After a thrilling end to the Jacksonville Symphony’s season last week, I’m in Calgary, Canada, conducting the excellent Calgary Philharmonic. Even this far north, the sun in shining and couples sit at coffee tables on the sidewalks soaking up the rays, replenishing diminished vitamin D levels. Meanwhile, all across the globe orchestral musicians are putting their tails into mothballs, and discovering with horror that their white tuxedo jackets have turned an even more alarming shade of yellow. It must be summer!
So what do we musicians do in the summer, once the season has ended? Some orchestras keep playing. I’ll be assisting the New York Philharmonic next week as they play concerts in Central Park. It’s a wonderful start to summer, as tens of thousands of people assemble to hear orchestral music. But most orchestras take a break, allowing their members to recharge, or as often as not, travel to music festivals to play with colleagues from across the country.
I love music festivals. There is something very special about their atmosphere: relaxed yet more intense than the winter season. I know many musicians feel the same way. Perhaps festivals remind us of childhood orchestra camps with the excitement of being away from parents’ watchful gazes, playing music all day long with likeminded fanatics. The Jacksonville Symphony will be well represented this summer, with our musicians playing in the Eastern and Brevard music festivals in North Carolina, and the festivals of Colorado, Grand Teton in Yellowstone National Park, and Lucerne, Switzerland, among others.
I will be spending three weeks working with the remarkable Fellows of the Music Academy of the West in idyllic Santa Barbara, California. Set up in 1947 by the legendary soprano Lotte Lehman and the conductor Otto Klemperer, the academy trains the next generation of classical musicians. The faculty contains a dizzying roll call of stars from Marilyn Horne to Leon Fleisher. I’m conducting the final of the concerto competition, which will begin with a performance of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, which you may remember from last week’s concerts in Jacksonville. In a classic example of how small the music world is, the son of Jacksonville Symphony musicians Laurie and Kevin Casseday, Sam, will be playing bass.
Summer is also a great time to guest conduct, and I’m looking forward to working with one of my favourite orchestras, the National Symphony of Ireland. On top of a week of concerts, we are making the first recording of a piano concerto by Belfast composer Philip Hammond. The soloist is from Belfast, pianist Michael McHale, and of course, I am too, so we have a trio of northerners invading Dublin.
I am tremendously excited about next season. I can’t wait to be in Jacksonville full time, and we are playing a really broad range of repertoire from the 18th to 21st centuries that should engage existing and new audiences. Unseen by the audience are the many hours of preparation that we musicians spend learning all this exciting music. Once October arrives, every week is a new challenge, and one mustn’t fall off the treadmill. So perhaps my favourite part of summer is the time away from the podium, slowly learning the masterpieces that are coming up.
A friend once compared learning a score to making risotto. You start it off, walk away for a few minutes, come back and give it a little stir, then leave to let it bubble away again. Gradually the flavour develops. Music is the same, except the minutes are weeks or months, even years. You learn a piece’s basic shape, but then you need time to think about it, to dream about it, to wake up with it running through your head. Only then do you have something interesting to impart to the orchestra and audience.
Have a wonderful summer, and I’ll look forward to seeing many of you in October.
Reprinted with kind permission from the Florida Times-Union.