Glenn Dicterow on NY Phil's New Seating Arrangement & More
As the New York Philharmonic’s longtime concertmaster Glenn Dicterow noted in a CNN interview nearly nine years ago, his core responsibilities are unifying an army of string players and relaying a conductor’s ideas. Dicterow, 61, has done so under the batons of Zubin Metha—who tapped him 20 years ago for the post—Kurt Masur, and Lorin Maazel. This season, Dicterow is serving a conductor he watched grow from a gifted child violinist of two colleagues to the music director of the New York Phil, 42-year-old Alan Gilbert. What does Dicterow make of the Phil’s youngest conductor? “[Gilbert] may not have a huge name at this point, but he will soon,” Dicterow says. “He’s changed the sound in a very short amount of time.”
Gilbert’s achieved this new sound in two ways: splitting the orchestra antiphonally and holding the orchestra to a different set of standards.
An antiphonal orchestra seats the first and second violins across the stage from each other. The first violins are flanked by the cellists, who have the bassists seated behind them. “That antiphonal approach works in lots of repertoire,” Dicterow says, “but other repertoire is challenging to play because we’re so separated. You have to rely greatly on the visual content with the conductor and trust the beat. [But Gilbert] is very definite and accurate.
“It’s not popular with everybody,” adds Dicterow, speaking of the new seating arrangement. “But what we’re trying to do is improve our acoustics, and we’re not getting a new hall in the near future.”
And what of Gilbert’s standards?
“He’s insisting very much that we play as chamber musicians and listen to each other,” Dicterow says, “and not always just go on the way we played it 10 million times.” In short, “you [now] play it as if your life depends on it.”
White House Welcomes Classical Kids
President Barack Obama may be a bigger fan of Jay Z and Stevie Wonder, but on November 4 the First Family turned an ear to classical music as part of the White House Music Series. The day began with workshops by violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Alisa Weilerstein, among others, leading 120 middle and high school music students, as well as Sphinx Competition laureates, followed by an afternoon concert hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. “Many of you are perfectionists and it’s not always easy,” the First Lady said to the students. “But I can tell you this: It’s through that kind of struggle that you find what you truly have to offer to your instrument or to anything in life.”
An evening concert in the East Room hosted by the president capped the event. “There was a real emphasis on education, which I thought was wonderful and unusual,” Weilerstein says. “There have been plenty of concerts in the White House through various administrations, but this was a real first that we got kids from all over country together to learn.”
Juilliard Unveils Manuscript Collection
Autographs, working manuscripts, sketches, and engravers’ proofs are part of the 138-piece Juilliard Manuscript Collection that’s being housed in a stronghold on the Juilliard School campus. Protected by a vapor barrier, precise temperature, humidity, and lighting controls, motion detectors, cameras, and safety glass, the collection now rests in the Scholars’ Reading Room, which was part of the school’s $200-million, three-year renovation. The collection began with donations in 2006 by Juilliard chairman Bruce Kovner.
It counts among its prized pieces Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony prepared for the printer, with numerous revisions, collections, and alterations by the composer. To celebrate the recent opening of the Scholars’ Reading Room, Juilliard music history chair L. Michael Griffel and Harvard University professor Christoph Wolff gave lectures on the collection’s newest additions—Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro—and Juilliard’s resident graduate quartet, the Afiara String Quartet, performed the Beethoven in November.
The entire collection is viewable at juilliard-manuscriptcollection.org.
American Viola Society Holds Composition Contest
In recognition of one of its own and to boost its alto-clef repertoire, the American Viola Society has created the biennial Maurice Gardner Composition Competition. The competition, which is being directed by Weber State University music department chair and violist Michael Palumbo, had received about 80 compositions for solo viola and viola accompanied by piano or electronics by the November deadline. Judges are set to pick a finalist by February. The winner will receive $2,000 and paid travel expenses to see the premiere performed by violist Scott Slapin at the 38th International Viola Congress, from June 16–20 at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The competition has received a lot of attention, Palumbo says, and the compositions keep coming in. “We’ve had submissions from people coming from all walks of life,” he says.
A violist and composer, the late Gardner wrote more than 600 works. His music has been performed by Jaime Laredo, Paul Neubauer, and the Pacifica Quartet, among others.
Edgar Meyer to Fly Solo on Next Two Albums
Double-bassist Edgar Meyer is not afraid of playing outside of the classical realm: his most recent collaboration is with banjoist Béla Fleck and tabla (Indian hand drum) player Zakir Hussain. But these days the 49-year-old Sony Classical artist is ready to make a return to Bottesini and his solo career. “I’ve always written short pieces for bass,” Meyer says. “And in terms of longer or more serious efforts, I’ve done more of that for other people, like writing Josh Bell a 25-minute, violin-piano piece. I’ve not done that kind of thing for myself outside of one or two concertos.”
Throughout the year, Meyer will be working on two albums: one will be composed of original solo works for bass; the other, he says, will be short violin and cello pieces arranged for bass and piano, as well as some works by the original double-bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini.
Meyer already has booked tour dates for 2011.