Yesterday, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America America rehearsed with its 2014 conductor, David Robertson, for the first time. For the first week and a half of the program, NYO-USA’s Orchestra Director James Ross led the ensemble. NYO-USA blogger Leah Meyer reflects on Ross’s unique role of preparing the orchestra for another conductor.
In fourth grade, we learned how to calculate different possible combinations: 2 shirts x 3 colors x 4 pants x 5 shoes yielded a whopping 120 outfits! Each time the orchestra steps on stage to rehearse or perform, we encounter variables that produce outcomes of unfathomable numbers, far beyond those that floored my fourth-grade mind. Air temperature, humidity, crying babies, our last meal, the bow dropped right before a solo—as we cannot control what happens around us, it is tempting to grasp tightly those variables that we can in order to secure ourselves against the unknown. When Maestro James Ross informed us that his job as our conductor for the first week was to prepare us for whatever Maestro Robertson wants to do with the music when he arrives next week, and that we “have to be ready for anything,” it swept out from under us the security of a single interpretation. In exchange, it opened up the rich possibilities of creating new music every time we played.
The freedoms Maestro Ross helped prepare us to enjoy float on top of a rich base of thorough musical training. In our horn section’s master class with Erik Ralske of the MET Orchestra, Mr. Ralske reminded us that “from diligence comes freedom.” A strong musician has plugged up the dangerous leaks through years of building technique and cultivating musicality, and knows how to do so on the fly as new junctions appear with each note. This in turn allows the music to flow down past potential pitfalls and instead explore new creative pathways as they appear. This simultaneous maintenance and expansion comprises the adaptability we work to build.
The orchestra rehearses with James Ross in the Concert Hall of Purchase College, SUNY’s Performing Arts Center.
It seemed at first that changing conductors would require unprecedented attention and flexibility. However, it is merely an adjustment on the macro level of the countless branching paths we choose between every time we pick up our instruments. Basic musical tasks such as clean articulation or bringing down the third of a major triad don’t have the same exciting flavor of exploration that a new conductor brings, but anyone who has cultivated any kind of skill understands that juggling these countless components makes producing a single note into a new journey. A horn player hears and tastes the difference between an E-flat and an F-sharp (which have the same fingering) before she plays it. How successfully that note comes out seems inconsequential when compared with how the conductor guides the orchestra. Yet, both are simply sets of choices—albeit on different scales—that point the music in different directions.
As Maestro Ross reminded us, we have eight concerts, each of which can be a unique musical experience. The objective is not to share the same music with each audience, but to take each opportunity to create something new both for musicians and listeners alike. Who knows what will happen? Come and listen.
Learn more about the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.