Friday, October 1, 2010

Round One - Review


It has been a few months since I read about the Treblemakers program in the illustrious Free Times. Normally if I read the Free Times, I do a quick skim through the articles and end up on the hilarious “Rant and Rave” section. Luckily I picked up the paper (and actually spent time reading the articles) on the week when an article ran about the South Carolina Philharmonic starting a season-long program to involve some of Columbia’s young professionals.

We (the Treblemakers) first met a couple weeks ago for a formal visit. I arrived shortly before 6:30 pm at the USC School of Music. As each person introduced themselves, I was amazed to see the makeup of the Treblemakers. What else but an interest in learning about and promoting amazing music can bring together lawyers, accountants, Chinese professors, chemist/Jeopardy contestants and small business owners (just to name a few)? I give major props to the Philharmonic for picking all of us to take part in this program and especially Jason Rapp for all of his hard work on getting it off the ground.

During our first meeting each staff member of the Philharmonic discussed their job responsibilities in the organization and we received a crash course in the way the Philharmonic operates. I learned that the Philharmonic is a pay-for-service orchestra (i.e. an orchestra with no salaried players) and that it operates on about $1 million, with approximate equal thirds coming from private donors, tickets and corporate sponsors.

The following Tuesday, we met for a rehearsal visit. The laid back tone for the members of the Treblemakers was set with some hot, delicious Papa John’s pizzas. Morihiko dashed in from an earlier appearance at the Governor’s Mansion. We jumped into some discussion about the Philharmonic, specifically rehearsal technique and getting the orchestra ready for performance. Morihiko was rather nit-picky in rehearsal that night despite claiming to not be such a director. He is an extremely energetic person and a hoot to watch on the conductor’s podium. Morihiko is an obvious source of much of the synergy that the orchestra creates.

Forty-eight hours later, we reconvened for the actual concert, “Song &Dance.” Whoever says nothing happens in Columbia is flat wrong. Not only are they wrong, but when things happen, it is all at once. I came downtown as soon as I got in from some out-of-town work, and although it was over an hour before the concert, the closest [read: free] parking space was already many blocks away. Nothing brings the citizens of Columbia out like a country music concert (one with THREE headliners, no less!).

Part of the Treblemakers program is agreeing to bring a few friends to three select concerts. The Thursday concert throws everything out of whack apparently. I have a number of friends who play in the Columbia Community Concert Band, who coincidentally had a concert the same night. I was trying to avoid doing so, but I ended up advertising my tickets to friends on Facebook. My post read: “Nicholas Annan is looking for two folks who may want to go to the SC Philharmonic concert with him tomorrow night. It will cost you $free.99.” I figured free would get someone’s attention! Luckily, I received a message soon thereafter from a friend whom I have not talked to in awhile. We worked at the student radio station, WUSC, a few years back. Aside from numerous mutual friends and WUSC in common, we were both going to our first SC Philharmonic concert.

Prior to this concert, I have heard the Philharmonic exactly…once. And I was on the stage too. In fact, most every time I have been in the Koger Center, I was either listening to a nationally known artist/comedian, or performing with USC ensembles. It was great to sit up in the second tier and enjoy a performance.

I was blown away by the brilliance and artistry of the SC Philharmonic. This goes back to the previous comment about orchestral synergy. The program opened with Nikos Salkottas Five Greek Dances in honor of the Greek Festival going on that weekend. As a brass player, I was saddened to see the wind players leave the stage (piece apparently strings only). However, I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed the piece. The winds rejoined the orchestra for Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. This is a popular piece in the band world, so I was particularly excited to hear it. Finally, the Philharmonic presented Brahms Symphony No. 2 in G Major, a standard piece of literature for orchestra. I will have to be brutally honest; as much as I enjoy all varieties of music, my knowledge of classical is slightly lacking. I had not heard Brahms Symphony No. 2, but it was outstanding. I enjoyed listening specifically for the sections that I heard Morihiko work on a couple days earlier and for the changes he applied to those sections.

Overall, I am excited to enjoy the 2010-2011 SC Philharmonic season in this capacity. For one thing, it is an exciting opportunity to meet all these interesting young professionals. Equally great is the opportunity to come together to promote music in the Midlands. I am looking forward to the rest of the season and learning more about the Philharmonic. If you have never been to hear the Philharmonic, I highly recommend you get a ticket to a concert this year. I am partial to Gustav Holst's The Planets and Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, so you may want tickets to at least the last concert! Seriously, go iTunes those pieces if you have never heard them.

Last week the Philharmonic started the 2010-11 season with a bang. Masterworks 1: "Song & Dance" was the audience’s first glimpse of what was to come this season, but as a Treblemaker, I had a preview of "Song & Dance" a few days earlier that week.

We were invited to sit in on a rehearsal of Brahms Symphony No. 2, which was fascinating. In fact, it might make sense if all music lovers were able to take advantage of an orchestra’s rehearsal. Sure, it was 90 minutes of start and stop, and fluid, engaging music would be quickly followed by an abrupt, clattering stop. But during the rehearsal, I really got a feel for the important role a conductor plays in leading the Philharmonic. Morihiko would ask for a little more of this, a little less of that. The musicians would make notes, and after rehearsing for an hour and a half, we’d only heard pieces of the Brahms, but I’ve learned an important tool that I hope to use for the rest of the season -- listening to the music slated for each concert beforehand means I know what to anticipate in the performance.

But let me back track for a minute. At our first Treblemakers meeting, Morihiko gave our group clues about how he pieces a season together. A lot of it has to do with budget parameters, of course, but he also makes a real effort to engage the community however he can. Anyone who’s lived in Columbia for a minute or two can tell you that the Greek Festival is one of our city’s most loved events. Morihiko decided to incorporate Nikos Skalkottas Five Greek Dances, which was an appropriate, lively pairing with the kickoff of the festival.

And besides the Brahms, which was a fantastic note on which to end the concert the Philharmonic also played Copland’s Suite from Appalachian Spring, which included the crowd-pleasing "Simple Gifts" – a perfect way to head to intermission.

I need to admit that of our group, my husband and I are probably the least musically inclined. We can’t sing, we both gave up on music lessons around age 10, and we certainly weren’t involved in music programs in college. In fact, we’ve lived in Columbia for several years and never attended a Philharmonic concert. Gasp! And that’s exactly why we had hoped for the opportunity to be a Treblemaker. We enjoy so many aspects of arts opportunities Columbia has to offer, and our all-access Treblemakers pass for this season means we’re learning about the way an orchestra runs from fundraising to the performance, and it’s thrilling. Our first concert certainly wasn’t our last.

-Katie Alice