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Thomas Cooper

An Inaugural Season for the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra: Excerpts...

September 3, 2012 at 9:33 PM

What began as a tragic happening mid-season for the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, when conductor Benjamin Zander was fired, has now transformed into a new and wonderful opportunity. I remember the very conversation in the hallway when my fellow orchestra members and I asked Mr. Zander if we could have another opportunity to play under him again. Now, as the members of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra look towards the inaugural season, excitement builds every day.

I plan to write a blog entry twice a month about the inaugural season of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra with Benjamin Zander. I will detail the journey of an orchestra, as a member, preparing to perform three highly publicized and anticipated concerts, play with world class soloists, and embark on a demanding 12-day concert tour of Holland culminating in a final concert at the legendary Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

(Grote Zaal of the Concertgebouw)

Our repertoire includes Mahler, Strauss, Beethoven, Schumann, Elgar and more. Our soloists range from BPYO members, to the famed concert cellist Alisa Weilerstein, to the young wunderkind pianist George Li, winner of the 2010 Thomas and Evon Cooper Competition. In addition to writing about rehearsals and concerts, I plan to interview some members of the orchestra and, if I am lucky, some of our brilliant soloists. Most importantly however, I hope to share with you the feelings of what it means to be apart of such a journey, and some of the unspoken truths of a young person being in a demanding youth orchestra.

Before all of the mayhem can begin however, there is much work to be done. Seating excerpts were just sent out a couple weeks ago, and many members simply gazed at them, not knowing what to do. These excerpts are from Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. “He’s nuts…,” was what my teacher said when he saw the title of the piece. Ein Heldenleben, the final and perhaps the most demanding tone poem written by Strauss, is a piece that even top orchestras would shy away from. It requires depth and facility within the strings and so much more from the winds. To top it all off, you need a good concertmaster to play some of the whimsical and virtuoso violin solos. When the music was put on the stands of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, the members would begin to breath heavily, wondering how they were going to pull it off (Member, 51’-65’). To give you and idea of just how hard a single part within this piece can get, take a look at the viola part around rehearsal 94-97.

This part would be hard for anyone, but keep in mind that it is incredibly difficult to shift quickly on the viola as the instrument is so big. Now, even if the viola section plays all of that together, it still has to fit in with the other parts of the score. Perhaps we will need a miracle; perhaps we won’t. All I can say is that I am glad that these parts are required excerpts, as the sooner we know our notes the better things will be.

Our first concert featuring Ein Heldenleben is November 25 in Boston's Symphony Hall. The concert will also feature the Elgar Cello Concerto with soloist Alisa Weilerstein and Venezuelan guest conductor Rafael Payare, winner of the 2012 Malko Competition. My next entry will detail our first rehearsal, but until then, I have to go practice excerpts…

From Christian Linke
Posted on September 4, 2012 at 6:44 AM

I am looking forward to reading your tour blog!

I for one never had and probably will never have the chance to play with an orchestra, so it will be exciting for me to read about the daily life as an orchestra member on a concert tour. :)

Feel free to include even the things that might seem not worth mentioning to you (How is it different to travel overseas together with so many musicians, rather than with family for example?)

Good luck!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on September 5, 2012 at 4:15 AM
Just a quick look, and I think you can stay in position for much of that, and use the open A on occasion to make the bigger shifts. Look forward to what you come up with!
From Thomas Cooper
Posted on September 5, 2012 at 4:24 AM
Mendy: Yes I noticed that. Much of the difficulty lies within the tempo and counting and the shifts are just an extra pain.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on September 6, 2012 at 5:17 PM
This brings back fond memories -- more than one kind. Heldenleben (Hero's Life) is a score I've always loved. Boston is one of my adopted cities. Symphony Hall has some great acoustics. Looking forward to first rehearsal update.

On first hearing Heldenleben, I already knew most of Strauss's other tone poems quite well and had played two of them -- Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration). So Part 5 of Heldenleben, with its allusions to the composer's earlier works, struck an especially poignant chord here.

BTW, this isn't Strauss's final tone poem; the Domestic Symphony and Alpine Symphony followed.

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