Last week, four NewWSO musicians traveled to Baltimore, MD to participate in Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Academy Week, a sort of “band camp” for amateur orchestral musicians. Trumpet players Ira Spier, NewWSO Executive Director and bassist Belinda Kan, and NewWSO conductor and violist Benjamin Niemczyk jumped into the unknown as first-time participants playing under the direction of conductor Marin Alsop. They all first heard about it through a New York Times article from 2012.
While some other professional orchestras around the country offer a side-by-side experience, no program quite matches BSO’s full week of immersion. And immersion it was! The week began on Sunday, July 15 and culminated with a finale concert in the BSO’s Meyerhoff concert hall on Saturday, July 21. 110+ participants were divided into Orchestra 1 and Orchestra 2, and both groups played with the pros. Orchestra 1 played the first half of the finale concert, Orchestra 2 played the second half. The concert program was:
Dvorak Carnival Overture
Debussy Image pour Orchestra, No. 2 Iberia
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Waltz
Mahler Symphony 6, Mov’t 1
Mahler Symphony 6, Mov’t 3
Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, Mov’ts 1, 2, 4, 5
See more picture on our Facebook page.
The Academy Week participants had four rehearsals with the BSO musicians and Maestra Alsop before the final concert. In addition, there were optional “add-on” musical experiences available, such as a solo recital (which Ira bravely performed), chamber orchestra (in which Belinda and Ed played), and chamber ensembles with a professional musician.
At the beginning of the week, after Sunday’s first chamber orchestra rehearsal, I said to myself and to others, ‘What did I get myself into?’ In one week, I had to (ok, chose to) learn a Mendelssohn overture, a Mozart symphony and a Beethoven symphony for the Thursday night chamber orchestra concert, as well as Symphony Fantastique and the Mahler 6 movement for the Saturday night full orchestra concert – and I didn’t know what ANY of the pieces sounded like!
Amazingly, it all came together, as it always does. It was such a surreal experience to hear this gorgeous sound emanating from around me. And then I realized that I was about to help *make* the sound, which was even more surreal. I confided in my stand partner (one of the pro bassists) that I was very tense at the rehearsals on stage, but he was kind, understanding, and gave me some good advice about how to handle the anxiety. After speaking with him I really got to enjoy Saturday’s dress rehearsal and final concert. I learned so much in such a short time, and from the nicest group of musicians I have ever met. And now I am obsessed with “Symphonie Fantastique,” which was previously unknown to me. It was an unforgettable experience.
Surprisingly, many of the Academy participants were returning for their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th times (this was the fifth year of the BSO Academy). It shows what a unique program this is and how truly welcoming the BSO players are. They went out of their way to help the amateurs, and they told us that our enthusiasm reminded them of the significance of what they do as a job. So three cheers for Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Academy Week. If you are at all thinking about participating, no time like the present to start planning for next year!