Houston Symphony cellist Jim Denton loves to ride his Harley-Davidson. Violinist Kiju Joh is a foodie and loves the mountains of Colorado. Principal bassoonist Rian Craypo loves to bargain hunt and scavenge thrift stores for her knitting, felting and sewing projects. Timpanist Ronald Holdman happily waves at passersby while driving his antique 1952 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe two-door around the neighborhood. Trumpeter Anthony Prisk dreams of car racing and trombonist Phillip Freeman is a closeted architect.
Houston Symphony folks are interesting, and getting to know them adds another layer to our personal relationship with and connection to the music.
We all have a melody that makes us blurt out, “They're playing my song!” Perhaps it carries a personal meaning or message, evokes a déjà-vous, been-there-done-that feeling or maybe, if we're lucky, it gets us movin’ and groovin’.
We all have those formative moments where music deepens our emotional context of an experience. Like your favorite movie, it lacks intensity without the soundtrack.
For most musicians, a single experience signals the beginning of their artistic journey.
“I remember being in youth orchestra in high school rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5,” Adam Dinitz, an English horn player with the Houston Symphony, explains. “When I heard the gorgeous French horn melody in the second movement, I realized that playing in an orchestra is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Whenever I hear that piece, I take a moment to realize how lucky I am that I've been able to do what I love.”
Sometimes, the musical connection is so strong that it makes you relive a special occasion, a dance or a moment in time.
Do you remember what you were listening to the moment you fell in love? How about the lullaby your mother or father sung to you as you fell asleep as a child? Can you recite the lyrics to the song that consoled you after your first catastrophic break-up?
“If my heart is feeling a little achy-breaky, I usually revert to romantic oldies, especially Diana Ross and The Supremes,” Joh says. “Their songs perfectly sum up the simplicity and complexity of love. When I am feeling optimistic or romantic, I listen to 'Someday We'll Be Together.' And my most sassy self would listen to 'You Keep Me Hangin' On.'"
Your connection might even extend beyond the tune itself and onto the person behind its creation. Like grandma’s cookies that no one, regardless of their culinary experience, can replicate to perfection, each artist interprets the same composition differently.
Not everyone’s Brahms Violin Concerto is the same. Not every conductor shapes Beethoven’s symphonies with similar artistic intent. The interpretation of Mozart’s works can escalate a civil conversation into a heated and passionate debate.
Emmanuel Ax might as well be playing a completely different instrument than Andre Watts or Kirill Gerstein. It may be exactly the same physical piano, but your ear convinces you otherwise, as you tune in to each artist's interpretative nuances.
Ax has robust hands, conductor Jimmy Gaffigan has a petite stature and principal flutist Aralee Dorough has an endless supply of air, courtesy of her imaginary third lung — check out her solo in Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 for proof.
Beyond these physical differences, the artists bring their life experiences — the good, the bad and the ugly — into their music making.
But how can you know what life experiences each artist brings to his or her instrument? You wouldn’t just rush the stage and begin a conversation with them, would you? What if it was ok to do just that?
For its 2011-2012 season, the Houston Symphony’s new ACCESS concert series, hosted by NPR Morning Edition feature correspondent Miles Hoffman, makes it possible.
Check them out: ACCESS allows, well, access to the musicians themselves. Get to know them at a pre-concert mixer and ask your most daring and probing questions. And for the under-40 crowd, Young Professionals Backstage (YPB) gets you a backstage pass to the coolest places.
So be social. Classical musicians don’t bite.
Adam Dinitz, Houston Symphony's English horn player, gives you a sneak peek at his solo in Ravel's Rhapsodie Espagnole.