Olivier Thouin, Associate Concertmaster at the OSM, went to the Crowden School in Berkeley, California on Saturday, March 26, to give a master class to students there. Music is at the heart of this school’s program of studies. Its students, who are aged 9 to 14, spend two hours each morning studying music in a comprehensive way, with courses in theory, music history, and composition, and practice in choir and early music, as well. Thanks to the coaching, rehearsal time, and concerts, the students forge strong connections with their peers in this unique community. It’s easy to see that the students connected very well with their guest, too!
The day before our concert in Santa Barbara I got a wonderful surprise: an email from Lucy Maxym, the wife of my former bassoon teacher, Stephen Maxym. Mr Maxym died in 2002, and I did not know that Mrs Maxym now lived in Santa Barbara. It was very moving to see her again and also to play in memory of her husband – all of us in the OSM bassoon section studied with Mr Maxym, either in university or during the summer at the Banff Centre. So great to see you, Mrs M!
At the Los Angeles Airport LAX
by Geneviève Dion, member of the administration accompanying the tour
“Trust me, it will be far from being on vacation” wrote Pierre-Vincent Plante, English horn, on his Facebook page a few hours before his departure on tour.
In fact, the OSM is participating in a true musical marathon since March 13th. Presenting ten concerts in twelve days, on two American coasts, comes with its challenges.
Rigor and discipline; the OSM musicians are elite athletes. The concerts, always presented brilliantly, require an incredible amount of concentration and an irreproachable preparation for the artists. In short, a colossal amount of work to do beforehand. The additional challenge is when the orchestra is not at home: the musicians have to constantly adapt to a new hall, and various conditions. They have to show strength and flexibility to present the demanding works of the program. All of that despite the accumulated tiredness and the unexpected situations that might occur.
Here is a short look at their rigorous schedule
13 March: Departure from Montreal to Washington
14 March: Concert in Washington; departure to New York by bus.
15 March: Concert in New York
16 March: Departure to New York in the morning by bus for Boston. Concert in the evening.
17 March: Departure in the morning by plane to Chicago.
18 March: Concert in Chicago
19 March: Departure in the morning by bus to Ann Arbor. Concert en soirée.
20 March: Vols en direction de San Diego.
21 March: Day off
22 March: Departure from San Diego to Palm Desert. Concert in the evening.
23 March: Return by bus from Palm Desert to San Diego. Concert in the evening.
24 March: Departure by bus for Los Angeles. Concert in the evening in Santa Barbara. Return to Los Angeles after the concert.
25 March: Departure to Oakland by plane. Concert in the evening
26 March: Last concert of the tour in Berkeley
27 March: Return to Montreal
During this frantic schedule that is separated between the many rehearsals, the concerts and the transport (more than 30 hours of bus total), some musicians take the time to give masterclasses, visit schools or perform at the local radio.
The generous applause, the standing ovations, the rave reviews, is the result of a remarkable teamwork. The OSM fosters excellence and confirms once again its role as cultural ambassador abroad.
“Kent Nagano conducted the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in an impressive program at Carnegie Hall, this ensemble’s first appearance in New York in five years. Mr. Nagano opened with a slyly seductive account of Ravel’s “La Valse,” followed by a majestic performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with the distinguished Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires, then ended with a grim, weighty take on Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” New York Times, March 16
“However greatly Nagano may have extended the OSM’s repertory, Quebec’s cultural ambassador remains the best Gallic orchestra in the world, and Friday’s concert found the Montreal musicians at the world-class top of their game.”Chicago Tribune, March 20
The OSM musicians were given a very special welcome upon their arrival at the San Diego International Airport: Xiao Hong Fu, who was a member of the first violin section from 1984 to 2014 and who now lives in San Diego, came out to meet her former colleagues with a box filled with oranges! A nice surprise for the OSM, and especially for her husband, cellist Li-Ke Chang!
From left to right : Paul Merkelo, principal trumpet; Christopher P. Smith, trumpet; Jean-Luc Gagnon, 2nd trumpet ; Amy Horvey, trumpet et Taz Eddy, trumpet
Growing up I spent nearly every weekend ( since I could drive ) in downtown Chicago playing with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Civic Orchestra (training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony).
I also had the opportunity to take several lessons with Adolph Herseth the legendary principal trumpet player at that time.
This afforded me the opportunity to also attend numerous concerts by the Chicago Symphony with conductors such as Sir Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim as well as many others.
The more I went, the more I wanted to be part of a great orchestra someday, that played on that level.
Hearing the brass section in Chicago almost every week as a teen helped me learn about the concepts of great brass playing, and understand the powerful impact this could have on the listener in the hall.
The extreme dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo of the whole CSO struck me with such a sense of drama , beauty , and inspiration that very often I left the hall (usually after Mahler Symphonies) with a great sense of emotion.
To come back to Chicago as principal trumpet of OSM is a privilege, and I am so inspired by my colleagues that I get to perform around the world with for the last 20 years, who constantly maintain a sense of pride and level of playing that is in our “blood ” as an ensemble .
As I learned in Chicago , the musicians are what makes an institution like OSM a world class orchestra .
I’m looking forward to the start of the American tour with both trepidation and excitement. Trepidation, because the tour will be an endurance test: ten concerts over 14 days starting on the East coast and ending in California. Excitement, because I’ve heard for years about Symphony Hall in Boston and Chicago Symphony Centre so I’m thrilled to get to play at those two venues, and it’s always a great pleasure to return to Carnegie Hall. The rest of the tour will be a chance to discover completely unknown (to me) halls, but those three halls resound loudly in my head already.
If you followed the blog during our previous tours, you may have read some of my posts about the spirits of the concert halls both in Asia and Europe. Though I’ve been part of the orchestra since 1990, this is my very first tour to the USA, not counting our many excursions to Carnegie Hall over the years. I’m looking forward to experiencing the spirits that haunt the halls we’ll be playing in the next two weeks.
Boston Symphony Hall is where a dear friend of mine (a former OSM colleague, Suzanne Nelsen, who is now second bassoon in Boston) plays, and she says it’s a wonderful hall to play in, so, can’t wait! Chicago Symphony Centre probably overshadows every other hall in North America for me, except perhaps Carnegie. It’s not necessarily due to terrific acoustics (although I’m sure I won’t be disappointed on that score), but because of the long shadow cast by the Chicago brass section, which reached way up to Montreal when I was just a teenager starting to become intrigued with brass playing of all kinds.
The Chicago brass section sound from the trumpets down to the tuba is legendary. The incredible trombone and tuba section stayed the same for decades, just as I was going through high school, university and beyond. People talk about the playing and teaching of Adolph Herseth (principal trumpet for over 50 years) and Arnold Jacobs (tubist for 44 years), for example, reverently, in hushed tones. I only hope that our brass section can awaken a few of those old kindred spirits when we play the Rite of Spring in their hall on March 18th!
(On the picture): Mathieu Harel, Martin Mangrum, Mark Romatz, Stéphane Lévesque and Michael Sundell at Carnegie Hall)
The OSM bassonists are delighted to have Mark Romatz with them again for the US tour – Mark was with the OSM from 2000 to 2009 and is now with the MET Orchestra in New York. Welcome back, Mark!
Since 1999, I have the pleasure to be the principal saxophone and bass clarinet of the OSM. Part of my professional activities is dedicated to teaching, notably at the Music faculty of the Université de Montréal.
It was then natural for me to accept to give a masterclass in New York and Boston. A masterclass is to teach a student in front of a class. It is very formative for the student to perform before an audience, and very pertinent for other musicians to listen to the advice given during a masterclass.
With my colleagues Alain Desgagné and Michael Dumouchel, we visited the Buffet Crampon workshop in New York; a very important wind instrument manufacturer. Alain and I even signed the Hall of Fame wall!
I then gave a masterclass to students from different universities of the New York region. Very high level students!
I also gave a class to a student of an old colleague of mine, Pascal Archer, who lives and teaches in New York. Many professional clarinet players came to greet me, it was very pleasant! We have many colleagues that are members of prestigious US orchestras. We will certainly have the opportunity to meet some of them in the following days!
Like New York, the Boston students were motivated which makes the masterclasses and the exchanges truly interesting.
Transporting musical instruments across a country like the United –States is not an easy feat!
For this tour, the harps, double-bass and percussions travel by truck to each of the 10 halls the OSM will perform.
This special mission was given to Paul Sullivan. A resident of Myrtle Beach, he will drive his truck to the 10 cities of the tour, representing more than 14484,1 km, to deliver the precious instruments to the musicians. Battling weather and sometimes heavy traffic, Paul is somewhat of a superhero.
Click to see the rest of the pictures
Photo courtesy of Lincoln Russell
Last night the OSM rocked Boston with a stupendous concert! It was a terrific program, the orchestra played really beautifully, and it was a fabulous evening. It was great to my old friend, Kent. Here’s the best photograph from the curtain call.
I made the photograph of Kent and Seiji in Hiroshima, Japan, during a three-week Boston Symphony Orchestra tour in February/March 1986, when Kent was Seiji’s assistant conductor.
This was the first of seven trips I made to Japan with Seiji, and as you can imagine, traveling there with him was simply amazing.
When we arrived in Hiroshima, I was advised to pay my respects at the Peace Memorial Park before I had to photograph the orchestra event there the next day. For Americans, whose country is the only one to have dropped atomic bombs, it’s a particularly difficult visit.
Seiji laid a wreath at the Cenotaph, a memorial to the estimated 140,000 victims of that first atomic bomb that frames the A-Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains of the building closest to ground zero. He stepped back and bowed his head. I was right behind him in front of a crowd of hundreds of people.
After a moment of silence, he took another step back and then turned around. Tears seemed to be springing from his eyes.
I walked with him and Kent somberly back across the big plaza talking about US-Japan relations and made this photograph of them in front of the Peace Memorial Museum. School children made the garland of paper peace doves around his neck.
Someone asked Seiji about an inscription on a stone, which he translated as, “Please don’t ever let this happen again.”
Asking these men to pose for this photograph was risky, as it might have seemed, under the circumstances, totally inappropriate. But it is, I think, one of the best photographs I made of Seiji, whom I photographed as the de facto Principal Guest Photographer of the BSO for twenty years all over the world.
I’m very pleased it’s in the book I did with Caroline Smedvig, Seiji: An Intimate Portrait of Seiji Ozawa, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1998.
Sharing profound experiences like this with Seiji and Kent is one reason why after more than thirty years they’re still my friends.
Not one but two OSM cellists studied at the New England Conservatory: Brian Manker, Principal cello and Li-Ke Chang.
A little bit before the OSM concert at Boston Symphony Hall, the two musicians visited the conservatory to meet with professor Laurence Lesser, winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1966.
In fact, next summer, Laurence Lesser and Brian Manker will give master classes at the Orford Arts Centre Academy:
• Professor Laurence Lesser – From June 19 to July 2nd
• Brian Manker – From June 12-25
Here are the winners of the contest: follow the OSM on tour with Air Canada! Mrs. Lise Giroux and Mr. Richard Schneider
Thanks to the contest launched on January 6th, Mrs Giroux won a 2 way flight between Montreal and Boston for 2 people, 2 nights at the hotel and a pair of tickets for the OSM concert at the Boston Symphony Hall on March 16th!
“We are lucky to have seen this concert which was one of the most beautiful concerts we have ever seen. The hall is historic. Mr. Nagano and the Orchestra were inspired. Thanks to the OSM and Air Canada for this incredible opportunity.”
click to see the gallery
After participating to the Asian tour during the fall of 2014, I am presently joining the OSM for this American adventure. As Assistant conductor of the OSM, my role principally implies to be the eyes, but more importantly the ears of Kent Nagano.
The tour, with its 10 concerts in 10 different halls, comprises its challenges. Each halls its characteristics, personality and we have very little time to so.
In Washington, maestro Nagano asked me to conduct an excerpt of Jeux by Debussy in order for him to listen and familiarize himself with the acoustics sitting in the hall. After words, direct the musicians according to the acoustic caracteristics of the Kennedy Center.
Same situation yesterday at the mythic Carnegie Hall: I stood on the podium to do my job!
Conducting the OSM at the Kennedy Center and the Carnegie Hall doesn’t change the world, but makes the job of assistant conductor pretty amazing.