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Rubbing Shoulders with Masters, UW Symphony Orchestra Takes to Meany Stage

March 8, 2013
Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Rite of Spring performance was accompanied by live music from the UW Symphony Orchestra. sourced by Ilona Idlis

Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s Rite of Spring performance was accompanied by live music from the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Richard Karpen is ready to collaborate. The School of Music director has been actively forging novel partnerships with outside organizations and creating new artistic opportunities for students, faculty and the city of Seattle in the process.

“Our job is to be the engine for music in the region, to educate and teach not only the musicians, but the audiences of the future,” he said. “There’s a collaborative spirit right now between the School of Music, the World Series and the Seattle Symphony, because of an understanding that we can’t do these big things, unless we partner together.”

The fruits of that effort are evident in the star-studded repertoire of the UW Symphony Orchestra (UWSO)—the School of Music’s biggest instrumental group dedicated to classical music. In January, the student ensemble performed alongside the Marie Chouinard ballet company and last Thursday the UWSO took to the Meany stage with Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot.

The first partnership was born out of a conversation with UW World Series Director Michelle Witt. She and Karpen had sat down to discuss ways denizens of the music school could collaborate with the artists the Series brought to campus.

Compagnie Marie Chouinard was the answer. The Montreal-based ballet company, famed for its innovative choreography, was to perform Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Meany Hall in January. Witt and Karpen suggested the Compagnie substitute their usual pre-recorded CD music with a live pit performance from the UWSO.  The dancers embraced the idea wholeheartedly.

Jonathan Pasternack, who directs the UWSO and conducted the pit performance, thought the World Series collaboration, albeit the first of its kind, was a natural fit.

“A lot of Marie Chouinard’s choreography incorporates improvisation and yet when you’re working with canned music, the music can’t improvise along with the dancers,” he explained. “That’s actually something they were able to do working with us. And I think some of the [dance] soloists were able to have more of their dream tempos.” (Check out a clip of the performance at the World Series site.)

Ludovic Morlot guest conducted UW Symphony Orchestra's Feb. 28 performance.

Seattle Symphony’s Ludovic Morlot guest conducted the UW Symphony Orchestra at his Meany Hall concert debut on Feb. 28.

But the partnership’s biggest beneficiaries were the student musicians. The ensemble’s performance of the very challenging Stravinsky piece was as much a benchmark of orchestral proficiency, as it was a confidence boost.

“They were all very happy,” Pasternack said.  “I saw a lot of beaming orchestra musicians throughout this experience.”

Energized by the event’s success, Karpen and Witt see the School of Music and World Series collaborating more in the future.

“Just being with other great artists and watching them work and knowing that you’re contributing to their work, puts you into a different frame of mind as a young anything—young artist, young scholar, young scientist,” Karpen said. “That perspective is valuable.”

Seattle Symphony’s Ludovic Morlot challenged the students’ abilities and comfort zones further at Thursday’s performance of Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2 — his concert debut appearance on the Meany stage as the music school’s affiliate professor.

In rehearsal, Morlot’s passion for the work is obvious. The famous French conductor directs with his facial expression as much as his hands. Paying minute attention to each problematic phrase, he teases out the right notes—pianissimo!—from the students with metaphoric imagery, amicable jokes and animated gestures.

“Morlot focuses more on the emotional shape and subtleties of the music,” said Allion Salvador, a junior and violinist, who performed at the concert. “He holds the orchestra to a high standard of technical proficiency, [which allows] him to be free to focus on making the music come out and speak.”

But while the Maestro didn’t hesitate to rework a piece until it gives him goose-bumps, his most common remark was a call for courage.

“The great thing about you being so young is that you can do anything. The only thing I can help you with is having the courage to do it,” he urged the players. “Don’t be embarrassed by being more expressive. The minute you have the courage, it’s going to be incredible.”

Though Morlot’s rehearsals with UWSO were few, he felt the impact on the students was lasting.

“I can sense that they’re going home with some things to think about,” he said. “In some ways that’s already a big achievement and a big growth pattern.”

The program also included the showcase pieces of three student soloists–all winners of the school’s annual Concerto Competition–and an ensemble performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Un Sourire, directed by Pasternack. The conductors were confident that the repertoire’s arrangement would be a crowd-pleaser.

“The students are getting experience doing things that are world class right here on campus,” Karpen concluded. “They’re struggling to become professionals. It’s beautiful. We want people to see the actual learning process live.”

Seattle Symphony's Ludovic Morlot coaxes emotional notes out of the UW Symphony Orchestra at a rehearsal. [Photo by Ilona Idlis.]

Ludovic Morlot, the School of Music’s newly appointed affiliate professor, coaxes emotional notes out of the UW Symphony Orchestra at a rehearsal. [Photo by Ilona Idlis.]

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