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Neal Gittleman Q&A


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What’s the difference between a Symphony and a Philharmonic?
Everybody’s question number one! There are three different terms to describe an ensemble like us: symphony, orchestra, and philharmonic. They’re interchangeable. The words’ etymologies show why each of them is a perfectly good way to describe what we are. Symphony comes from the Greek symphonos: syn (together) plus phone (sound), so a symphony is an ensemble that sounds together. (At least we hope so!) Orchestra, as you already know from “Orchestra 101," also comes from the Greek, and means the place where musicians perform. Philharmonic is Greek, too: philo (loving) plus harmonica (music), So the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra is an orchestra in Dayton for (and of) people who love music. Who knows why we’re a philharmonic orchestra, Cincinnati is a symphony orchestra and Cleveland is just an orchestra? They’re just different names for the same thing.

What about a chorus and a choir? Same difference? Pretty much. The words are interchangeable in the orchestral context. Our chorus, directed by Hank Dahlman, is the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus. But it could just as easily be the Dayton Philharmonic Choir. On the other hand, in a church context, you never refer to the chorus—only to the choir. I suspect that goes back to the fact that churches used to have (and some still do, of course) a section between the congregation and the altar called the choir where guess-who sat. But the Choir of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a chorus. And the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus is a choir.

What’s a pops orchestra? It’s an orchestra (or a symphony or a philharmonic) that plays pops music, a purely American invention usually attributed to John Philip Sousa (with a big assist from Arthur Fiedler). Sousa believed that the best way to get folks to enjoy music was to give them a little bit of everything—some classical potboilers, some opera arias, some novelty numbers, and lots and lots of marches. At the Boston Pops Arthur Fiedler honed Sousa’s idea into a three-part formula: (1) a march, an overture, and a light classical piece to open; (2) a short classical concerto; (3) show-tunes and other lighter fare to finish. The idea was to make money at the Boston Pops concerts to subsidize the less profitable offerings by the Boston Symphony. Nowadays, many pops concerts consist of a short orchestral first half followed by a “big name” popular artist after intermission. For pops in Dayton, you come to hear the Dayton Philharmonic and Neal Gittleman, so you know who that is. For pops in Cincinnati you hear the Cincinnati Pops and Erich Kunzel—which is just the Cincinnati Symphony in red jackets. For pops in Boston you hear the Boston Pops and Keith Lockhart—which is most of the Boston Symphony plus some substitute musicians.

What does the Concertmaster do, anyway? The Concertmaster is the leader of the First Violin Section. In fact, the British term is Leader. By extension, the Concertmaster is also the leader of the entire string section, and, since the strings are the biggest family of the orchestra, the Concertmaster is, in effect, the “lead musician” in the orchestra. The Concertmaster’s duties include overseeing the orchestra’s tuning (see below), supervising the bowing process (a complicated collaboration among the string principals to ensure that all the string players’ bows move together in a coordinated way), and translating conductor-speak into string-speak. (The conductor might say, “Can you make the sound a little more atmospheric?” and the Concertmaster will translate that into, “Upper part of the bow, light pressure.”) The Concertmaster is also responsible for playing violin solos in orchestral repertoire, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1.

What’s the deal with applause between movements? Is it OK? Not OK? This is perhaps the thorniest question of all. Back in the day, there was always applause between movements. And if there was enough applause, the movement would be repeated before going on to the next. (That’s the derivation of the word encore—not an extra piece on the program, but something played again, immediately, at the audience’s demand.) The modern tradition, however, is not to applaud between movements, a tradition that I suspect is connected to recordings. It also may have to do with the stuffy concert-as-quasi-religious-experience attitude that took hold in this country as classical music was popularized in the mid-20th century. Although some conductors and players are annoyed by between-movement applause, it doesn’t bother me. If people clap between movements it means (a) they liked it, or (b) they’re new to classical concerts. Both of those are good things. That’s why I try to politely acknowledge the applause, then move on to the next movement. There are very few situations where applause between movements is really inappropriate—when the composer wants the movements to proceed without pause—but then it’s incumbent on the performer to make it clear in the performance and in their demeanor that a continuity of silence is required. And what about conductors who shush between-movement applause? I think they’re just plain rude!

Still on applause… European applause traditions seem to be different from ours. I heard a concert in Germany where the audience clapped for a LONG time at the end of the program (10 minutes, I would guess), and this appeared to be perfectly normal, with nothing particularly special about the program. In France, at the end of a chamber music program the players made one curtain call, then did not appear again until the audience started clapping in unison. I have never seen Europeans give a standing ovation but this seems almost obligatory here. Are there differences between European and American traditions? Apparently! Everyone has their own unique way of doing things, and there’s no need at all for us to worry about how ours are different from anyone else’s. I do love the French (and Spanish and Mexican and others’) tradition of clapping in unison to express extreme pleasure and demand an encore (or at least another curtain call). But having lived in France for a couple of years, I can assure you that sometimes even mediocre performances get the clap-clap-clap treatment. So everyone has their own tradition and everyone’s tradition can be overdone!

What do you do when the audience wants an encore from a visiting musician and is clapping the house down but the musician doesn’t like to play encores? As my father used to love to say, “You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.” (You can read that joke if you like to, but it makes more sense when read to you!) When the audience wants an encore and the soloist doesn’t want to play one, the soloist doesn’t play one! Fortunately, most guests are more than happy to oblige.

Why do you always shake the Concertmaster’s hand? The best answer I ever heard to this perennial question came from my first boss, James DePreist, then Music Director of the Oregon Symphony. Jimmy’s answer: “Because I can’t shake everybody’s hand.” That’s my answer, too. I’m not just shaking the Concertmaster’s hand. I’m symbolically shaking the hands of every single musician onstage.

Why is the orchestra arranged onstage the way it is? This is a mix of tradition, conductors’ preferences, and acoustics. The basic orchestral setup is fairly standard: strings down in front, woodwinds in the middle, brass and percussion in the back. This reflects musical and acoustical practicalities. There are more strings than anything else, and they are the core of the orchestral sound, so it makes sense to have them in the front. The brass and percussion can play the loudest, so it makes sense to have them in the back. By process of elimination, the woodwinds end up in the middle.

Seating of the string section is the most variable. At the DPO we currently use this formation, which is probably the most common:


My predecessor as Music Director, Isaiah Jackson, preferred the 19th century European layout, like this:


That creates a “stereo effect” with first and second violins divided left and right in the treble range and the cellos/basses and trombones/tubas divided left and right in the bass range. I occasionally use this layout:


but only for baroque and early classical repertoire where there’s a lot of answering back and forth between the violin sections (and also for Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony which is a special case).

If you watch the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concerts on PBS, you’ll see that they have their basses arrayed along the back wall of the stage.

That works because (a) basses sound great when they’re against a wall and (b) we don’t perceive bass sound directionally (that’s why, if you have a cutting edge stereo system, your bass speakers can be anywhere in the room but your other speakers must be placed according to the desired left-right balance).

In the woodwinds, the general rule is flutes and oboes in the first row, clarinets and bassoons in the second, with the principal players (First Flute, First Oboe, First Clarinet, and First Bassoon) in a tight square so they can hear each other well and blend their sounds easily. The second and third players in each section then sit in order next to their principal.

At the DPO we place our horns dead-center or slightly left-of-center as you look at the stage, with the rest of the brass in the upper-right corner of the stage—trumpets in front, trombones and tuba in back. Other orchestras—such as the China National Symphony, which played here last May—array the brass in a long row across the back. I prefer to put the “heavy brass” (trumpets and trombones) facing at a slight angle because their direct, head-on sound can sometimes be a bit overpowering and difficult to control.

Placement of the timpani and percussion is often on a space-available basis. We generally place Timpanist Don Donnett center-stage or slightly off-center with the percussion in the back-left corner. But when we play bigger pieces, we squeeze the percussionists in wherever they fit. Harp and keyboards get similar treatment—usually on the left-hand side of the stage between the strings and the percussion, but sometimes on the opposite side if there’s more room there (or if their music is mostly with the cellos and basses).

When the DPO first moved into the Schuster Center and for the first couple of seasons afterwards, we experimented with a variety of placements of the orchestra: pulling everyone downstage as much as possible; pushing everyone upstage into the orchestra shell; putting the violas on the outside and the cellos on the inside; horns lined up five-in-a-row; horns stacked in rows of three-plus-two. We tried all sorts of combinations and asked the musicians for feedback each time we changed something. After a couple of years of experimenting we settled on our current configuration, which seems—on balance—to give us the best sound in the hall and to allow the musicians to hear each other well.

Is there a way to tell which are the Principal players by where they sit onstage? Principal players are section leaders, so they’re scattered all over the stage. The only way to tell would be if we gave you a map. And here it is! Arrows point to all the Principal players.

When the China National Symphony played, they had the winds, brass and percussion on risers and it looked great. Why don’t you do that? Actually, we did that during our experimenting-with-the-hall phase. Although our acousticians said they thought we should probably be playing with the orchestra flat on the floor (based on their experience with halls of similar design), we tried just about every kind of riser configuration imaginable. In the end, after much consideration (and lots of polling of the musicians), we decided the acousticians were right. Risers look great, but flat-on-the-floor sounds best. We do use a few risers—for the back stands of violins (so they can see better), for the basses (for sightlines, but also to amplify and focus their sound), and for the harp (ditto). We do use risers for all of our educational concerts, so the kids in the audience can see everyone in the orchestra clearly.

What do the brass players dump on the floor when they clean out their instruments? Notwithstanding the colloquial term “spit valves”, the liquid they empty from their horns is condensation, not saliva. When brass players blow into their instruments, the warm, humid air of their breath causes condensation to build up inside the tubing. Eventually this affects the sound and the water needs to be emptied. This happens to woodwind instruments, too. Between movements you’ll see wind players swabbing out their instruments with cloth to remove condensation. When you see the winds fiddling with their keys, it’s usually the same deal. Condensation tends to build up around the woodwind instruments’ key holes. When it does, players take a piece of cigarette paper, hold it over the hole, then depress the key. This absorbs the moisture. Now that hardly anyone rolls their own cigarettes, it’s woodwind players (and the occasional aging hippie) who keep Zig-Zag and other cigarette paper manufacturers in business!

What is the tuning note? Orchestras tune to the note A. A is the tuning note because every string instrument has an open A-string. Tune the A-string to the oboe, tune the other strings relative to the A-string, and you’re tuned. Here’s our tuning procedure: The Concertmaster stands to get everyone’s attention and supervise the tuning. The Principal Oboe gives an A. The winds and brass adjust their instruments so they match the oboe’s A. Then the low strings do the same. Then the upper strings. The oboe gives the tuning note because (a) the oboe’s timbre makes it easy for everyone to hear; (b) the oboe is—or used to be, anyway—harder to adjust than other instruments, so it’s better for everyone to match the oboe than vice versa. (That’s also why when there’s an instrument with really inflexible tuning—organ or solo piano, for instance—we tune to that); and (c) over the years, tuning has become oboists’ specialty, so giving an A that’s dead-on like Eileen Whalen’s is a core skill for all Principal Oboes.

Are DPO concerts available in broadcast or recorded format? All the concerts on our Classical, Classical Connections, Chamber Orchestra, Family, Young People’s, and High School concert series are rebroadcast on Dayton Public Radio (WDPR, 88.1 and WDPG, 89.9). Look at the bottom of the program page in your program book and you’ll see the broadcast date and time. Although our concerts are not available as recordings, some orchestras have begun to make selected concert performances available in streaming audio and podcast formats, and I hope the DPO will soon join their ranks.

What’s the difference between a First Violin and a Second Violin? When you’re young and begin to play, that’s your first violin. Then, when you grow up and get a better instrument, that’s your second violin. But seriously, folks… Generally, the First Violins take the higher parts, the Seconds the lower parts. The Firsts normally play the melody, and the Seconds either have the melody in a lower octave, a supporting harmony line, or some kind of accompanimental figure. Despite how it may have been in your high school orchestra (if you were lucky enough to have such a thing), the Firsts are not necessarily better violinists than the Seconds.

What kind of jobs do the players have besides being in the DPO? While there are several dozen full-time symphony orchestras in the U.S. (the closest being Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Cleveland), the vast majority, like the DPO, provide only part-time employment for the musicians. (There are, of course, times in the season when our guys work just as hard and just as much as full-timers. Then the only difference is between full-time and part-time pay scales!) Most of our musicians supplement their DPO income with other work. A few work outside music—one of our cellists is a pediatric anesthesiologist, a recently retired violinist is a philosophy professor at U.D.—but most are full-time musicians: they play with us, they teach at primary and secondary schools or universities, they give private lessons. Some substitute from time to time with nearby full-time orchestras. (If you hear the Columbus Symphony, you’ll sometimes see a few of our players onstage or listed on their roster as regular substitutes. Same thing at the Cincinnati Symphony.) Some of our musicians play in other part-time orchestras, too (like the West Virginia Symphony). So our musicians are some of the hardest-working professionals you’ll ever encounter.

Who chooses the music? Me. That’s the short answer. The long answer is that while programming is ultimately my responsibility as Music Director, it’s a responsibility that I share—gladly—with DPO Executive Director Curt Long and with the members of our Program Committee. I use the Committee—which consists of musicians and Trustees who have a particular interest in programming—as a sounding board and as a source of ideas. The Program Committee and I also pour over the results of our annual audience survey, which asks detailed questions about our programs. We’re also working on developing more and better ways to get audience input for the programming process.

The heart and soul of that process lies in two files that live on my computer: the “Wish List”, a 20-plus-page text document that lists pieces we’d like the DPO to play and soloists we’d like to play with us; and the “Performance File” a database containing every piece the DPO has ever played, all the way back to 1933. (That’s 4,658 entries as of the end of the 20052006 season.) The Wish List and Performance File provide the raw data I use to assemble a season, which is a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle—except I have no idea what the picture is until it’s done! The key is to find a balance between old and new, familiar and unfamiliar. In every we always have to leave out some pieces we really want to play. But there’s always next season! The Wish List is not a closed document. Requests are always welcome, and if you have any suggestions, you can e-mail them to me at ngittleman@daytonphilharmonic.com or mail them to me at the DPO office.
Sometimes a concert is built around a theme (composers from the same era, composers from the same area, an anniversary). Sometimes it’s just a serendipitous combination of pieces. Sometimes it’s built around a guest soloist’s concerto. There’s no set formula.

In programming, how do you balance your vision in contrast to what subscriber feedback tells you is preferred? The premise of the question is, of course, that subscribers prefer something different. Actually, that’s not what the feedback says. In our most recent round of audience research (still underway as I write this), 85 percent of respondents either agreed or agreed strongly with the statement “Overall, I like the DPO classical programming.” (Four percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed.) And 59 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “The balance between familiar and unfamiliar composers and music is about right”. (11 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.) When you read folks’ comments, some people plead for more traditional programming and others (fewer, but only slightly fewer) plead for more new and unfamiliar works. My vision is to try to find a happy medium—fulfilling our responsibility (and desire) to play the great works of the standard repertoire as well as exposing our audience to new and unfamiliar pieces. If we had 18 or 20 classical concerts a season we could cover a lot more ground, and maybe even create separate series for “meat-and-potatoes traditional rep” and for new and unusual music. But one classical program per month seems to be about the right schedule for our community, so I try very hard to serve everyone’s needs and desires with the nine classical concerts we have. I know I don’t please everybody. And I know I can’t. But I still try…

Who chooses the music that guest soloists play? Usually they do. When we ask a soloist to join us for a concert, they submit a list of repertoire they’re offering that season. Some soloists give a long list. Others may offer only a handful of pieces. Occasionally it works the other way, and we ask a soloist to play a particular piece from the Wish List.

How far in advance are programs planned? I’m currently at work on the 2007-2008 season. We got our dates from the Schuster Center in January 2006, began planning in the spring, and started booking artists in the summer. The season will gradually take shape during the fall and will be finalized by the first of the year so our Marketing Department can start preparing materials for release in Spring 2007. By that time, we’ll have dates for 2008-2009, and the cycle starts again.

How do you learn a piece of music that you’re going to conduct, especially a new piece or something you haven’t done in some time? Learning scores—both old and new—may be my favorite thing to do. Each piece is a bit different, but the basic process is the same. I begin by sitting in a chair with the score, trying as best as I can, to hear it in my head. If it’s sufficiently complicated that it’s hard to just read and hear, I’ll take the score to the piano and very slowly work my way through it, getting the sound into my head. And I’ll sing parts, too—either to myself or, if I’m alone, out loud. Singing really helps, especially for deciding on phrasing and expressive shaping of melodies. I don’t spend much time listening to recordings, and almost never listen to recordings until I’ve already decided for myself how I think the piece should go.

Why do orchestras still wear formal attire for concerts even though nobody dresses that way anymore? Of course, we don’t wear formal attire for Classical Connections. But for almost everything else, formal wear is the orchestra’s uniform. That’s the point. We’re a team, and, by tradition, formal attire is our team uniform. The Yankees wear pinstripes; orchestras wear formal attire. But our uniform isn’t exactly uniform, because while men’s formal wear is standardized, women’s isn’t. So the men’s dress code is fairly simple, but the women’s is complicated.

How much does the orchestra practice for each concert? We have four or five rehearsals for our Classical Series concerts, three for our Chamber Orchestra Series, one or two for SuperPops concerts, and one for Family and educational concerts. Rehearsals are two-and-a-half hours with a 20 minute break, and occasional overtime as needed. (For programs on the Dayton Daily News Classical Connections Series we prepare the CC Treatment stuff during the rehearsals for that week’s Classical Series concerts.) Musicians get the music for each program several weeks before rehearsals begin, and are expected to know their parts cold by the downbeat of the first rehearsal.

What’s the most difficult standard-repertoire piece for the orchestra to play? For you to conduct? There are many difficult pieces, but each is different. Probably the hardest pieces are those that present both technical and physical challenges—like Mahler symphonies. I don’t know if Mahler’s Sixth, which we played two season ago, is the most difficult piece there is to play, but it’s certainly one of them. Mahler’s Third, on the other hand, is not quite as difficult, but it’s much longer. Compared to the Mahler’s symphonies, Beethoven’s seem like they’d be a piece of cake. But they’re very difficult—especially the Third and the Ninth.

For the conductor, there are some pieces that are difficult to actually conduct—usually because they have lots of complex beat patterns that must be executed precisely. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring comes to mind. But I don’t think of that as a difficult piece. There’s no margin for error, but when you do everything correctly, it falls into place quite smoothly. An intricate and delicate piece like Debussy’s Ibéria is MUCH harder to conduct than the Stravinsky. But it doesn’t sound it because the music is much more intricate and delicate.

Do composers write all the parts for all the instruments, or does someone else do the orchestration? Orchestration is part of the composer’s job. The only exception is in film or musical theater, where the composer is under tremendous time pressure, and orchestration is often farmed out to others.

What are some of the pieces that inspired you in your youth? When my family moved to the Boston area in 1969 we started going to Boston Symphony concerts. (My mom still subscribes to the full BSO season.) That’s where I had most of my formative listening experiences. Some performances that still stick in my mind include Beethoven’s Fifth and Brahms’ Fourth conducted by William Steinberg, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Symphonies of Wind Instruments conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, and Messiaen’s Turangalîla conducted by Seiji Ozawa. In 2005 we surveyed the DPO musicians, asking them what pieces inspired them when they were kids so we could consider those pieces for our Young People’s Concerts. The works they listed included Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, movements from Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Dvo?ák’s New World Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, Rossini’s Barber of Seville and La Gazza Ladra overtures, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, Smetana’s Moldau, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Sleeping Beauty Waltz, the Walton Viola Concerto, and John Williams’ Star Wars.

What instrument(s) did you play growing up? I started piano lessons around first grade, with my mother as my teacher. Not really a good idea! In sixth grade, partly to preserve domestic tranquility, I switched to violin. I played violin all through high school and college, took up piano again in college, then added viola to the arsenal when I was in grad school. While in grad school I also took “methods classes”, where you learn to play a variety of instruments at a basic, rudimentary level. I took a month each of flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet, and trombone, as well as one semester of oboe, so that I (as a string player) could have a better sense of what it’s like to play a wind instrument. My goal as an “oboist” was to be able to play the beautiful solo from Richard Strauss’ Don Juan reasonably well by the end of the semester. I actually succeeded! Unfortunately, once I began conducting professionally, I found I had no time to keep up my practicing on any instrument. I still take the fiddle out of the case and play every once in a while, but it’s sad that I don’t have the time to keep it up at a respectable level. I’ve always loved playing violin (and viola) in chamber music and orchestra, and I miss it.

Kids listen to rock and hip-hop now. What were they listening to in the 1800s? Is our classical music the “with-it” music of then?

Exactly.

Do you have a favorite piece that you listen to a lot at home? Something you never tire of? Yes, but rather far-removed from work. Some of my favorites for at-home listening and re-listening are things by Steve Reich (especially Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ and Octet/Eight Lines), The Who (Who’s Next and Quadrophenia), The Beatles (Revolver and “The White Album”), and The Rolling Stones (Stripped).

Why do the bass players use different types of bows? There are two types of bass bows: French (larger versions of violin/viola/cello bows, held identically)

and German (slightly different shape, held with something akin to a pistol grip). There’s no substantive difference. It’s kind of a PC-or-Mac-type thing.

Do string and reed instrument players put on new strings and reeds prior to a performance to reduce the possibility of a malfunction? New strings take some time to stretch out, and until then, need to be re-tuned a lot. So string players try to avoid walking onstage with brand new strings. Reed players spend a lot of time getting their reeds just right, so they generally don’t use brand new reeds for concerts, either. But they always have spares with them just in case. When a string breaks, the player leaves the stage briefly to put on a new (preferably pre-stretched, ready-to-go) string. If the Concertmaster breaks a string there’s a time-honored protocol that the Concertmaster takes their stand partner’s fiddle while theirs is passed back to someone who changes the string.

Most of the string players I see have their wedding bands on their right hand. Is this because you have asked them to do this to avoid clacking on their fingerboards, or is it a personal preference? Didn’t you know that we only hire left-handed string players? Actually, I never noticed that, and I’m amazed that someone in the audience did. My guess is that it’s much easier not to have rings of any kind on the fingering hand.

You recently announced that two members of the orchestra were retiring. Is there a mandatory retirement age? No.

Speaking of age, what’s the age of the DPO audience? And the overall mix of women and men? Our audience is fairly typical of U.S. audiences—slightly more women than men, slightly “skewed old”. The center of our age bell curve is in the 50s. This leads to the perennial question of “What happens when the audience dies out?” Interestingly enough, this is a perennial question—one that American orchestras have been asking for as long as there have been symphony orchestras playing in the United States. We seem to have always had “grayish” audiences for classical music in this country. So I see the aging of the Baby Boomers as good news for us at the DPO: a very large number of people are coming into our core demographic. It’s our job to capture their imagination and get them to make us part of their lives.

What’s the best seat in the house at the Schuster Center? Coming from Memorial Hall, where there were lots of bad seats, our bottom line in the design of the Schuster Center was “NO BAD SEATS!” I think the architects and acousticians actually pulled off that next-to-impossible task. What’s the best seat depends on what you’re looking for. For seeing what’s going on in the orchestra, it’s probably the box seats—they’re practically onstage. For pure sound, it’s probably the seats way up at the top of the Second Balcony. The Loge and First Balcony are nice compromises—great sights and great sounds. When I listen to the orchestra in the hall I like to sit in the elevated area of the Orchestra, around Row P. For opera, musicals, or dance in the Mead Theatre, I always try to sit right in the middle of Row N. That’s where the production team sits during rehearsals, so I figure if I sit there I’m seeing what they want me to see!

What’s the significance of the Mead Theatre’s beautiful ceiling? The fiber-optic star field depicts the Dayton sky on December 16, 1903, the eve of the Wright Brothers’ first successful powered flight. The width of the uppermost oval is approximately the wingspan of the Wright Flyer. But for me, the real significance of the ceiling is that it’s actually a false ceiling—an acoustically transparent mesh hiding the vast resonant chamber above, which is one of the keys to the Schuster Center’s fabulous acoustics!

What’s the biggest thing that’s surprised you since the DPO moved into the Schuster Center? That as far as the performers are concerned, there still aren’t any major complaints about it. The hall works, and it’s a good place in which to work. We do hear some complaints from patrons—mostly about the continental seating and about fears of lengthy evacuation times in case of an emergency. (When you leave the auditorium after a concert you use only about half of the available exits. In the event of an actual emergency, with all the emergency exits in play, you’d get out very quickly. So don’t worry.)

I’ve heard that the Cincinnati Symphony has a pocket on the back of the First Viola’s music stand with a spare baton in it. Is this because the conductor is worried he might lose one during a performance? Do you have one squirreled away somewhere onstage? I think you’ve analyzed the Cincinnati situation correctly. No, I don’t have a spare baton onstage. So far, I’ve never actually lost or broken a baton mid-concert. (JINX!!!!) I do think once or twice I’ve dropped my baton in a performance (too relaxed, I guess). The thing about conducting is that while it’s better with a baton (easier for the musicians to see, less physical effort required on the part of the conductor), a baton isn’t essential. So rather than worry about stashing a spare somewhere, I simply know I can use my two hands if I ever need to.

Are there any rules or guidelines that conductors follow when leading the orchestra? How does the orchestra know what your signals mean if you’ve never led them before? At the school where I studied, the Pierre Monteux School in Hancock, Maine, there was one—and only one— rule: “One is down.” In other words, on the first beat of every bar of music the conductor must give a clear downbeat so everyone knows where the downbeat is. There are no hard-and-fast rules of conducting, but there is a standard approach and there are basic principles that most conductors follow. So most professional orchestras can follow (more or less) most professional conductors. There are, alas, always exceptions!

Why does the pre-concert warm-up period always sound the same? Are people actually playing the same thing before every concert, or are my ears just not attuned to the subtle differences? Believe me, the pre-concert warm-up sound is always different. It’s just that all random orchestral playing sounds pretty, well, random. And that kind of random “noodling” sounds essentially the same from night to night.

Conductors seem to be turning the pages of the scores all the time. Why? Conductor’s scores contain the music for every instrument in the orchestra. That’s a lot of notes. Depending on the page layout, that can mean a lot of page turns. Some conductors solve the page turn problem by conducting from memory. Others just use their non-baton hand.

Over the years, some composers have added instruments, new techniques of creating sounds, or new ways of seating musicians. What living composers are creating such new ideas today? I think the biggest innovation nowadays surrounds electronics and electronic instruments. Two names which come to mind are Steve Reich (who pioneered the use of combining pre-recorded or sampled sounds—and speech—with instruments) and Tod Machover (who has invented many new electronic instruments and developed ways to interface live performance with computer-controlled electronics). I’m sure there are many more whose music I ought to know, but don’t.

How are composers’ works numbered—K. for Mozart, BWV for Bach, and so on? There’s no standard numbering system. The most common system you’ll see is the opus number (opus being the Latin for “work”). But even that isn’t standardized. Some composers call their first piece “Op. 1”, then move on from there. For other composers, the opus number refers not to the order of composition but the order of publication. As for the various letters, there are lots of them. KV (or just K) for Mozart stands for Köchel Verzeichnis (Köchel Catalogue), Johann Köchel’s chronological catalogue of Mozart’s works. BWV for Bach stands for Bach Werke Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue), which groups Bach’s pieces by category, not date of composition. You’ll also see Bach works listed by their NBA number (Neue Bach Ausgabe—New Bach Edition). Then there are D (Deutsch, for cataloguer Otto Deutsch) numbers for Schubert, K (for Ralph Kirkpatrick) for Scarlatti, and many, many more. Yes, you read correctly. K-numbers for Mozart and K-numbers for Scarlatti. Doesn’t it sometimes seem that classical music is just gratuitously confusing?

Last year during the performance of the Mahler 6th, I noticed at least one (and maybe a couple) of Violas doubling the Cellos, while the rest of the Viola section was playing their “normal” part. Why was the scoring was done that way, and how did Mahler come up with that combination? Offhand, I can’t think of the particular passage in question, but it was likely a matter of reinforcing the cello line. So long as the cellos are playing in the violas’ range, having some (or even all) of the violas double their part is a good way of strengthening that line.

Do the players enjoy the Classical Connections format as much as the audience does? Well, you’d have to ask them that! I know that some enjoy it and others find all the talking annoying. But all of them understand that the audience enjoys it a great deal, and that counts for a lot!

When will you have Pink Martini back again on the Chase SuperPops Series? Just as soon as we can!

You often mention your studies in France with Nadia Boulanger. Can you give some details? Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was the great music teacher of the 20th century.

Composer, music critic (and Boulanger student) Virgil Thomson once said that every town in the United States had two things: a five-and-dime and a student of Nadia Boulanger. He’s still half-right! Beginning with Aaron Copland in 1920 a steady stream of American musicians traveled to France to study with Mlle. Boulanger, whom we all called “Mademoiselle”. During summers she taught at the American Conservatory she founded in Fontainebleau and during the academic year she taught at her apartment in Paris.

I went to Fontainebleau in the summer of 1974, just after my sophomore year of college. I returned in the summer of 1975 and stayed with her full-time until August 1977. In Paris she taught weekly classes in Analysis and Keyboard Harmony, plus a dawn-to-dark schedule of private lessons. Most of her students—me included—studied harmony with her, writing four-part harmony exercises taken from the same harmony textbook used at the Paris Conservatory when she had been a student there as a child. Learning harmony wasn’t the goal, however. She used harmony as a means to teach a wide-ranging, holistic approach to music and life. There isn’t a single day that I don’t think of her, that I don’t use a skill I learned with her, that I don’t do something in music—or in daily life—that I got from her.

What was most extraordinary about Nadia Boulanger was her ability to identify each student’s particular strengths and weaknesses. Working together with her lifelong assistant, Annette Dieudonné, she would systematically build up the strengths and attack the weaknesses. Though she had strong opinions on everything, she never imposed them on her students, and used a modified Socratic method that taught each pupil how to become their own teacher. Of course, each student’s “own teacher” sounded a lot like Mademoiselle!


Thanks to everyone who submitted questions: Paul Brammer, Margie Breakfield, Alice Burton, Charlie Campbell, Elijah Carder, Jim Carroll, Karen Crim, Catherine Custenborder, Deb Everhart, Linda Harrison, David Hascher, the Hergenrathers, Jean Jines, Susan Johnston, Alan Kimbrough, Jonathan Kleinman, Kenneth Kohlenberg, Tim Kohn, Vicky Korosei, Ruth Lapp, Moira Levant, Jason Long, Barbara Martin, Joanna Meadows, Stephanie Mitchell, Robin Moore, Ken Pavy, Margie Perenic, Kenneth Rhoads, Enrique Romaguera, Edward Schober, Bill Sellers, Annie Smith, Sol Smith, Mary Sutton, Robert and Doris Swabb, Laurel Sylvester, Mike Taint, Phyllis Tonne, Judy Tracy, Noel Tracy, Melissa Wasson, Paul Weaver, and Mister Phil.

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