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NYO-USA: A Dry Run

On Friday, Nathan Wong, a violist from San Gabriel, California, and his fellow NYO-USA musicians spent an inspiring day with faculty member Robert Chen, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. After a week of sectionals and master classes, Chen played the solo part of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in rehearsal and coached the musicians on chamber music.

Friday was an exciting, eventful day. It was our first run through of the Tchaikovsky with a soloist, Mr. Robert Chen, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As a last minute preparation for accompanying Joshua Bell, Robert Chen re-learned the piece to help us out, and boy, did we ever appreciate it! Oh, the authentic sensation one feels when accompanying a master violinist! The full orchestra sections in the Tchaikovsky were incredibly moving as we were so happy to play with Mr. Chen. Another tidbit of info: Mr. Chen played the cut version of the Tchaikovsky third movement, the one I was most used to, in recordings by Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, and Sarah Chang. With most of us knowing the piece, we were so eager to hear the famous cadenza, but, I guess, his solo solo part was irrelevant to orchestra rehearsal. The second movement was also extremely powerful, especially the slide from a D to a B flat on the A-string. His vibrato and tone were extraordinary and passionate, and we were all compelled to listen in extra carefully since Maestro Ross wants us listening and playing with the soloist, not just watching his baton for downbeats. We were constantly singing the soloist’s part in our heads afterwards. Also, the energy levels were soaring in the concluding passages of the third movement, even after an eventful Fourth of July. I’m pretty sure none of the strings are going to want to do divisi on the last page because of all the adrenaline pumping, but Maestro kept us in check by changing some of our fortissimo’s to mezzo’s to help out the soloist. Regardless of nitty-gritty work, Mr. Chen’s “almost impromptu” performance was outstanding and one to remember as we prep ourselves for Mr. Bell’s arrival.

Later that night, my chamber music group had the huge privilege of having Mr. Chen coach our Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence sextet. He gave us lots of constructive criticism as well as odd analogies involving tribal clothing and Russian dancing. Just one of the witty comments we enjoyed was regarding the section labeled Tempo giusto: “Tempo giusto…gusto…just…justice!” (With a fist in the air). With the score in front of him, he would rattle off passages demonstrating them with finesse and ease. That might have been the most impressive part of our coaching, his ability to precisely show us how “XYZ” should sound in relation to “ABC,” etc. It all made perfect sense, and after dissecting a few parts in addition to bowing/phrasing changes, it sounded like a new piece with discovered enthusiasm. Can’t wait to get working more on it tomorrow and meeting composer Sean Shepherd!

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