Stephen Williamson Talks About Playing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto for the Chicago Food Depository Benefit Concert.
Stephen Williamson will be performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with Maestro Riccardo Muti conducting on June 13, 2016, during the special Benefit Concert for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. We asked him a few questions about the upcoming performance.
When did Maestro Muti first ask you to play the Mozart Concerto?
When I won the job as Principal Clarinet in May 2011, Maestro Muti said that he would like to perform the Mozart Clarinet Concerto together some day. We were scheduled to play the Concerto on four CSO subscription concerts in February 2016. At the last minute, Maestro Muti had to cancel his February concerts after suffering a fall and needing surgery. I ended up performing the concerto with Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky. When the Chicago Symphony Musicians decided to produce our own benefit concert, which Maestro Muti immediately agreed to conduct, it was only natural that the Mozart Concerto would be on the program.
How do you feel about performing on this Benefit Concert?
I’m looking forward to playing in the Studebaker Theater. This concert will have a deeper meaning for me because it’s for a great cause, helping our Chicago community members who don’t have enough to eat. Healthy food is a basic necessity. We take it for granted that we have food on the table. Music reaches people of all races, colors, and creeds. It’s food for the soul.
What is special to you about the Mozart Clarinet Concerto?
The Concerto is a late work of Mozart’s, written at the same time as his operas The Magic Flute and La clemenza di Tito and his unfinished Requiem. Mozart wrote only 199 measures of what was first intended as a basset horn concerto. He apparently decided that the piece would work better on a basset clarinet. Anton Stadler, for whom the Concerto was written, had a clarinet made that would cover a larger range than a standard clarinet. Mozart loved Stadler’s low register, and transcribed his original draft to the key of A. Mozart admired Stadler so highly that after two years of friendship, he invited Stadler to become a Mason like himself. I think that the Clarinet Concerto is the greatest wind concerto Mozart ever wrote. I try to play it from a vocal perspective, like an opera singer. The piece has little to do with the clarinet at all!
What is it like to make music with Maestro Muti?
We seem to have a unified idea about how music should sound. It seems effortless, because Maestro Muti knows how to nurture my playing in the moment to bring out my best playing.
Matous and Simon Michal, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Violinists
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Music Director Riccardo Muti, Section Violin- 2 positions available.In the spring of 2015 a simple notice appeared in the International Musician, the monthly publication of the American Federation of Musicians:
The first part of the audition process started in late September 2015. In order to make the process as fair as possible, the CSO holds blind auditions. The nine CSO members on the audition committee can’t see the musicians who are taking the audition and don’t receive any information about them. The Personnel Office assigns each candidate a number and that’s how the audition committee refers to them. If a candidate receives a super-majority of votes from the committee he or she is invited to the final audition. Only then is a candidate’s name revealed.
At the end of one day of preliminary auditions, there was a finalist named Matous Michal. The next week there was a finalist who was named Simon Michal! After a quick Google search it was determined that they were brothers from the Czech Republic, studying in New York City. After six days of preliminary auditions, and 178 violinists, only eight violinists had been invited to the final audition, to be held on November 30, 2015. Finals are held when Maestro Muti is in residency, so he can confer with the audition committee in the selection of new musicians. After the finalists had all played and the votes of the committee were tallied, the two brothers came out on top, and Maestro Muti offered Matous and Simon Michal positions in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra violin section.
The newest members of the Chicago Symphony violin section joined the Orchestra on February 4, 2016. Matous and Simon, ages 24 and 22, are less than two years apart in age and were one year apart in school. Their father, Ladislav Michal, was their first violin teacher. They each began playing the violin at age 4. Their mother, Michaela is a cellist and teacher. The brothers grew up in Bezdekov, a beautiful village of 300 people where Mr. and Mrs. Michal still reside. Both Matous and Simon attended high school at the Prague Conservatory, a three-hour bus ride from their home. While studying at the Conservatory, the brothers took violin lessons with professors there, but during their weekend visits home their father expected them to play for him so he could check on their progress.
Matous was the first to come to the United States, in the summer of 2006, where he attended the Meadowmount School for Strings, an intensive 7-week summer program in upstate New York. Simon joined his brother at Meadowmount in 2007 and each of them attended for four summers. In 2010, Matous began undergraduate studies at Juilliard, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance in 2014. This month he will receive a Masters Degree in Orchestral Performance from the Manhattan School of Music. As part of his degree requirements, Matous wrote a paper on performance anxiety with the guidance of pianist Carol Ann Aicher. Simon received a Bachelor’s Degree from Juilliard in 2015. Simon started a Master’s Degree program last fall at the Manhattan School of Music, but left after the first semester to join the CSO. Matous played in the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago last summer. Playing in the CSO is Simon’s first professional job.
We asked Matous and Simon a few questions:
When did you first start learning English?
Matous: We began studying English in school in the fourth grade, but a few years later our dad thought we needed more help, so we took private lessons with a famous translator who is a family friend.
Simon: Speaking English was a small problem during our first summers at Meadowmount. We didn’t speak very much, because we couldn’t understand what people were saying, so other students thought we were quiet. Years later when we ran into people that we had known at Meadowmount, they couldn't believe how much more outgoing we had become. But it was just that we had become more comfortable speaking English after having lived in New York.
How did your parents feel about you both winning jobs in the CSO?
Matous: “I think they were stunned and they didn’t believe it right away. My Mom told us that she woke very early one morning, and Dad wasn’t in bed. She went downstairs to check on him, and he was sitting on the couch. He told her that he couldn’t sleep ‘because I am so happy.’ ”
When did you last visit your parents?
Simon: “We went home for Christmas. Our parents are looking forward to their first trip to Chicago in June. The only other time they have travelled to the US was to accompany us on a school orchestra trip to New Mexico in the fall of 2007. They are especially looking forward to attending concerts at Orchestra Hall conducted by Maestro Muti. They also hope to be in the audience when the CSO performs in Vienna next January as part of a European tour.”
Simon and Matous Michal, Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinists
photo by David Taylor
Sunghee Choi, Chicago Symphony Orchestra Violist
Sunghee Choi joined the viola section of the CSO in October of 2015. We asked her to tell us about herself and her path to joining the CSO.
"I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. I started playing the violin at the age of nine. I played the violin for most of my life until I switched to the viola six years ago. I attended Seoul National University for my bachelor's degree and I moved to the U.S. afterwards to continue pursuing my dream of a music career. I received my MM from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and enrolled at Rutgers University for my DMA. During my doctoral studies with Arnold Steinhardt, my teacher suggested that I try the viola, since I've always had a rich and deep sound. I immediately fell in love with it. During my third year at Rutgers, I decided to officially switch to the viola and study with Choong-jin Chang, the principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I am grateful to have finally found the perfect instrument for me. I was lucky to have worked with some of the best teachers in the world.
After concentrating on the viola for a year, I joined the viola section of the Grant Park Festival Orchestra and also started subbing with the New York Philharmonic. In 2012, I began to sub for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in 2013, I joined the viola section of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. At that time, I also subbed with Philly during the off seasons. Last fall, I finally won my dream job and joined the viola section of the CSO!
I love both symphonic and operatic works. It's impossible to compare Mahler’s symphonies to Puccini's operas. As a performer, I enjoy playing symphonies on stage, but dressing up and going to watch an opera has always been one of my favorite things to do.
The January 2016 tour was particularly special and emotional for me because our last stop was my hometown, Seoul, where my family was in the audience. The love and support that they have given me all these years is invaluable, and I would not be here today without them. The fact that they were able to watch me perform with the CSO is something I will never forget. They loved the first concert so much that they immediately bought tickets for the following night! It was a special treat for them, but also for me as well.
On my iPod, I have so many recordings of the CSO. I grew up listening to them all the time since I was little. It is difficult to put into words how grateful I am to be here and how honored I am to perform with Maestro Muti. Working with him is truly my dream come true.”
By Chris Kornelis of the Wall Street Journal. December 7, 2015.
People made fun of me when I first got it because it’s so bloody huge, but I use a Samsung Galaxy Note II to draw the stage diagrams I send to the crew that sets everything up for us. This afternoon we’re performing Leonard Bernstein’s score to the film “On the Waterfront,” and I’m personally playing snare drum, three toms, xylophone, bells, vibraphone and marimba. If the stage is not set up the right way, you get percussionists crossing paths and running into each other. I used to draw a diagram with pen and paper and take a picture of it, but the Note is really handy.
A lot of my gear doesn’t come from the music store. All of my triangle holders, for example, are made from bent coat hangers. My chime hammers are yellow acrylic mallets that I get at the hardware store—I don’t even know what craftsmen use them for. And fishing line is a must-have. Sometimes, a score calls for key chimes instead of wind chimes, so I’ll round up everyone’s old keys and string them up with fishing line.
I travel with Drummers Service Abel Concert snare drumsticks, which I never, ever, ever check at the airport. They go with my laptop as a carry-on. The three pairs I have were made by Bill Reamer [owner of Drummers Service], who passed away, so they’ll have to last me my whole career.
I’m protective of my own gear, because I tend to humanize inanimate objects. I got my Black Swamp tambourine in 1999, when I was an undergrad at the University of British Columbia. I’ve spent so many hours with it. I know it. I just have this relationship and I know what it’s going to do.
We had a BMW growing up and it saved our lives when we got into a huge accident once, so I love my 2008 BMW 335xi, even though I don’t drive it that much. I’m quite sensitive to sound, so I don’t actually listen to a lot of music in the car. I listen to the sound of the engine or NPR.
I still own a metronome, but I don’t use it much because you have to find a 9-volt battery or practice by an outlet to plug it in. These days I just use whatever metronome app I can get free on my phone. Right now, that’s one called Metronome Beats.
My mother was a great cook, and so was her mom, so I learned by watching them. I use a Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. When I was growing up, everybody had a rice cooker. I’ve never seen it made any other way.
Read the article on the Wall Street Journal's Website at wsj.com.
By: Yuan-Qing Yu, CSO violinist since 1995
In Shanghai, my father, Yu Zhen-Sheng, gave me my first violin lesson shortly after I turned six. Due to the impact of the Cultural Revolution, the only violin that my parents could find was too large for me. I learned to play the instrument with my left arm almost fully extended and with a stack of old books under my elbow to support it. Both of my parents worked full time jobs with a combined income of roughly eight dollars per month. After a long day of work, my mother, Mi Yi-Wen, would prepare dinner in the kitchen which we shared with three other families, while my father would sit with me in our 130 square-foot, one-room apartment, listening to me practice. Day after day and year after year, my parents were with me when I practiced, fanning me through the hot summers, warming my hands in the frigid winters. My father not only gave me a solid foundation as a violinist, but also taught me to appreciate and make the best use of what we have at hand.
During my Shanghai Conservatory years in the late 1980s, my teacher, Zheng Shi-Sheng, gave me lessons as often as three times a week. His love for violin and his dedication to his students taught me that musicians are people who do not just make music; they live their lives through music, breathing music and seeing the world through the lens of music. Being the exact same age as my father, Professor Zheng was my coach, my guardian, and my parent. In April of 1989, we spent three weeks together in London and Folkestone, England, in preparation for the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition. It was my first time away from home. We visited major monuments, such as the Parliament and Big Ben. We spent most of our waking moments together, studying the scores, practicing, eating our meals together and sightseeing. Until this day, I still remember his words of advice: “Do not practice right after you eat, it’s bad for digestion.” I won the Second Grand Prize in that competition.
I left Shanghai for the United States in 1990. I made sure that I went to see Professor Zheng every time I returned to Shanghai. The last trip I made was in January 2013, while on tour as a member of the CSO. At age 77, Professor continued to practice every morning for three hours, and then taught multiple students. We met at his studio in the Conservatory. Dressed in winter attire and comfy slippers, we reminisced about the past with smiles on our faces. He was especially fond of the trip to England, and my excitement when we visited toy stores in London. That was the last time we saw each other. Professor Zheng passed away in January 2014.
I will be returning to Shanghai again this coming January with the CSO, making music with my colleagues and Maestro Muti in a city where I spent my formative years. My parents will be traveling with me, my relatives will be at the concert, and my teacher will be greatly missed. But I trust that he will be there in spirit.
Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, our new Principal Flute
Stefán Höskuldsson officially becomes our new Principal Flute on May 30, 2016. He played the opening weeks of this 2015-16 season during Maestro Muti’s fall residency, and will be joining the CSO for the upcoming Asian tour. We asked him to tell us a little bit about himself for the Spotlight.
"I come from a small town in the east coast of Iceland called Neskaupstadur. At the age of nine I showed talent for the flute and since there were no real flute teachers in my town my father decided that I should get the best possible teacher in Iceland. So he contacted Bernhard Wilkinson who was Principal Flute in the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Reykjavik. I had an informal audition with him and he accepted me as his student. My small hometown is about ten hours drive from Reykjavik. My father owned a furniture shop in town and also played the organ in the church as well as the piano and accordion. I was too young to move to the “big city” so my father, who was determined to get me the best education possible, drove me once a month for about six years for flute lessons.
After six years, at the age of 15, I moved to Reykjavik for my formal undergraduate studies with Mr. Wilkinson at the Reykjavik College of Music. I finished my studies in Iceland at the age of 20 and went on to do my Master degree at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester U.K. studying with Peter Lloyd and Wissam Boustany.
In 2004 I won the 2nd flute/piccolo audition at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I held that position until 2008 when I won the MET Principal Flute position, after about a year of playing acting principal flute.
I have idolized the CSO ever since I was a student listening to all the great recordings, and then later live in concert. I knew from the moment the job became open that this was an opportunity I could not pass up.
In 2010 I had the great good fortune to work with Maestro Muti when he conducted Attila by Verdi at the MET. It was one of the highlights of my time at the MET and ever since then it has been a dream of mine to get to work with him again - and the dream has now come true!
My first weeks with the CSO this season have been amazing, it has been such a pleasure to meet all the wonderful musicians and human beings of the orchestra. I feel honored and fortunate to become a part of this extraordinary group that is so dedicated to the highest level of excellence in music making."
Welcome to the CSO Stefán!
Those who serve as elected representatives of the musicians in an orchestra don’t get talked about much. They serve knowing that this is not a high profile job. Yet it is an essential job, crucial to the success of the orchestra. So when a member of the Members’ Committee (as our representatives are known), does something outstanding or noteworthy, we should take a minute and say thank you!
Earlier this year, Roger Cline, a member of the orchestra who has served on our Members’ Committee for forty years, chose not to run for re-election. Roger has been an active member of the Committee for as long as I have been in the orchestra, and for over twenty of those years he served as Vice Chairman of the Committee. He has served on every negotiating committee since 1979. Roger put in countless hours of meetings with Management, Trustees, and Musicians. He has taken a particular interest in acoustics (of which he is very knowledgeable), but served willingly on all sorts of committees and initiatives. It adds up to thousands of hours of extra work, all without compensation, all for his colleagues, and ultimately for the music.
Through all of this I have known Roger as a great friend, an honest critic, reliable to a fault, and most important, a wise counsel, who can work with anyone. Thank you, your experience and wisdom will be missed!
Roger Cline, by Jenny Mondie
I have been a violist in the National Symphony Orchestra for twenty years. What on earth does that have to do with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and why would they let me steal some of their newsletter space? Because my father, Roger Cline, is a member of the CSO bass section. I would like to tell you about him.
I was not quite a year old when Dad won the CSO bass audition in 1973. There are stories about him putting me in my infant seat on the dining room table and practicing excerpts at me before that audition. Mom, Dad, and I moved to the north suburbs of Chicago that September and straight into a four-week lockout. While it was an immense honor and very exciting for Dad to have this new prestigious position (he was previously in the West Point band playing sousaphone), the lockout must have been quite a strain for a young family. My Dad is very logical and likes finding creative solutions to problems, so it was probably inevitable that he would be drawn to serving on the Members' Committee, but the experience of joining an orchestra during a labor stoppage probably sealed his fate.
In case you do not know what an orchestra Members' Committee is, it is the elected group of musicians that liaises with the orchestra management. Inevitably, issues arise in the general governance of a dynamic symphony orchestra, with constantly changing programming, conductors, soloists, venues, tours, etc. There are often difficult decisions to be made on behalf of the group. These decisions inevitably make some people happy and others not so happy. Committee members spend lots and lots and LOTS of time in meetings, assessing every situation that arises. Also, from this Committee is chosen a negotiating subcommittee that is responsible for bargaining new contracts every few years.
The Chicago Symphony maintains a rigorous schedule. But when I was growing up, all the time Dad spent in rehearsals and concerts must have been close to matched by time spent on Committee matters, especially in years with contract negotiations. There were often late night phone calls about urgent issues. My mom, brother, and I would wonder if Dad would be at the bargaining table all night, or might be home for dinner. In my youth, I just thought this kind of commitment was the norm. Now that I am a veteran in my own orchestra, I understand just how amazing his level of dedication was.
I am currently the National Symphony’s Committee chairman. Now I’m the one who stays an extra hour after services for meetings, writes countless emails, pores over contract language, and tries to find those same kinds of creative solutions to my orchestra’s challenges. Even with exceptional mentors and colleagues on my own Committee, I still constantly ask Dad for his advice and perspective. Here’s one very Cline example. Once after a meeting, I was criticized by one of my Committee colleagues as being too dour towards our management. Distraught, I called Dad. His response was “If there isn’t someone scowling on your side of the table, how will they know you’re really paying attention?”
A few weeks ago, after almost 40 years of service on the Members' Committee and a last contract ratification, Dad finally took a break from Committee work. I imagine there is an element of relief from setting down that responsibility and allowing other capable hands to continue it. But I suspect he may feel a little empty without the Committee camaraderie and the satisfaction of making that tangible contribution above and beyond his amazing musicianship.
So on behalf of our colleagues who often seem to forget our names and call us, “Hey, you’re on the Committee,” before expressing some concern, what they really mean and what I would really like to say is, “Thank you, Dad, for your dedication, strength, selflessness, and tenacity.”
A member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s flute section since 1973, Louise Dixon retires from the Orchestra tied as the third longest-serving flutist in Chicago Symphony history. At the time of her appointment by Sir Georg Solti, she was principal flute of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and a member of the Grant Park Orchestra.
A native of Pigeon, Michigan, Louise was introduced to the flute through the school music program and joined the Saginaw Youth Orchestra, winning the Young Artist Competition to appear as soloist with the Saginaw Symphony. After completing high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, she earned a Performer’s Certificate and a Bachelor of Music degree at Indiana University and a Master of Music degree at Northwestern University. Her teachers included James Pellerite and Walfrid Kujala.
Throughout her many years with the CSO, Louise was an active performer on the Orchestra's chamber music series and a frequent soloist at the Bach Week Festival in Evanston. She was a soloist with the CSO numerous times in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 at Orchestra Hall and Ravinia. She was also a guest artist with the Chicago Chamber Musicians and a member of the faculty at the DePaul University School of Music.
When asked what she will be doing in her retirement, Louise mentions biking, golf, bridge, French class and yoga! She is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and summers at her home on Lake Huron in Michigan with her dog Jasper.
The members of the CSO send our best wishes to our beloved colleague, and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.`
Keith Buncke, our new Principal Bassoon
Keith Buncke, Principal Bassoon, became the newest member of the Chicago Symphony in July, 2015, joining us at the Ravinia Festival. At 22 years old, he is the youngest member of the Orchestra. Keith was Principal Bassoon of the Atlanta Symphony for one season before joining the CSO. Before that, he was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music. Keith says, “The reputation of the CSO and the prospect of playing in a world-class orchestra were attractive to me. I also liked the idea of working in the thriving, culturally important city of Chicago.” Keith succeeds the recently retired David McGill, who had also attended Curtis, and who held the CSO post from 1997-2014. Keith says, “I grew up listening to recordings of the CSO and greatly admired Mr. McGill’s musicianship. In high school I read Mr. McGill’s book, Sound in Motion, which explains Marcel Tabuteau’s system of phrasing for musicians.” Tabuteau was the revered Principal Oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1915-1954, and also taught at Curtis. Keith adds, “Marcel Tabuteau’s playing and teaching established the American style of woodwind performance. To attend Curtis and realize its connection to that history was amazing.” We’re very happy to welcome Keith to the CSO.