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and an improvised script, they played, quipped and watched NASA footage and snaps of Einstein to demonstrate connections musical and otherwise to six-year olds and older. This program called Meet the Music has also been running annually since 1994 in New York City.

And on Friday, string players from age 9 to 78 gathered on SPAC’s stage to work with Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin and Kensho Watanabe along with 13 orchestra musicians in five pieces in SPAC’s second Play-In. This program began in 2012.

All this comes under the heading of outreach.

“It fits our mission,” said Wu Han, co-director with David Finckel of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. “We always want the best musicians to give examples. Artistic excellence and education are our prime concerns. . .to create a forum in a relaxed setting where a young audience can learn about classical music and connect a bit to appreciate.”

The idea is not only to perhaps encourage someone to take up an instrument but become a fan.  For Jantsch, she remembers when she first saw a euphonium, which is a baby tuba.

“I was at the Interlochen Academy when I was nine. I’d already been playing piano since I was six,” she said. “They gave an introduction to orchestral instruments and I saw the euphonium. ‘What’s that?’ I asked. It immediately appealed to me. You know tuba players always want something weird and different.”

For David Kim, the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, it was already a given that he’d play violin.

“My mother decided I would be a ooncert violinist in her womb,” he said. “I started violin at three. I was forced. She was a pianist and knew what it would take, but she had this incredible musical drive. I had no exploratory periods. It was full speed ahead.”

Luckily, he turned out to be a prodigy. But what 8-year-old kid wants to practice five hours a day, he said. No regrets now, though. 

“I ran a chamber music festival at the University of Rhode Island for 15 years and would spend a week in the elementary schools,” he said.

Years later he’s run into these now-adults at gas stations or bakeries in Rhode Island or even Philadelphia.

“They tell me they remember me from those sessions. It’s so gratifying,” Kim said. “Like at the Play-In, there are tons of those players who will not make their living or go into music as a living, but they love art and playing an instrument. It’s such a gift. You always hope they’ll be an advocate for the art form.”

That’s always in SPAC’s CEO Elizabeth Sobol’s mind even as she looks to future seasons.

“Without a doubt, we’re already planning more deeply and broader outreach for next year,” she said. “In 18 months, this year, we’ve gone from serving 5,000 people to 23,000 with dance, orchestra, chamber music and the added poet’s corner. We’re aiming to double that.”

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