Posts Tagged ‘LA Philharmonic’

From Caracas to Idyllwild

September 30, 2010

William performed at the Redlands Bowl this past summer

By Marcia E. Gawecki

It’s not unusual for Idyllwild Arts Academy to attract music students from all over the world. Last year alone, they came from China, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Canada, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Venezuela and Germany. Yet, only one auditioned for the school via You Tube from the mountains of Caracas, and has studied with the LA Philharmonic’s hot new conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

William, a flute player at Idyllwild Arts, is tall, modest, and could be a dead ringer for President Barak Obama. His English has improved greatly since his audition from the mountaintop a year ago. And, as a postgraduate senior, he stands a good chance of getting into college.

His whirlwind journey began when Peter Askim, Idyllwid Arts Music Director and Composer-in-Residence, contacted one of his friends from the Venezuela Philharmonic, William said, and asked her to find him a flute player.  However, William was up in the mountains when he got the call.

“I was 10 hours from Caracas,” William said. “There was no way that I could make a demo tape and send it.”

So he missed the deadline, but they called him again.

“So my friend videotaped me playing, and I posted it on You Tube,” William said.

When the school e-mailed him that he was accepted, William’s mother (who didn’t speak or read English) was skeptical.

“She wasn’t going to send me halfway around the world based on an e-mail message,” he said. “She thought I was going to be abducted.”

So Marek Pramuka,  Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Idyllwild Arts, asked Georgina, a music student from Costa Rica, to talk to his mother in Spanish, William said.

“She told her all about the school, and the orchestra, and she convinced my mom  that it was OK for me to come to America,” he said.

Although William was accepted on a full-ride scholarship, the logistics of getting to Idyllwild was challenging.

“First, we had to transfer bolivars (Bolivar fuerte currency) into dollars,” William explained. “But we couldn’t do that at the bank, so we had to rely on street venders.”

Then he had to get a passport and visa to leave the country. Since his mother doesn’t have a car, they relied on public transportation and a family friend to take them to the various places.

“Although gas is cheap in Venezuela, cars are expensive,” William explained. “Gas is about 25 cents a gallon, but a car that costs about $25,000 in the US, would cost nearly double in Venezuela.”

He lives with his mother (who is studying to be a nurse) and uncle in a tough neighborhood. His father remarried, and William worries that his younger stepbrother will get into trouble with gangs. According to various web sites, 30 percent of Venezuelans live on less than $2 US dollars a day.

'El Sistema' is supported by Gustavo Dudamel, LA Phil's conductor

“William is a product of ‘El Sistema,'” said one of the Idyllwild Arts patrons while talking about scholarship recipients during the Jazz in the Pines concert this year. “It’s an excellent model of how to keep young at-risk kids interested in music. They give them instruments and keep them so busy that they’re not tempted to join gangs or get into trouble.”

According to various web sites, the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, commonly known as ‘El Sistema,’ is a government-funded organization, founded by maestro José Antonio Abreu, aimed at music education through symphony orchestras and choruses. A link to ‘El Sistema’ is listed under “Fesnojiv” in Gustavo Dudamel’s personal web site.

William said that his orchestra rehearsals began right after school, and lasted for hours. They also kept them occupied during summer vacations.

“I was glad that I was part of the orchestra,” William said. “I had somewhere to go after school.”

He chose the flute because he’s always been attracted to the sound. And, although female flutists are common in the US, male flutists are more common in South America, he said.

The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra was a great training ground and that’s where he worked with LA Philharmonic’s conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. But he didn’t say much about him.

William and Kitty (partially hidden) won $500 in scholarship money from the Redlands Bowl

“Maybe he’s sick of talking about it,” said Kitty’s mom at The Redlands Bowl. William and Kitty, a fellow Idyllwild Arts music student, won $500 scholarships and were asked to perform before a live audience in June.

“All of LA is talking about Gustavo Dudamel,” Kitty’s mom said. “He’s LA Philharmonic’s hand-picked darling. Of course, the New York Philharmonic thinks he’s too young and inexperienced, but we don’t think so.”

William and Kitty talked about the other performers that evening, including a violin player who couldn’t be more than 10 years old.

“We hate to follow her in the program,” William said. “How can you compete with that cuteness?”

The night before, William had been to the Redlands Bowl for a practice run and sound check with his flute teacher, Sara Andon, and his piano accompanist, Lara Urrutia.

William and his piano accompanist, Lara Urrutia

“Lara’s great,” William said. “She keeps up with me. Other accompanists I’ve played with fall behind, and I end up following them.”

They discussed the amphitheater’s acoustics and what to wear for the performance. Since William was playing excerpts from Bizet’s French Opera, “Carmen,” they decided to wear red.

However, William was concerned about playing in an open-air ampitheater, something that wasn’t made clear to him.

“When you play a wind instrument, you already are maxing out your lung capacity,” he said. “Now I have to project even more so that the audience can hear me. I just hope that the wind is not blowing at me, but away.”

William’s selections from  “Carmen” was a crowd pleaser at The Redlands Bowl. Kitty played two contemporary pieces, “Prelude,” and “Alternating Currents,” but wasn’t as happy with her performance. Kitty, who attended Idyllwild Arts all four years, now attends Rice University on a full music scholarship.

When William applied for the Redlands Bowl scholarship, he had to save up for the $50 entry fee.

“At school, you get $20 a week allowance, so I had to save up for three weeks,” he said.

In fact, 68 percent of the 250 students who attend Idyllwild Arts receive some sort of scholarship money, states The Boarding School Review.

When William told his grandmother about the competition, she was certain that he was going to win.

“She said, ‘You’re going to win,'” William said. “Even when I told her how many people tried out. But she’s always believed in me.”

Another person who has believed in William is Askim, who brought him here from Caracas. William said that he didn’t see Askim for two weeks after he arrived. Then when he was in the orchestra, he was annoyed by his name.

“You see, there are two Williams in our orchestra, me and a clarinet player who sits right behind me,” William said. “Whenever Peter would shout, ‘William,’ we both would answer. So he tried calling us ‘William No. 1’ and ‘William No. 2,’ but we both wanted to be ‘William No. 1.”

So Askim nicknamed William the flute player, “Baldy” and William the clarinet player, “Hairy,” for his spiked hairdo.

Hear “Baldy” playing the role of the bird during the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra’s performance of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” on Oct. 16 and 17. The show will also feature guest narrator, Harry Shearer, from “The Simpsons” fame. The show is free and open to the public and will be held in the Bowman Arts Building. For more information, visit

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Master Classes with the Gewandhaus Orchestra

February 22, 2010

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Hours before their Feb. 17 concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall (presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic), several principal players from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra agreed to give 12 Idyllwild Arts students master classes.

“The players at the Gerwandhaus Orchestra have a very special way of thinking about music and playing phrases,” said Peter Askim, music director and composer-in-residence at the Idyllwild Arts Academy. “The students get a different perspective on music making, and each teacher has a different way of explaining the same concepts.”

The fortunate Idyllwild Arts students who took classes that day included Seann Trull and Rachael Hill, French horn; Ruo Gu Wang and Shen Liu, clarinet; Ting Yu “Monica” Yang, Lei Shao, and Anais “XO” Liu, cello; Xiao Fan Liu, Minyeong “Stephanie” Kim, Martin Peh, Lea Hausmann, and Dorisiya Yosifova, violin.

The four principals from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra included Bernhard Krug, French horn; Andreas Lehnert, clarinet; Christian Geiger, cello; and Concertmaster Frank Michael Erben, violin.

Peter said that he chose the guest musicians based on their reputations as players and teachers, and he tried to give the most number of students the opportunity to experience the master classes.

Lei Shao, an Idyllwild Arts cellist, said that he chose the music for his hour-long session with Christian Geiger at the Colburn Center across from Disney Concert Hall. Lei said that he was excited, but nervous when he played for the professional cellist.

“He gave me some good advice on how to improve my playing, and I will apply it right away,” Lei said enthusiastically. The best part, he admitted, was when he got to hear Christian play on his own instrument.

Peter said the master classes were not easy to arrange, but he has connections with two American musicians who used to play for the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. “Usually the musicians are very happy to teach and meet students from other places when they travel,” he said.

During the concert at 8 p.m. that night at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the students got to choose from seats located in the top balcony or behind the orchestra.

“I like to sit behind the stage and watch the conductor,” Peter admitted. “A lot of the students appreciated almost feeling like a part of the orchestra.” However, he wanted the pianists to sit in the balcony so that they could experience the piano soloist from that perspective.

“A lot of people don’t realize that at these concerts, it’s all about the music. You don’t have to sit where you can see the musicians,” said Samuel Chan, an Idyllwild Arts vocal student. Although Samuel sat behind the orchestra this time, he said the best place to hear was in the balcony.

For the students, their eyes were glued to the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra during the entire performance, which included two pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven: The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op 73 “Emperor,” and Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op 92.

Peter said that the Idyllwild Arts Student Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 during their first concert in Idyllwild last year, and it was good for them to hear a professional version.

“The tempos that the conductor (Riccardo Chially) chose were different,” Peter said. “They have also been playing this music their whole life, and they are from the German culture that Beethoven is from. But I think our students did a very good job on the symphony last year, though!”

He thought the Leipzig Orchestra did a nice job that night. “Many students think that just playing the notes of a piece is enough, but seeing an orchestra like Gewandhaus shows them that the notes are just the beginning. Taking the notes on the page and turning them into such a moving musical experience, full of emotion and subtlety is beyond their imagination, and shows them how much they have to learn and grow.”

Kathryn Schmidt, an Idyllwild Arts jazz vocals student, said that Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was one of her favorites because it was later adapted to include vocals. “The story is about a boy who loses his father,” Kathryn said. “It’s so beautiful and sad.”

Like Peter, she was particularly impressed with the Gewandhaus Orchestra’s ability to play very soft and loud.

According to the LA Phil materials, “Movement II (of the Piano Concerto No. 5) is one of the composer’s most sublime inspirations. The muted strings play a theme of incomparable beauty and sad tenderness, with the piano responding in hushed, descending triplets, creating subtle tension until the theme is fully exposed.”

The pianist who was supposed to accompany the Leipzig Orchestra was Nelson Freire from Brazil. However, for reasons unknown, Canadian pianist Louis Lortie replaced Nelson, and did an outstanding job. Lortie, who lives in Berlin, has received accolades for his Beethoven interpretations, stated LA Phil materials.

After the orchestra received a standing ovation before intermission, Louis came out and performed Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, Op 43, for an encore.

“It’s ironic that he chose the Prometheus Overture as his encore, because that’s the piece that our orchestra played as an encore after they played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony last year,” said Samuel Chan, who is also Canadian. “We were rolling in the aisles and couldn’t believe that we chose the same music.”

According to the Disney Concert brochure, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the oldest civic concert orchestras in the world. It was founded by 16 merchants in 1743.

During his lifetime, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra performed all of Beethoven’s symphonies. This orchestra has an exceptionally wide repertoire and more than 200 performances each year. This is because of its multidisciplinary function as an orchestra, an opera orchestra and a chamber orchestra that performs cantatas with the St. Thomas Boys Choir.

Sheila Bernhoft had tears in her eyes after the concert, but she was not the only one. “The students were very, very inspired and had many new ideas to explore in their own music making,” Peter said. “They were also very appreciative, which makes me feel good and happy to do this kind of thing for them in the future.”

This was the last major trip that the music department will make this year. They plan to take a few small trips to see the Los Angeles Opera and the LA Philharmonic.

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