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NYO-USA Musician Blogs: A Whole New World of Sound

Conducting apprentice Christopher Vazan recalls the joy of spending his summer with NYO-USA, and particularly the privilege of being immersed in such beautiful sounds on a near daily basis. He also marvels at how much this intense period of listening has impacted his own musicianship.

Christopher Vazan
Conducting Apprentice

It’s over. It’s kind of hard to believe, but after a 16 hour flight, a couple days of dazed, jet-lagged confusion, and a lot of sleep, we are once again scattered around the country, and NYO-USA 2015 has entered into the past. The music making has come to an end, but only partly. When making music, there is always the actual music being played, and then there is everything before, after, and between the notes, with which a community is formed. Our Facebook group is more active than ever before, and thousands of photos from our month together have been uploaded already. Especially in a field like classical music, where everyone seems to know each other, I think it is no exaggeration to say that these relationships will last a lifetime.

But I do miss the music. I miss the physical sound of a live orchestra. From the ethereal slow movement of the “Emperor” Concerto to the jaw dropping finale of the Symphonie fantastique, the sensation of hearing living sound grows addicting. Especially for me as a pianist, a vast majority of the orchestral music I have gotten to know has been through recordings. For the first time, I was able to spend four weeks in the presence of a live sound, and now that it is gone, I find recordings particularly unsatisfying. Headphones do not breathe. Even when we were on tour, we would always have one day between concerts for traveling, and I remember during one of those days I was hit with a strong urge to hear us play—I couldn't wait for rehearsal the next day. The recording industry may be struggling, but the experience of hearing a live concert can never be replaced.

NYO Chris Vazan at piano (Chris Lee)
Chris Vazan (at the piano) and Assistant Conductor Jacob Sustaita rehearse with the orchestra. (Photo: Chris Lee)

Not only did my love for listening increase, but my listening itself improved. During the first week at Purchase, we had a lab orchestra session—essentially a conducting lesson with Orchestra Director Jim Ross and the orchestra. I was conducting “Un bal,” the second movement of the Berlioz, and at one point Mr. Ross whispered into my ear, “listen to the basses.” It was unbelievable—just from my physical gestures, it was obvious to him what I was and was not actively hearing at any given moment. After just two hours, my ears opened up to a whole new world of sound. This development continued throughout the month. As I did not have many chances to play piano while in China, one of the first things I did when I arrived home was sit down and play through the overture to my favorite piece of music, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner. I thought I knew the piece quite well, so I was absolutely shocked at how much detail I was hearing (and feeling!) for the first time. My awareness of the rich counterpoint had grown so much more acute, and I can attribute this directly to four weeks of close listening to and with this amazing orchestra. I miss the music and I miss my friends, but I have gained so much from this month. Thank you, NYO-USA.

Browse all of the blog posts by Christopher and the other NYO-USA musicians.

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