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!
by Max Raimi, CSO violist since 1984
Every year, on a weekend day in early September, I share a ritual with my son Paul and frequently with one of his friends. We each fashion several paper airplanes and then head downtown to Orchestra Hall. As the season hasn’t started yet, the hall is usually deserted (except for the main security posts), quiet, and dark, which is perfect for our purposes. I have my concert clothes and viola, which I stash in my locker in the men’s dressing room while Paul explores the backstage area, showing his friend around and patronizing the vending machines in the musicians’ lounge.
Once my locker is set up, we start heading upstairs. We always enjoy going out into the boxes and the balconies to experience the various perspectives on the stage, but our destination is the very top level, the gallery. When we get up there, we proceed to the front of the section and take turns launching our airplanes. It is wonderful to watch them gliding down. Some of them only make it into the next balcony, but a really well constructed and thrown one will reach the main floor.
This year, Paul made history. One of his squadron actually landed on the stage, the first time either of us had managed this. A thing of beauty it was, gliding and sailing through the silent hall as time seemed to stand still.
We then scour the auditorium for our planes. In general, we don’t leave until all the planes are accounted for, but on one or two occasions, a plane has ended up in some sort of Bermuda Triangle, perhaps in the upper balcony, and has never been retrieved. If you found it, you now know the story. You have our apologies. Please don’t throw it during the concert!
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.”
by Christine Watkins, Illinois Library Association
Reprinted with permission from the ILA Reporter, June 2015, published by the Illinois Library Association
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Music Library is literally underneath the stage, tucked away on the lower level of Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. All those notes that you hear soaring and wafting their way to your place in the audience start out as little black marks on cream-colored paper, stored on the library shelves. Thousands of musical scores as well as the separate parts for each individual instrument are organized by composer. When the next season is announced, the orchestra librarians review the holdings to see what they already own, which scores and parts they may need to buy or rent from music publishers.
But if you think there’s nothing more to it than to take the music off the shelves and deliver it to the music stands upstairs, you’re mistaken. There’s a lot to learn about the role of orchestral librarians—they are not, in fact, librarians in the typical sense of the term. They do not hold library degrees, and they are not even very similar to what we would think of as a “music” librarian, someone who manages a collection that includes books, recordings, and any number of things related to the study of music, as well as performance.
They are, in short, the keepers of the score, which goes far beyond just making sure the orchestra has the right ones on hand. The scores—and parts—are carefully reviewed for any errors in notation: a wrong note, a missing measure, or mark of some sort. The review—a kind of proofreading—includes comparing the parts to the score, to make sure nothing’s been lost. And after review, there’s a kind of copy-editing—marking up the parts for things like when the strings move their bows up or down or when to turn the page, so everything happens in unison, seemingly without effort.
The librarians attend rehearsal, and make note of anything that might need their attention. Rehearsal time is precious, and the goal is to make sure the music is clearly marked ahead of time. Peter Conover, one of three CSO librarians, sums it up: “Our expertise involves the preparation of materials for use in performance.
Although we are called librarians, in truth we are really more musicians. Most of us trained as performing musicians, and since there are relatively few opportunities to formally train as an orchestra librarian, internships or apprenticeships have traditionally been the way we’ve learned our skills.”
This is where MOLA—the Major Orchestra Librarians Association—can come in handy. Founded in 1893, it has grown from an organization of about twenty-five orchestra librarians located mostly on the east coast of the United States to a membership of more than 270 institutions from around the world. In addition to being a forum for experienced orchestra librarians, it can also be a resource for musicians who end up with responsibilities for managing the music, so to speak, with little or no experience.
Conover was a conservatory-trained bass player in an east coast orchestra, and got his start because the orchestra was willing to pay him an extra $50 per performance to mark up the music. He came to find the work interesting and rewarding, and somewhere along the line, made a career choice that led him to orchestras in Arizona and Texas before coming to Chicago in 1998. His colleagues, Mark Swanson and Carole Keller, came by slightly different routes, though both are trained musicians. Swanson started out playing trombone, moved into arranging and copying music, and free-lanced his way to becoming a CSO librarian. Keller studied the cello and worked in the library of her college orchestra and after graduation got a job in the box office of the Minnesota Orchestra. When she heard there was an opening in the library, she jumped at the chance, and her college experience paid off. She moved on to become principal librarian for the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada, then joined the CSO in 2000.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
One thing orchestra librarians have in common with the rest of the profession is a penchant for organization. Scores and parts are moved from the “general collection” to a series of shelves for the current season. Then as the performance approaches, the parts are marked and broken up into individual folders for each player. Those folders move to another shelving area, ready to be taken to the stage each night and placed on the music stands, first for rehearsals of that week’s program, then eventually for each performance.
Another is attention to detail, and patron preferences. Music for cellists, for example, may need to be slightly enlarged, because they are further away from their music stands than other players. Some musicians may want their parts scanned and sent to them electronically for practice. When asked the most important part of their job, a response on the MOLA website reads: “To have the right music in the right place at the right time.”
There are no fines for unreturned music, but it rarely disappears. The orchestra members know it’s in their own best interests for the music to be held in the library. As far as the decision to rent or buy, it depends on a number of factors. Works in the public domain, which include a large part of the classical repertoire, are likely to be purchased. For works with current copyright restrictions, especially those that may be performed rarely or infrequently, renting from the publisher may be the only choice.
The collection doesn’t circulate, but besides traveling up to the stage at Symphony Center and some miles north for the orchestra’s summer season at Ravinia, it does go on tour. Along with all the pieces scheduled for the tour, the librarians are in charge of deciding what else should come along—anthems for countries they’re visiting, repertoire that’s appropriate if there’s a tragedy or death that occurs on the day of the concert, and a selection of encores, which can be unpredictable.
“Maestro Barenboim was challenging when it came to encores, he might ask for almost anything!” said Conover. “We were on tour in 2001 when the World Trade Center was hit,” adds Keller. “We had no idea what—or even if—we were going to play that night. We eventually did, but we added the Star-Spangled Banner at the beginning of the performance.”
In general, e-music doesn’t seem to have become as prevalent as e-books. Some smaller ensembles use or experiment with “electronic music stands,” but they are far from the norm for major orchestras. The complexity of the music, the number of players, the consequences of a glitch, and to some extent, the age of the players, all contribute to a strong preference for paper. “Paper is infallible and hard to improve on,” says Conover.
By: Stephen Lester, CSO string bassist since 1978
As I am sure most everybody is aware, after months of difficult negotiations, and playing without a contract for the first two weeks of the season, the Musicians of the Orchestra, through their Negotiating Committee and Union, came to an agreement with the CSOA on a new contract. Despite that neither negotiating team was happy with the results, everyone sighed a deep sigh of relief!
It became apparent towards the end of negotiations that what was at stake was not just the incredibly small amounts of money separating the two sides at the end, but rather a simple fact: in the current climate of uneasy donors, management upheavals, and the relentless propaganda about the demise of “classical music,” a strike would have been devastating to the organization and the Orchestra. Compromise is never easy; but when faced with the alternative, compromise is often essential. We applaud our employer for recognizing this.
We could spend a good deal of time in an effort to dissect the results, trace the causes, and try to analyze the motivations. But at the end of the day, the fact of agreement is enough (for now).
Curiously, the major impetus for compromise came from two sources, one outside the process and one inside. Though not involved in a material way with the negotiations, our Music Director, Riccardo Muti, played a crucial role. He advocates as no one can for the value and integrity of what the orchestra does. His comments from the stage, in the press, and to the musicians, show deep passion for our profession and art, and form an impressive argument that effectively counters negative portrayals of American orchestras. We are extremely grateful for his help.
The other impetus for compromise came from the Federal Mediator assigned to our negotiations, Javier Ramirez, who proved to be a tremendous help. Javier readily sensed how the small numbers the parties were dealing with masked a deep philosophical schism – not just between employer and employee, but in what an art form is and how to nurture and sustain it. That showed remarkable sensitivity and intelligence. As an example of our tax dollars at work, we say Bravo!
The Orchestra members showed incredible strength and unity in this process, and as is often the case, a silver lining appeared during this difficult process. Our members have become much more self aware as an Orchestra. As you are enjoying this newsletter, and hopefully our website and Facebook page, we hope you can see how we want to communicate with everyone directly. We want you to know us as musicians and as members of the Chicago community. We want to introduce you to our lives, both professionally and, to a certain degree, personally. We hope that in the months and years to come, you will see and hear more of us, as an orchestra and as people. So please, as Maestro Muti says, “stay close to your orchestra!”
By: David Sanders, CSO cellist since 1974
Something that members of a world-class symphony orchestra are used to hearing, especially around contract negotiations time, is that “those musicians only work twenty hours a week” (four rehearsals and four concerts). What is missing from that statement? Let’s see.
Most members of a great orchestra began working at their chosen instrument from the time they were young children, maybe as young as four or five years old. I was a late starter; I started cello lessons at age 14. But it’s not just a matter of taking lessons over a long period of time. Generally speaking, the successful instrumentalists practice on average anywhere from three to six hours a day, every day. Think about that. What have most people been doing from the time they were five years old for three hours a day, or six hours a day. There are very few courses of study or careers that take that kind of dedication, attention to detail, concentration, and a general fanaticism over the course of ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years. And that is before you get a job. A violinist who starts the instrument at five years of age will very likely study and practice that instrument for twenty years or more before getting a job in a great orchestra. That’s over forty thousand hours of practice.
Okay, so you’ve been practicing for 40,000 hours, and you apply for an audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So do 149 other violinists. And your audition lasts somewhere between two (not a good sign) and fifteen minutes (a very, very good sign). You’re called back to the finals, along with two or three others, and low and behold, you win the job. Thank God, you can stop practicing. WRONG!!!!
When I was the lucky one on April 23, 1974 and got my job in the CSO, of course I knew that I was joining possibly the best Orchestra in the world. A year earlier Time Magazine had had a cover article featuring Sir Georg Solti, who was to be my music director, and called him “the fastest baton in the west.” The article also rated U. S. orchestras, and for the CSO it simply said “sine qua non.” I was excited. I was practicing. I wanted to earn my keep, so to speak. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I sat down in that great cello section in that great Orchestra. All around me, everywhere I looked and listened, there was such greatness coming from so many instruments. And they were doing it with such naturalness and ease, yet with an incredible intensity. I had the intensity at that time, but I didn’t feel as if I had the naturalness and ease, so I started practicing even harder.
You cannot rest on your laurels in the Chicago Symphony, or in any world-class orchestra. You never want to let your colleagues down, yourself down, or, maybe more importantly, the music down. Now in my 42nd year, I still don’t want to let my colleagues, myself or the music down. It is a never-ending struggle to continually try to master a musical instrument, to keep improving, be it string, wind, brass, or percussion. And believe me when I say, twenty hours a week is just the beginning.
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.