Chesney Snow and the beatboxing mission

October 21st, 2014 No comments

Chesney Snow was getting off the T when he took my phone call. It was a shaky and noisy connection even without the crowds of people I heard milling about him, and part way through the conversation, Snow had to run for cover from a sudden downpour of rain. Snow is an award-winning actor, beatboxer, poet, musician, producer and songwriter, and, as a result, he is hair-raisingly busy. And yet we chatted for almost an hour about his career, his film American Beatboxer (which will be screened Oct. 24 at Askwith Lecture Hall at Harvard) and a beatboxing workshop (Oct. 25 at Harvard’s Hip Hop Archive and Research Institute). Both events are offered through the Office for the Arts Learning From Performers program. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Chesney Snow

Chesney Snow 

First encounters with beatboxing:

When I was about 11 or 12, I lived in Mississippi. My cousins and I used to make rhymes and beat on buckets, and get anything we could to make a beat. We would write rhymes and raps to it, and so I ended up emulating the old school rappers. That’s how I started, with my cousin Bobby, who would really encourage me to do the impossible. That was, in one sense, the beginning of me exploring what I could do with my creativity whether that be with my voice or any aspect of my artistry.

Sources of inspiration:

I try to observe people or observe animals or nature and how they interact. So, if you listen, you can hear intense rhythm in raindrops. You can really find a music that is happening naturally. If I’m doing a play and my character is supposed to embody the heartbeat of a neighborhood or a city, I’ll go to that neighborhood and city and just listen, just listen for hours.

Beatboxing and empowerment:

I had the opportunity to do a collaboration with Zap Mama, and she said something to me that really got at the core of what I believe. She said: “Music is made to heal.” And so every time she goes to work on an album or craft a song, her actions are very intentional: She creates these songs sonically to heal. With beatboxing, there is a similar current to its purpose in that when someone sees beatboxing, it’s inspirational. Audience members are watching someone do something vocally that they couldn’t even imagine a human voice doing. It taps into this idea of human potential. Someone needs only their voice to show how powerful and versatile one can be. And so even the act of watching someone beatbox, and even more the act of performing, proves to even people who don’t have instruments, who might think they don’t have talent or potential, that they can make something from nothing.

Bettering the community and world with art: 

My ultimate goal for beatboxing is to take it from performing for entertainment into a practical setting. What beatboxers do is we practice and explore phonetic sounds a human can make so much that we become experts at using our articulators and voices. If we were, for example, to use this musical art to teach young kids how to develop and explore their powers of speech, maybe we could close our language gap with our young kids so our young kids can wrestle with speaking multiple languages, public speaking, enunciation. There’s a lot of application for what beatboxing can do. I’ve been piecing together how we can use this art form in elementary schools and schools for the blind to enhance language skills. I really feel like I have something that can be very powerful.

Chesney Snow’s movie American Beatboxer will be screened 5:30 p.m. Friday, October 24 at Askwith Lecture Hall. The film’s director Manauvaskar (Manny) Kublall and producer Rich McKeown will join Snow for a post-screening discussion. Snow will hold a workshop 2 p.m. Saturday, October 25 at Harvard’s Hiphop Archive and Research Institute. Space for the workshop is limited; RSVP to dmanders@fas.harvard.edu.

Finding the depths of “pool (no water)” at OBERON

October 20th, 2014 No comments

We all dream of owning a pool, right? One Year Lease Theater Company brought a pool to OBERON, American Repertory Theater’s second stage, with a production of Mark Ravenhill’s pool (no water), which played over the weekend in Cambridge. (The show has now moved to New York City’s Barrow Street Theatre ,where it will run Oct. 21-Nov. 24.)

Here’s the story: When a famous artist invites her old friends to her luxurious home and swimming pool for a long awaited reunion, a horrific accident abruptly ends the festivities and puts their host in a coma. However, does the night really need to end? Perhaps, it’s only the beginning. Perhaps, it’s the beginning of the group’s next art project – their host’s suffering – exploited and celebrated. OYL explores art and envy in a unique rendering of the play. As no lines are assigned to any one character, it was up to director Ianthe Demos to divide the lines and find the rhythm of the words that were to drive the piece. Rhythm is further expressed through the production’s distinct use of movement. With just a few white tables, the actors hop, skip and jump across the stage with an energy that surges throughout the show. It’s all part of Demos’ process. In our video, she talks about exploring the text and the depths of feeling in the play.

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Creating “tappiness” with choreographer Michelle Dorrance

October 20th, 2014 No comments

Michelle Dorrance stopped by Harvard’s Holden Chapel last week to teach an Office for the Arts Dance Program master class on the art and craft of tap dancing. Tappers in and around the Yard spent two hours learning from the Princess Grace Award-winning performer, choreographer and teacher. The video says it all.

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Harvard Art Museums: Teaching machines of the 21st century

October 18th, 2014 No comments
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Thomas W. Lentz, Glenn D. Lowry, Jennifer L. Roberts and Paul Ha discussed the role of art museums. 

 

On Oct. 16, University President Drew Faust gathered a panel of experts of the art world in anticipation of the grand re-opening of the Harvard Arts Museums after six years of renovation.

“In some ways we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a university with a museum readily available to us,” said Faust in her opening remarks. “Whole classes of Harvard undergraduates have had their Harvard experience without being able to just drop in and look at the treasures in the museums. We have to relearn all of that. We have to reactivate those ways of being.”

The panel was moderated by the director of the Harvard University Art Museums Thomas Lentz, who said that the reopening of the museums provides the perfect opportunity to step back and ask: Why is it important to have museums on campuses in the 21st century? The panel discussion revolved around this question and the idea of the museum as “teaching machine.”

Jennifer Roberts, a professor in the department of History of Art and Architecture, said that the tendency to describe museums as “luxury” or “treasure” is a dangerous “terminological problem.”

“When we say treasure, we often imagine something exclusive, something that’s static rather than dynamic and something that’s supplemental rather than structural,” said Roberts. “When I look at the objects in that building, I see that they’re partially treasures, but they’re also intelligence. They’re forms of non-verbal intelligence, of historical intelligence, of artisanal, material and spacial intelligence. These are forms and models of thinking that our students can learn a great deal from, as much as any other type of learning and intelligence that they might come across,” Roberts said.

Glenn Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, likened the university art museum to a laboratory.

“If you think of [the museum] as a place that you come to engage in experiments and think about objects, then you can recognize that the artists of all those artifacts are doing exactly what we are trying to encourage all of our students to learn, which is to be creative, to think out of the box,” Lowry said. “In that context it seems to me that the art museum is absolutely analogous to the scientific laboratory. It’s the form in which a certain kind of investigative transaction can take place.”

The panelists also discussed the institutional and educational importance of museums – whether or not they are affiliated with a university – to their communities and the world at large. “We want to think more broadly about museums as institutions, about the broader discourse on their changing role in communities, in cities and in the world,” Faust said.

Thinking more broadly included considering the role of the art museum in the digital age. Each panelist acknowledged that technology can be used by museums, not as a replacement for the museum experience, but as a way to enhance people’s desire to visit collections and to encourage conversations about art beyond museum walls.

Lowry said that encouraging visitors to take photographs and share them with each other both inside and outside of the museum has been one way that MoMA has begun to use technology to fuel such conversation.

“If you try to discourage [photography], it’s simply ‘mission impossible.’ What we’ve tried to do is to recognize that we can use digital technology to stimulate and reinforce the kind of conversations that we hope will occur in the museum and to turn the institution into essentially a 24/7 environment,” he said. “Everyone of these [technological] opportunities is a way of connecting someone to someone else through the museum about art. And then, you begin to create a kind of multidimensional idea of the institution as this incubator for conversations.”

Paul Ha, director of the List Visual Arts Center at MIT, agreed that technology has the power to draw audiences and start conversations, but he said we must be careful as to how we continue to use tech in the growing digital age.

“I think that technology is misunderstood as to what its purpose is,” said Ha. “I think technology is great as a communication tool, and it’s a great tool for driving content, but in the end it’s not the same. I believe in the power of art,” he said.

During the last half hour of the event, Lentz fielded questions from the audience, leading to a discussion about the kind of environment that the creators of the new Harvard Art Museums hope to foster with the new space.

“The unversity museum is a local institution with a well-defined local community around it, which means that students and community members can return to the museum again and again. There’s no limit,” said Roberts. “What we hope is that this will just be a part of student life. Students can stop in and  look at a painting for five minutes one day, five minutes the next day, 10 minutes the following day. These objects are here, they’re part of the community and students can have these iterative experiences with them so that it’s not just about slowing people down as they walk by,” Roberts said.

The Harvard Art Museums, including a new addition designed by star architect Renzo Piano, will reopen to the public on Nov. 16.

“Little Murders” breaks the fourth (third, second and first) wall

October 16th, 2014 No comments
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Students rehearse on the “Little Murders” set at the Loeb main stage. Photo: Elizabeth Leimkuhler ’15

Little Murders, a dark satire written by cartoonist Jules Feiffer, first opened on Broadway in 1967. The production was a complete flop.

In Little Murders, Feiffer imagines a New York City in complete turmoil: The protagonist family, the Newquists, is interrupted by phone calls from heavy breathers while violent altercations between snipers and the police rage in the streets. America of 1967 couldn’t relate quite intimately enough to the Newquists’ dystopian world. But after 1968, in the wake of assassinations, protests for civil rights and televised wars abroad, the world of the Newquists no longer seemed so far-fetched. And so, when a revival of Little Murders hit the stage in 1969, it thrived in this new context.

Now almost five decades later, Little Murders will open on the Loeb Mainstage as this year’s Visiting Director’s Project, a program run by the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club and sponsored by the American Repertory Theater. Much like the audience of the ’60s, Shira Millikowsky, artistic associate at the A.R.T. and this year’s visiting director, experienced the metamorphic possibilities of Feiffer’s play.

“I first read Little Murders when I was in college, and I loved the play because I loved the main character, Patsy. It’s so rare to find plays that have such strong, young female leads, especially a play that was written more than five years ago.” says Millikowsky. “Then, I re-read it this summer and what struck me was how relevant the play felt, more relevant than it had felt to me 10 years ago. As I was reading it, war was breaking out between Israel and Gaza, and we were just learning about what ISIS is, and at the time Ebola wasn’t even on our minds in but was certainly happening. With all of this, and with global warming and the recession of 2008, the feeling that things could fall apart at any moment is a lot more alive in our consciousness — for me personally and for us as Americans politically. So I felt this new connection to it that I hadn’t felt before.”

But Millikowsky, whose first passion as a theater director was to create contemporary interpretations of classical works, knew that she wanted to make some changes to the 1960s dark comedy to help bring it even closer to a modern audience. The first idea was to set the play in the near future (think 2042, or Snowpiercer, a 2013 film that Millikowsky cites as an influence); the second: removing all of the walls.

Little Murders is written as a typical living room comedy. It starts off like an episode of Leave it to Beaver, a very sit-com-like set up: The script calls for three walls, chairs, windows — just your typical living room,” says assistant director Joey Longstreet ’16. “But what we did with the set is pretty much the opposite of all that. We have no walls, no windows — it’s very abstract. I think that’s indicative of how this production is transcending the time that it was written for and modernizing it in a way that’s makes the show accessible to audiences almost fifty years later.”

10661913_835263069846980_5481246026020247371_oThese decisions have all been part of a large-scale collaboration between Millikowsky and the Harvard undergraduate students who make up the cast and staff. Set designer Daniel Prosky ’16 was the first to propose the idea to remove the walls, based on the visions voiced by Millikowsky. “The product is really a synthesis of the entire company’s creative input,” says Longstreet.

Millikowsky says that the collaboration began immediately, during auditions, when the actors inspired her to make a third great change: The Newquist parents would be in drag, with Mark Mauriello ’15 cast as the mother, Marjorie, and Elizabeth Leimkuhler ’15 portraying the father, Carol.

“We were doing the auditions and some instinct in me felt like, ‘Oh, Mark is the right person for Marjorie, and Liz is the right person for Carol,’ which was not a preconceived idea,” says Millikowsky. “Then I re-read the play with that in mind and suddenly the whole play was about gender, which I hadn’t realized at all, and I thought ‘Oh, people are performing something in this play.’ All of these characters are performing an idea of gender and power and family; that is their attempt to hold onto some kind of sanity in the face of insanity.”

No walls, a gender twist, the imagining of New York in 2042. The VDP production of Little Murders may not exactly be not what Feiffer had in mind when he composed the play in the 1960s, but the clothesline of the story and its main issues will remain unchanged. According to Millikowsky, that’s part of the brilliance of Feiffer’s work.

“This play, I think, is so much of its time and, what makes it a really really good play is that it has so many things in it that are universal,” says Millikowsky. “For this proudction, we never use the world ‘update.’ We think more in terms of: We’re in conversation with the values that are assumed in the play. And that’s the fun part of our work.”

Little Murders runs 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17-Sun. Oct. 19 and Thursday, Oct. 23-Sat. Oct. 25 on the Loeb Theater main stage. Tickets are $8 for students, $12 for the public at the Harvard Box Office.

 

Down home with the music and career of Regina Carter

October 15th, 2014 No comments
Regina Carter PHOTO: David Katzenstein

Regina Carter PHOTO: David Katzenstein

Although the term “improvisational jazz violin” may seem incongruous, it is anything but that for performer Regina Carter, a 2006 MacArthur Fellowship recipient who has masterfully taken this hybrid genre and claimed it as her own. In Carter’s most recent album Southern Comfort, she deftly delves into the music of the folk traditions of the American South, which will be the focus of the Learning From Performers conversation “Down Home: The Musical Heritage of the American South,” moderated by Ingrid Monson, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16 at the Leverett House Old Library. The conversation is co-sponsored by Celebrity Series of Boston, which is presenting Carter in concert 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 at Sanders Theatre. Carter, who was born in Detroit, has established herself as a leading jazz performer and educator of this era, and has released one tour-de-force album after another. I spoke with Carter about her early musical influences, her decision to transition from classical repertoire to jazz and her advice for students interested in pursuing careers in music or the performing arts. An edited version of our conversation follows.

Is there a single experience or person you can point to that led you towards pursuing music?
I have to thank my mother for enrolling my brother and me in music classes. I started when I was 2-years-old. When my grandmother graduated from college, it was incredibly unusual for women or African Americans to do so; she was a pianist, and so music became very important in our house. I particularly took to Suzuki method very well – where you learn to play music by ear the way you learn to speak at home – because I just loved hearing music and getting inside of it.

What is the most important and exciting aspect of your career in music?
I enjoy performing the most. We spend our days working and practicing, doing business – I like to be very involved in my business, and that can take up so much time during the day – and so, considering all the preparation we do, the amount of time on stage is actually relatively small. But when you’re onstage you can just let go and be inside the music and enjoy the other musicians and get feedback from them. That’s why I also enjoy working with students and doing master classes, because I learn every time I work with students from the questions they raise.

It wasn’t until into your college years that you made a shift from classical to improvisational jazz performance. What drew you towards this decision, and how do you think students should approach musical genre?
I was definitely very driven to switch styles. I hadn’t grown up listening to jazz, but one day a friend brought me three jazz violin records, and I was blown away. Previously, I only had really heard and known European classical music, but it was wonderful to hear a violin being played in this foreign way. I was drawn to jazz because I could express my own voice through the music through improvisation, which gave me a freedom within the language. I would tell students not to narrow yourself to one style of music or one thing, and to remember that you do have to work once you get out of college. It’s fun to check out different styles of music, so be open and don’t close yourself off, even if you’re officially studying one genre of music. You need to be able to pay the bills, so when someone is doing a studio session and needs you to improvise, be able to improvise.

How can student artists best take advantage of the resources available at Harvard?
Every music student – and I don’t care what genre of music they play – should take a business course. You can and will learn so much from those courses, and from your friends in those courses, and this is so important for a student who wants to pursue a career in music. When you become a professional musician, music becomes a business, and we musicians need to look at ourselves as products. Knowing how to brand or market yourself, since of course there are so many products on the market, is vital, and you must decide what you think your self-worth is, based on the time you put into your craft. Don’t be afraid to do anything you have to do (like sending out CDs and tracks) to get your music out there. Learn how to negotiate, set up a website and read a basic contract; all of these are critical to finding success in real world performing arts.

Any advice for Harvard student artists?
When traveling and performing, take time to read up on the country’s culture before you go. Learn basic words and identify what is acceptable and unacceptable in that culture; it’s very polite, and it shows respect. Also, everyone should pick up an instrument and give music a try. Even if it’s just as a hobby, music can be stress relieving and fun. It used to be the case that in households music wasn’t ever something that you had to choose between pursuing professionally or non-professionally. It was just a part of everyday life. We’ve gotten so far away from that today, because we’re always too busy. Playing music can put other people in our shoes as musicians – and really it doesn’t matter if you want to be professional or not. You’ve just got to have fun when you’re playing, and sometimes we professional musicians forget that. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.

A festival of cellists

Rainer Crosett ’14, a resident of Pforzheimer House enrolled in the Harvard/New England Conservatory joint five-year AB/MM program concentrating in Philosophy, was awarded a Fellowship to attend the Kronberg Academy’s cello masterclass program in Germany. Crosett, a cellist, has been a member of the Brattle Street Chamber Players, Dunster House Opera Orchestra and Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. He also served as principal cello of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra during its inaugural season and performed on the National Public Radio show “From the Top.” He intends to pursue a career in music. The following is his reflection on his time in Germany. 

Rainer Crosett

Rainer Crosett

Getting started in Kronberg

I arrived on September 21 in the beautiful medieval town of Kronberg, Germany, which is situated about 20 miles outside of Frankfurt. Already I understand why Rostropovich nicknamed this place the “capital of cello.” Pictures of great cellists are everywhere, and, for the biennial cello masterclasses and concerts, more than 100 young cellists descended on the small town. We crowded into all of the few tiny restaurants in town with our bulky cello cases, and from the moment I started talking to fellow participants on the train platform in Frankfurt, I felt a very special collegial atmosphere at this festival. Cellists, after all, are known for having festivals devoted exclusively to our instrument, whereas many other types of musicians (such as violinists) aren’t.

This same day, I played a short audition today for Gary Hoffman, the extraordinary cellist with whom I would work here. The next several days were packed with masterclasses from 9:30 to 6:30 each day, followed by a concert in the evening by each of the four master teachers – Hoffman, David Geringas, Frans Helmerson, and Jerome Pernoo, in the stunningly beautiful Johanniskirche. During the day, I observed dozens of students in the classes and benefited from individual instruction on my own playing. I was thrilled to sit in on as many classes as possible, because there is so much to be learned from listening to different styles of playing and schools of teaching. Hoffman, for instance, was influenced in large part by the teaching of Janos Starker, whereas Geringas is known as Rostropovich’s favorite student. The variety of legacies of cello playing and teaching presented were unparalleled. I was  itching for the classes to start so that I could soak up as much knowledge and inspiration as possible.

Lesson with Gary Hoffman

Kronberg exceeded my expectations in every way. Participating in the masterclasses each day was mentally and emotionally

Master class with Gary Hoffman.

Master class with Gary Hoffman.

exhausting because of the careful way I was listening and thinking about my playing, and of course, because of the rigor of the teaching. Each day we listened to many students play, and often we heard the same pieces both played and taught in many different ways. For example, I heard the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata played three times, and my expectations and “ideal” for the music became very specific. By listening carefully to the playing and teaching in a class, you start to formulate your own highest level for how you think the piece in question should be played, incorporating both technical and purely musical factors. This process that happens in a masterclass filled me with the burning desire to get back to my cello and try out various ways of achieving the qualities of sound and expression I hope to convey.

I also had a lesson with Gary Hoffman, the teacher whom I was most excited about working with at Kronberg. I played some of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante for him, and we spent time discussing and working on an important and challenging debate in cello playing: how physically involved you should be while playing, aside from the movements in the arms and fingers that are necessary to make any sound at all. Hoffman noted that I tend to drop my head or introduce tension in my neck whenever the music becomes particularly challenging. He encouraged me to direct all that movement, energy and focus into my right arm, the bow arm, which he said is where the vast majority of our expression and musical power originates on the instrument. The left hand picks out the notes and has some possibilities for expression, through vibrato and quality of shifting, but the right arm, he said, can have a much greater impact. Think of weight in the string, bow changes, contact point, bow speed, bow angles, type of attack. The variations are endless.

This simple idea and shift of focus, which he expressed eloquently and in such a way that I’ll never forget it, made an immediate difference in my sound and range of expressive possibilities. It is a key take away from the masterclasses that I will think about for the rest of my life. Watching Hoffman’s concert one evening was also a testament to the power of this idea: His playing is wholly without excess physical flourish or other showy body motions, but it is no less expressive or meaningful for that. In fact, I think his playing is some of the most sincere, heartfelt  and direct playing I have ever heard, probably because he wastes none of his energy thinking about how he might capture the audience’s attention with visual stimuli. Instead, he devotes all of his attention thinking about the way he engages the instrument in the service of the musical ideas he hopes to convey.

The adventures of Ben Carter, ceramist and storyteller

October 8th, 2014 No comments

 

Ben Carter

Ben Carter

Ben Carter is an explorer. I have a sense of this even before I meet him, knowing that he’s been an artist-in-residence in places such as the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado and the ceramic research center Guldagergaard in Skelskor, Denmark. He lived for two years in China as the education director of Shanghai’s Pottery Workshop; and, he tells me as we chat after the interview, he’s been skydiving in New Zealand.

Despite his wayfaring adventures, it’s clear from his relaxed, deliberate speech – with a slight twang that puts you immediately at ease – that he is very much a product of his home. Originally from Virginia, Carter was “hooked” on pottery after a week in his high school ceramics class.  “I was fortunate to grow up in a part of the U.S. that has a very strong arts tradition,” he explains. This specific milieu continues to inspire him: “Virginians are very proud of being from Virginia specifically,” he says with a laugh. This pride then inspires the drawings of honeysuckle, dogwood and other evocatively Virginian flora on Carter’s functional pots.

As we discuss his roots, he makes a point to highlight the importance of learning from a variety of cultural contexts. He reminisces warmly about two years in Shanghai that gave him a chance to reflect on Chinese scroll paintings and the use of negative space, as well as observe the brush technique of Chinese calligraphers. When I ask him if he has any tips for aspiring artists, Carter is confident: “I think the best thing to do is to leave the country as soon as you can” –  here, we both stop to laugh at the specificity and outlandishness of his advice – “because it gives you a look at another culture and allows you to see the world as new and shiny and fresh. And it also lets you see the culture where you live as a unique culture.”

When he’s not physically traveling, Carter collects international inspiration: In 2009, he started the blog Tales of a Red Clay Rambler, which developed into a hub for dialogue in the ceramics community; by 2011, it had become a podcast as well. He’s interested in the stories that artists share and how those manifest in art: “While this conversation has a beginning, middle and end, art is often a cyclical story that doesn’t have a clear entrance or exit. So with interviews, I think about how this might apply to pots

An oval platter by Ben Carter

An oval platter by Ben Carter

and how people might get a narrative from these pieces.”

The international community of the Internet further enhances his conglomeration of ideas. “It’s interesting now how I can talk to someone in Australia, or someone in China, or Germany about my work,” he notes. “Because they’re from a different culture, they read the symbols in my work differently, and that’s really helpful.” And ultimately, this has a significant effect on his work: He recognizes the “artifacts of conversations” in the imagery of his pots.

Perhaps this is why, after the “real” interview, I’m tempted to stick around and hear more from this storyteller, hoping his artistic vision of art as an amalgam will also inspire mine.

Ben Carter will host a workshop through the Harvard Ceramics Visiting Artists Program on October 9 at 10 a.m. in the Ceramics Studio. The class will be followed by a live podcast of Tales of a Red Clay Rambler with guests Ethan W. Lasser, associate curator of American Art at the Harvard Art Museums and Ezra Shales, associate professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Of Hector, Harriet and the HRO

October 6th, 2014 No comments
Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique premiered in Paris on December 5, 1830 as an expression of his unrequited love for actress Harriet Smithson.

We learned this as Professor Thomas Kelly and the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra introduced snippets of each movement before playing the symphony in full under the leadership of Maestro Federico Cortese on October 4 in Sanders Theatre.

Kelly, who spoke as if on a first-name basis with the composer, explained Hector’s inspiration for the piece: Hector saw Harriet as Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and she consequently became the subject of a melodic theme introduced in the first movement. Her theme recurs throughout the symphony, reorchestrated and reimagined in so many ways that Symphonie Fantastique couldn’t be anything other than a love letter.

We also learned of a fascinating bill of sale from a music shop, indicating that on the morning of December 5, Hector bought 14 violin mutes. “Hector either woke up the morning of the performance and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I had [the violins] play this part muted?’” mused Kelly. “Or, he mistrusted the first violins so much that he bought the mutes himself.” Perhaps it was an obsession with perfection to impress Harriet.

Far from seeming irreverent, calling Berlioz “Hector” felt appropriate that evening in Sanders. It seemed to inspire affection and an emotional resonance from nearly 200 years ago. The lecture primed both orchestra members and audience alike to be empathetic to Berlioz’s passions.

It’s this same first-name basis that struck me after the last notes of the symphony rose to the balcony, and everyone stood in applause. Classical music performances demand so much etiquette from the audience that while this resounding standing ovation might have been typical, the congratulatory cheers of students’ first names were as startling as they were endearing. The audience spared no youthful voice in calling out friends, making the atmosphere warmer and ovation longer.

It was during shouts of “Yes, Ari!” and “Zach!” that I could imagine 26-year-old Hector, an erstwhile medical student turned composer,searching for Harriet Smithson in the audience and hoping that his symphony had called her first name as well.

The realities of music-making

Luke Fieweger ’16, a resident of Dunster House concentrating in Neurobiology, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland, School of Music. Fieweger, enrolled in the Harvard/New England Conservatory joint five-year AB/MM program, has served as principle bassoonist with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (2012-13) and participated in the group’s summer 2013 tour of Israel and Jordan. He studies with Richard Svoboda, Principal Bassoon of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was the winner of the 2012 Chicago Civic and Arts Foundation Young Artist Competition. He plans to pursue a career as a professional musician.

After a brief post-finals celebration and recuperation period, I started off the summer with a month at the National Orchestral Institute (NOI) in College Park, Maryland. After auditioning earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to have been selected as a member of the bassoon section in this year’s festival orchestra comprised of 70 or so other music students and young professionals from across the country.

National Orchestral Institute wind section rehearsal (photo courtesy Luke Feiweger).

National Orchestral Institute wind section rehearsal (photo courtesy Luke Feiweger).

The fast pace of the orchestral training program was established right away: immediately after moving into my oh-so-glamorous dorm room at the University of Maryland, which would be our odd but exciting habitat for the next four weeks, we got right to music-making. Daily life in the festival was full of rehearsing, score studying, master class and lecture-attending, concert-giving, practicing with whatever time was left, and then whatever was left after that was spent hanging out and semi-ironically dorm-partying.

I regret that my musical education can often take a back seat to my studies here during the school year, so this summer was a terrific chance to focus on my development as a bassoonist. It was also fascinating to be surrounded by other incredible young musicians for whom constant music-making is the norm. For me, though, it definitely took a week or so of adjustment until I could concentrate for the entirety of a three-hour orchestra rehearsal at 9 am (which I thought was just cruel, but that’s how it works, I was told). Read more…