Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Stupendous Week Playing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

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.

Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, home of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

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:

Orchestra 1 dress rehearsal with Maestra Marin Alsop. 120+ pro and amateur musicians on stage, as well as three sets of timpani!

Orchestra 1:
Dvorak Carnival Overture
Debussy Image pour Orchestra, No. 2 Iberia
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Waltz
Mahler Symphony 6, Mov’t 1

Orchestra 2:
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.

Belinda’s experience:

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!

View from the stage during the intermission of the finale concert on Saturday night.

View from the stage during the intermission of the finale concert on Saturday night.



NewWSO Members Making Music in Bryant Park, NYC

Berlioz in Bryant Park, June 21, 2014. Karsten Moran for the New York Times. NewWSO trumpet player Jack Binder is in the green baseball cap.

On Saturday, June 21, two NewWSO musicians participated in the 8th annual Make Music New York Festival, a celebration of outdoor music in all areas of New York City in celebration of the first day of summer.

NewWSO timpanist Jim Austrian and trumpet player Jack Binder took part in an outdoor wind band performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale in Bryant Park, in the heart of Manhattan. Over 200 woodwind and brass players, including 30 members of the West Point Band, performed this piece on a perfect, sunny first day of summer after a morning rehearsal. The New York Times published a piece on all the MMNY performances that day, including pictures of the Berlioz and other events.

For Jim Austrian, the event was definitely worth hauling his timpani from Westchester. Jim stated afterwards, “For me, this one of the great musical events of a long life.  Nearly
everything about it was joyous and fulfilling.” Jack Binder said, “Belioz was excellent.  There were easily 1000, maybe 2000 people in the park…The music was not particularly hard, the conductor was excellent, and everybody was into it.”

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