Halfway through my Peace Corps service, on summer vacation (I taught middle and high school kids so I had a big chunk of my summer off), I traveled up to Budapest, Hungary. What a gorgeous city! While up on the Buda side of the city, we entered the Buda Castle and toured an exhibit they had on display which was 1000 years of music in Hungary. It was a huge exhibit and my friend and I spent a good 3+ hours in there. It was very well done. It had original manuscripts on display, period instruments, information about the composers and listening stations all over. It was so amazing to follow the music on the original manuscript while listening to it in your ear. Wow.
Before we entered though, we happened across these two musicians who were total hams for the camera and very good to boot. We happily left generous tips as we listened to them for a good 15-20 minutes before entering the castle.
Such a beautiful city, Budapest!
Welcome to the second half of my interview with CSO Concertmaster, Jean-Sébastien Roy. Today I thought we’d start with a bit of Symphony 101: what’s a concertmaster?
According to Merriam-Webster,
con·cert·mas·ter noun \ˈkän(t)-sərt-ˌmas-tər\
: a musician who is the leading violin player and the assistant conductor of an orchestra
To gain a better appreciation of this position, know this: If you’re good enough to be in a Symphony orchestra – any instrument, any position – then you’re really good.
Growing up, one of my band directors told us this:
It’s really hard to get into a Symphony. You have to be incredibly talented but once you’re in, you’re in for life. So if you’re not already in an orchestra, someone has to either resign or die for there to be an opening.
Competition is fierce and raw talent alone won’t be enough when you’re auditioning with the other musicians at that level who want it just as badly as you do
WQXR radio out of New York posted an article about auditions which taught me this:
In the past several decades, orchestral auditions have only gotten more competitive. A section position for a major orchestra might have 200-300 applicants, and then 100 will be invited to actually audition,
said Jonathan Mednick, CEO of MyAuditions.com, an orchestra job posting website. Available jobs have decreased as well, he said.
“Three years ago, we were averaging 300 plus jobs per month, and recently we averaged about 120.”
So with that in mind, imagine how a musician feels when making it into a top-notch, professional orchestra. Now imagine being that top-notch professional orchestra’s 1st chair violin.
That’s your Concertmaster.
What additional responsibilities do you have with the CSO as our Concertmaster? The bowings for the music, though most music already have them marked, so I just make sure it all makes sense.
Simply put, a Concertmaster is the 2nd highest ranking member of the orchestra behind the conductor. The conductor always shakes the hand of the concertmaster. The soloist always shakes the hand of the conductor – and the concertmaster.
The concertmaster is the last one on stage before a performance and is responsible for making sure the musicians on stage are all in tune. Once the orchestra has a chance to tune to the concertmaster, he (or she!) then takes the first seat to the left of the conductor, who then joins the musicians on stage and begins the concert.
To give you an idea of how busy he is, last month Jean-Sébastien met with me for this interview on a Tuesday, worked as a coach to the youth orchestra during a rehearsal (Dvorak’s New World and Saint-Saëns) on Wednesday and then on Thursday attended a fundraising dinner. Jean-Sébastien has also played for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra women’s organization lunches and occasionally meets with various people (donors) after concerts.
Smiling, he told me that,
They want me to do some of everything!
He went on to say, that he’s ”…here with a one-year contract, so it’s a bit different than a full-time concertmaster, but with a Music Director leaving, they don’t want to name a permanent concertmaster until the new guy is here.”
The CSO is currently conducting its search for a new music director to succeed our current Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni.
How soon before a performance do you get your music? 2-3 weeks in advance, but if you have another performance, you might not have a chance to look at it. It’s difficulty vs. how well I already know it. Rite of Spring (with the Montreal Symphony) – it was so well-written, so smart, that I sight read it and performed on only a couple rehearsals.
It’s so hard to find well-written music. Music can be complicated, but it’s so hard to perform. Stravinsky was complicated, but easier to perform.
What are your thoughts on leadership within an orchestra: (Leadership is) important, but (sometimes) extremely tricky. It’s a group of very talented and highly trained musicians. You must lead them in a very respectful way. It’s tough from the music director’s point of view. You need someone to make a decision (we’ll do it “this way” or “that way”) but you have to do it in a way to respect the quality of playing, backgrounds, etc.
Where do you see the CSO in 3-5 years? I see a lot of motivation in both the administration and the musicians. It’s had a rough patch – they’ve been recovering for 3-4 years. They’re back in good shape, so they can grow again and make it better than what it was before. A lot of it hinges on who is chosen as the music director – with good chemistry with the musicians, the administration and the community, you can just make miracles. I hope we’ll get lucky and get a great person and a great musician. I hope it will get attention again in the community.
For what do you think the CSO will be known? Any particular specialty? Hard to say. With Maestro Zeitouni, it would be vocals since he is amazing with singers. It all depends on the next Music Director.
Why aren’t more soloists pulled from the orchestra itself?
What sells is a soloist.
Jean-Sébastien explained to me how typically speaking, a concertmaster will play one solo per year but, in his case, with an already planned out schedule and a one-year contract put together only a couple months prior to the start of the season, it wasn’t possible to add a solo for him this year.
Speaking of solos, what happens if you break a string?
If something breaks, it’s usually the E-string. If the soloist breaks a string, he can take the Concertmaster’s violin who takes the associate concertmaster’s violin who, then doesn’t play. If I change a string, I need to play about 4-5 hours before it settles in tune. (Will keep going flat) The E-string takes far less time. For that reason, I usually keep an extra string in my pocket when I go on stage.
With what other ensembles have you played? Edmonton Symphony, Boston Symphony – they have an incredible hall – very old – no technology, they just made it right. It’s amazing. (There are) amazing acoustics in a new symphony hall in Montreal – they have to rely on the technology.
What do you say to people who don’t think they like classical music? What experience do they have that would make them think they don’t like it? Classical music has so much variety. You are bound to like at least something. I’m sure you can find something you like. There are a lot of preconceived notions. It’s challenging – depends on the community.
We come across as very serious so sometimes that doesn’t help.
It’s not easy, but classical music DOES sell.
Other than Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, what violin music should I have in my music library? Bach sonatas and partitas; Paganini Caprice; Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms violin concerti.
Here’s Jascha Heifetz playing Paganini Caprice
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know our new concertmaster, Jean-Sébastien Roy. If you’d like to learn more about Jean-Sébastien and his music, visit his website and his bio on the CSO website. If you’d really like to get to know him, I recommend doing so through music. Holiday pops concert is the first weekend in December and the next classical music concert is the 2nd weekend in January. If you are new to the symphony, try it out. It’s really good and well – you may just discover you like it!
Thanks very much to Jean-Sébastien for granting me permission to use some of the photos off his own website.
- The orchestra: An introduction (operaveritatis.wordpress.com)
Not long after he was named our new concertmaster, I reached out to Canadian violinist, Jean-Sébastien Roy, to see if he’d be interested in letting me interview him for my blog. Giocosity was barely two months old and I hadn’t even met with the French horn section yet, so I was coming to him out of nowhere with absolutely no interviews under my belt. Within a day he responded back with a yes and even offered to do it over the phone if I weren’t able to wait until October when he was planning to move to Columbus.
Wow. Talk about above and beyond!
Last month I had the pleasure of meeting him downtown where he was kind enough to meet with me for a couple of hours while I asked him a myriad questions – about him, his music and his time so far here in Columbus.
If you’re just getting to know him, Jean-Sébastien Roy played as guest concertmaster with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra on two different occasions last year: the waltzes concert at the new year and the Mahler concert in February. He has played as guest concertmaster with orchestras all over the world – including with the Strasbourg Philharmonic in Strasbourg, France, where I spent my senior year in college, so I definitely wanted to ask him about that.
Here’s my interview. Enjoy!
Originally from outside Montreal (Joliette), Quebec, Canada, Jean-Sébastien joins the Columbus Symphony Orchestra as our acting concertmaster for the 2013-2014 season. In talking with him, I learned that he already had connections to Ohio.
Here are some of the basics:
Education: Le Conservatoire de Montréal, Cleveland Institute of Music
Home Life: I have a younger sister (5 years) who is a pianist. Mom and Dad are musicians, too (Piano and guitar), but make their living at other jobs. I also have a dog back home in Canada.
Any fun hobbies? I’ve become a wine enthusiast. (And yes, I like the Alsatian Rieslings!)
Why the violin? It’s always been the violin – since I was two. I started lessons at age four.
How often do you practice? Every day, but I sometimes have to take a day off from time to time. It (orchestra playing) can get very tiring.
Do you ever practice as a section? Not usually. (Sectionals are) used more with youth orchestras. If you have time, it’s great, but it’s usually only used if there’s an occasional very difficult piece.
Instrument: 1745 Carlo Antonio Testore, Jacob Eury bow made in 1830 (From 2006-2009, Roy played a 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivarius on loan to him after winning the 2006 Canada Council for the Arts Music Bank Competition)
What do you gain from performing? I gain a thrill of playing – you go for it. The public wants to hear this piece, they’re here for a good time. You get on stage, you play your piece, people clap for you. When you rehearse, you start and stop. The energy isn’t the same. If you screw up, nobody’s there to hear. At concert time, you have adrenaline in you – you just go for it. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not as perfect as in a rehearsal because you’re nervous, but it’s a better experience.
COLUMBUS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
What do you think of the CSO so far? I love it – it’s a great orchestra. They respond very well to the conductor. They really care and wish to make the concert very good. I’m still new, but I’m very happy with it.
Is it nice to be able to work with fellow Canadians Jean-Marie Zeitouni and librarian, Jean-Etienne Lederer? Yes, but also Alicia Hui (Principal 2nd Violin) is from Canada – from Edmonton.
What should people here know about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra? We’re just a bunch of people getting together and playing music. It’s all very interesting with fun people, passionate people. It’s very demanding to perform, so we might look a little still and focused on stage, but there’s a lot of passion with every performer.
Which concerts are you most looking forward to playing this year? Carmen in Concert, the Bruckner, Guy Braunstein (Former Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic – will be playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto)
Are you looking forward to any particular, upcoming guest conductors? Michael Stern – and Jacques Lacombe (French-Canadian). Jacques Lacombe – he conducted when I was 10 at a festival put on by my teacher and I’ve seen him from time to time since then.
Ohio Theatre or Southern Theatre? Southern has better acoustics, but with a smaller place, it’s easier to fill. The Ohio – the most beautiful I’ve seen in my life.
Place to perform outside of Columbus: Europe in general – anywhere in Europe. This music was born there, there’s so much history. America has the incredible halls. When you set foot in Europe, there are great halls where great performers have been for centuries, it’s very special. You feel like you’re a part of its history.
Composers: Schubert, Richard Strauss, J.S. Bach, W. A. Mozart
Musical Era: End of the classical / beginning of romantic Mozart and Schubert were writing incredible music. Beethoven just opened the door to everything.
Show off pieces for the violin: Brahms Hungarian dances
Take a moment to listen to this video of Jean-Sébastien Roy’s playing Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 20.
Pieces for the Violin: Mendelssohn violin concerto is a beautiful piece. Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major Op us 77, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 Opus 47 “Kreutzer Sonata.”
Violinists: Itzhak Perlman, Jascha Haifetz, Nathan Milstein, I love the old guys!
Conductors: Wilhelm Furtwängler (Berlin Phil 40’s), Sergiu Celibidache, Leonard Bernstein
Performances: Hard to tell – very different playing in a symphony, playing solo, or in a chamber setting – most are special for different reasons. The Mahler #2 was nice – especially being the concertmaster.
You just arrived last month, so what parts of the city have you explored? German Village, Short North, Campus Area (I think!)
Can you sing the OSU Fight Song or Alma Mater? Not yet, but I just arrived. (OK – I’ll grant him that, but I came prepared and brought the music for the fight song with me just in case. Unfortunately, we met in a fairly noisy place, so Jean-Sébastien wasn’t really able to pull out his violin to play it for me. Next time.)
Any plans to see the Blue Jackets? Not sure yet – I don’t go that often. Tickets in Montreal are really expensive. (For you hockey fans out there, Montreal took on Columbus this past Friday and unfortunately, the Habs beat our Blue Jackets by a score of 3-2. Sigh.)
Igor Stravinsky – Rite of spring: Genius? Or just plain weird? Genius – the rhythm was incredible.
Finally – and most important – what’s your favorite Jeni’s Ice Cream flavor? There was an almond one that was amazing. I also like the Poached Pear Riesling.
Again with the Riesling. I think he might just need to check out some of our local wineries!
Come back on Wednesday when we talk about Jean-Sébastien’s role as concertmaster, his thoughts on leadership within the orchestra as well as what violin music we should all have in our music libraries! In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Jean-Sébastien and his music, visit his website and his bio on the CSO website.
Thanks very much to Jean-Sébastien for granting me permission to use some of the photos off his own website.
Watch next week for my interview with Jean-Sébastien Roy, our new concertmaster with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
Super nice guy – you’ll want to meet him!
In the meantime, check out that violin. My six-greats grandfather, Capt. Nathaniel Scribner, was only two years old when it was made in 1745. Yes – it’s older than either of our respective countries! Learn more about it next week!
Picture borrowed from The Violin Channel.
Last weekend, my mom and I went to the Ohio Renaissance Festival in Harveysburg, OH – near Waynesville (north of Cincinnati) – for their Highland Weekend. As always, there were plenty of musical groups out and about playing. Some were set up under a tree and others played various stages throughout the realm. Others marched around getting attention thanks to lots of bagpipes – including the Cincinnati Caledonian Pipes and Drums Band. We heard them at the end of the day by which time my phone’s battery was pretty much dead, so I didn’t get any pictures or recordings, but man! They were incredible. One piper was just a teenager and boy was he good! We also saw the Tartan Terrors and listened to Albannach while walking around the village. (You can’t NOT hear bagpipes!)
Before we saw the pipers though, we enjoyed the group Father, Son and Friends playing some drinking songs at the Aleing Knight’s Pub. I missed the very beginning of this number so I don’t recall the name, but that’s OK – this gives you a great idea of the music they played. The fiddler is Mr. John Lardinois from the Dayton Philharmonic!
I was enjoying a Turkey Legge, so I propped my iPhone up on the not-quite-even table (thing) we were using to hold our lunches and cold beverages. Couldn’t avoid the background chatter / voices, so sorry about that, but it turned out ok!
Around the village
Moving around the village, called Willy Nilly on the Wash, we came across one of my favorites, Mr. Kyle Meadows. He plays the hammered dulcimer and is at the Renaissance Festival each and every year. This is Paddy O’Brian’s Jig.
I’ve bought one of his CDs before, but this year, he had a new CD of Christmas music which my mom bought – and to which we listened on the way home! Sure, it’s only September, but we were in the mood!
It’s amazing how light the hammers are and how easy it is to get a nice sound on it. Playing would just be a matter of learning where the notes are and fine-tuning your coordination. Kyle told us that he started playing the hammered dulcimer back in his 20s when he walked into a music store and thought it looked cool and sounded great. He bought one, taught himself and now plays all his own arrangements of the music he plays.
You just never know where a love of music will lead you.
If you’ve never been to one, you’d be surprised at how many really good musicians play at these festivals. Some do it just for fun a few weekends each year and others make a living working the renaissance circuit. One of my favorites – and one group I’ve never even seen – is Cantiga. I showed a video of them pulled off youtube a while back playing some early music that, more often than not, they get from partial manuscripts. They then do the research and finish the music up based on what the research shows it probably would have been back in the day. I sure would love for them to work their way north to the Ohio Ren Fest!
Of course, I also wish the Minstrels of Mayhem (Ahem!) would make a comeback!
OK, fine. Not a real video, but hey – it brings back memories!
Up top is a picture of Craig of Farrington, as passing minstrel flirting with all the ladies of the village! (Including my mom – also in the picture!) He’s one of the original members of the Minstrels of Mayhem (Ahem!) and a part of the recording linked above.
- Faire to Middlin’ (sltimewellwasted.wordpress.com)
- Welcome to the Renaissance! (I mean Middle Ages?) (isaacsotero.wordpress.com)
- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme… (moresandinmyhourglass.wordpress.com)
- A Look At The Maryland Renaissance Festival (eyeonannapolis.net)
- Maryland Renaissance Festival 10-12-13 (gerenm.net)
- Weekend Recap (skinnyjeansandchaneldreams.wordpress.com)
- The Highland Games, Feast of Fooles are back at the KC Ren Fest (weekendkc.com)
- Thank you, KC Ren Fest! (weekendkc.com)
- Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire: Bards, minstrels, knights beckon (gazettetimes.com)
- Ladies of the Renaissance Festival (rosecoloredphoto.wordpress.com)
- Make way for Shamrocks and Shenanigans at the KC Ren Fest (weekendkc.com)
Last month, I wrote about a friend of mine, Daric Gill, who is a local artist who sometimes incorporates music into some of his art. The example I gave was of a line of illustrations he has called the ToeHeads in which he draws fun, toe-shaped characters in a variety of scenes, some of which are musically themed. I’m happy to say I have two of those on my walls and while one of mine has a musical theme, they both are tied to my love of knitting.
Yes, like many musicians, Daric obviously takes requests!
Daric is an interdisciplinary artist which explains why he does illustrations on reclaimed wood. He also does sculpting and painting. There are times however, he takes his skills from a couple of those to turn something that was thrown away (or about to be thrown away) into something beautiful.
My musician friends may cringe at the thought, but there was a time when a bunch of student violins were going to be tossed in the trash. They weren’t in very good shape as the elements had somehow gotten to them. If you’re curious as to what happens when a violin is exposed to the elements, Holly Mulcahy, Concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra, wrote about Wallace Hartley, Bandleader and violinist on the Titanic. In her blog, Neo Classical, she wrote about how his violin that was supposedly found floating in the Atlantic Ocean a couple of weeks after the ship sank. She wrote of an experiment conducted where a violin was essentially destroyed in just one night of sitting in saltwater.
It does not take long to ruin a beautiful violin – no matter how well it was made. String instruments are fragile.
The student violins weren’t nearly as damaged as the violin sacrificed in that experiment but they could no longer be played so Daric took them in and did some amazing things.
One thing he did was to combine one of his fun ToeHeads to decorate the backside of a violin. There looks to be a little bit of math thrown in for good measure, too! This next piece is something I really like. He’s taken the necks off two violins and turned them into the base of a decorative shelf. What do you think of this? I think it’s absolutely beautiful. This next piece is actually a Xylophone made with Maple and African Rosewood. The colors of the wood are gorgeous! This next shelf was originally a music rack on a piano that was marked damaged. Sure you can always use it to start a bonfire << group shudder! >> but why not put it to good use as a shelf in your home? Daric even kept the original manufacturer’s emblem on it after restoring it, which I think makes the whole piece that much more beautiful and interesting. And here’s the Victor Piano and Organ Co logo – a company with a rather strange website! I’m so glad it was kept on this shelf though. Definitely lends an air of history to it. The emblem itself states that “We hereby warrant this piano for five years against defective workmanship or material.” Hmm…I wonder - does Daric offers warranties as well? Music is not confined to great concert halls. It’s not set aside solely for those with unlimited incomes and it’s certainly not limited to what you can hear on an iPod. Music is an audio medium but it never has to be confined to only one of our senses. Music and certainly the love of music can both live on well beyond the use of an old student violin or a damaged piano.
Music is art. Art is music and together, they can combine to bring us joy in every aspect of our life – whether we’re at a concert, playing an instrument at home, hanging a new, 3-D picture on our walls or just placing a decorative item on a shelf.
The combination of art and music together is life. It is happiness. Look what my friend, Daric, has done. There really are no limits.
Special thanks again to Daric for graciously allowing me the use of all his pictures!
Click here to see some of Daric’s musically-themed ToeHeads.
Daric Gill has a new blog: The Arting Artist. Please check it out and leave comments showing your support.