Printer-friendly version

Being a pack leader (or orchestra whisperer...)

September 22, 2011 at 7:32 AM

In my last blog (I know, way too long ago…) I wrote about the joy of being able to play the violin and not work the violin. Well, I have had recently some amazing experiences in that category. The last weeks I have played with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Last weekend we played Schumann Rhine Symphony with Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Such joy and energy was brought into the performance. I think I had a smile on my face the next 24 hours!

The week before I had the chance to play with Maestro Gergiev, Mahler 9th Symphony. I had recently played this symphony with the Symphony Orchestra of Basel with Dennis Russel Davies for the first time and was happy to do it again within a few months. So again practicing, but even more score reading this time, to see if the music would reveal more of its secrets to me. Though sometimes, all it needs is a conductor that knows the piece so intimately, and has such a command of its body and his energy, that all of a sudden everything flows. The flute played as if straight from heaven, the winds and brass were like a grand organism, breathing together like I have never experienced before and the strings formed a unity in sound, that I forgot I was a violinist. I was no longer a violinist, but a tiny part of the musician (and magician) Valery Gergiev.

Together with my wonderful stand partner Igor Grupmann, we pondered on what makes a leader. We soon came to being a pack leader and not long after that Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer, entered the conversation. So, for the past week I have watched the show and realized that there are many parallels between leading an orchestra and being a pack leader. We all have experienced conductors, just walking on stage, getting ready to start and suddenly you notice an energy change in the orchestra. Whenever Jaap van Zweden used to start the Radio Chamber Philharmonic, an energy and state of awakening would get over the orchestra and as soon as we played, the sound was simply different, more coherent, as with other conductors. Gergiev might be an extreme example of this. His energy simply reaches the edges of the stage (and beyond, the audience clearly coughs less with him conducting!) and as we say in Dutch: all noses seem to be in the same direction.

When watching the dog whisperer, I really felt Cesar Milan is not so much a dog whisper as a human whisperer. Most of the time the dog just doesn't know what to do, because even though the boss says something, his energy does something else. We do have the advantage of being able to understand what a conductor says, but if the energy during the concert doesn't match the word intention of the rehearsal an orchestra is at loss. Many of us are good enough players to still put on a good performance, but that special energy, that thing you can not describe, is lost. We perform a good technical performance, with beautiful sound etc. but we are and describe still parts and elements of the performance. The goal of becoming one while making music, becoming one organic breathing organism is lost.

After these great experiences and many things to think about, I will however not play a lot in orchestra's the coming weeks, but focus my energy on something new. I will premier the violin concerto by Stephen Melillo (which actually Anne Akiko Meyers was supposed to do) and I am putting all my energy in that. It is a true american concerto, full of virtuosity and beautiful lyricism. I am very exited about it. The premiere is at October 29th. I will try to make a video recording of it and post it here, because it is worth to be played by many other violinists!

Happy practicing!


PS: If you have a chance, many of the Dutch cultural life is being threatened by huge funding cuts of the government. Many orchestra's around the world have showed their support to the Dutch orchestra's by recording a part of the music of Soldier of Orange, also sending out a statement to the Dutch government that their policy is not being supported by many throughout the world. Orchestra's that have recorded include the Royal Philharmonic with Dutoit, Israel Philharmonic with Metha and the Philharmonia Orchestra with Esa-Pekka Salonen. Maybe your orchestra wants to send out a message as well and support the collegues in the Netherlands. Go to to see the films of orchestra's playing it and find out how you can support the Dutch cultural life.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on September 22, 2011 at 6:34 PM

>Happy practicing!

Thank you. I'll need it: I'll be in the orchestra that accompanies you in the Melillo concerto.

Looking forward to seeing you,


ps Beautiful blog, too.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 23, 2011 at 2:48 AM

Carla, I haven't heard from you in a while, and I'm happy that you are active and happy playing with these orchestras.  I will listen more to the conductor you praised so much.  (I use  I like your description of the energy of the musicians zooming up when the conductor walks in.  Although I have only played with amateur orchestras, I have experienced that same feeling.  It is exciting.

From James Patterson
Posted on September 23, 2011 at 8:47 AM

Mr van Zweden is now in here in Dallas, and when he steps on the podium that energy rush is felt in the audience too.  He has done wonders with the Dallas Symphony. We are very fortunate to have him.



This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine