Or­ches­tra of­fers es­cape from day jobs

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Michael Wade Simp­son

The am­a­teur of­ten gets a bad rap. Dab­bler, dilet­tante, hob­by­ist, layman, non­ex­pert, tin­kerer — these are all syn­onyms, cour­tesy of Mer­ri­amWeb­ster. And what cri­tique could be cru­eler than to de­scribe some­one or some­thing as am­a­teur­ish? But the word it­self is de­rived from the Latin word am­a­tor, for lover. And when it comes to the all-vol­un­teer Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Or­ches­tra, which of­fers free con­certs through­out the year, it is all about love — a love af­fair with mu­sic. Its sea­son opens with a mu­si­cal pre­view and talk, “Anatomy of a Sym­phony” on Fri­day, Oct. 8, and a con­cert on Sun­day, Oct. 10, at St. Francis Au­di­to­rium.

“We are amateurs in the best sense of the word,” said Oliver Prezant, who is be­gin­ning his 12th sea­son as di­rec­tor, in an in­ter­view with Pasatiempo. “One dif­fer­ence be­tween a pro­fes­sional or­ches­tra and us is the sched­ule.” Pro­fes­sional groups are paid to work very quickly, of­ten putting pro­grams to­gether in a mat­ter of hours, he said. “We get nine re­hearsals be­fore ev­ery con­cert. We get to live with the mu­sic. We work very hard to re­al­ize a level of en­sem­ble and en­gage with the mu­sic.”

There are re­tired pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians in the or­ches­tra as well as younger play­ers who com­bine a love of mu­sic with the nur­tur­ing of fam­i­lies and ca­reers, and there are some mem­bers who are fairly new devo­tees to mu­sic and to their in­stru­ments. James Preus, a bas­soon player who has been with the or­ches­tra for 17 years, is proud to be a part of a group in Santa Fe of­fer­ing free con­certs. “We are build­ing an au­di­ence for clas­si­cal mu­sic. Peo­ple who oth­er­wise wouldn’t go to see a con­cert can come.” Preus has a Ph.D. in psy­chol­ogy and worked for many years for the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota. He also played with the Min­nesota Or­ches­tra.

“I doubt any­where in the coun­try will you find a com­mu­nity or­ches­tra as good and with as widerang­ing and in­tel­li­gent se­lec­tion of mu­sic,” said cel­list Carl Con­dit, who at­tended the Col­legeCon­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic at the Uni­ver­sity of Cincin­nati but de­cided not to pur­sue a ca­reer in mu­sic. (“Too com­pet­i­tive. I do this for fun.”) He works as the di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions at Sun­stone Press in Santa Fe. “We all love mu­sic so much. We play chal­leng­ing pieces. We do our best on the hard stuff. It’s fan­tas­tic.” Con­dit writes the pro­gram notes for the or­ches­tra and en­joys do­ing re­search about the com­posers and mu­sic. It was his sug­ges­tion to take on Bo­huslav Mart­inu’s˚ fourth sym­phony at the or­ches­tra’s sea­son opener. “It’s got its chal­lenges and quirks,” he said.

Mon­ica Ruiz played the vi­o­lin through­out ele­men­tary school and be­yond but put down the in­stru­ment when she en­tered phar­macy school. To­day she com­mutes from Las Ve­gas, where she works as a phar­ma­cist at the New Mex­ico Be­hav­ioral Health In­sti­tute. “I’ve come back af­ter 20 years,” she said. “It’s so ex­cit­ing. Play­ing the vi­o­lin is some­thing from my child­hood that I thought I had lost.” She has been with the or­ches­tra for three sea­sons. “At the end of ev­ery year I say, wow, that was amaz­ing.” Her job keeps her very busy, but she makes the time to learn mu­sic. “I try to look at a lit­tle sec­tion and prac­tice ev­ery day.” She re­cently mar­ried Ralph Mar­quez, a jazz drum­mer who works at NMBHI, and re­cruited him to help out as a per­cus­sion­ist with the or­ches­tra.

At a re­cent re­hearsal held in the so­cial hall at St. John’s United Methodist church, the group was work­ing its way through the Mart­inu˚ sym­phony. As a con­duc­tor, Prezant seemed to of­fer a com­bi­na­tion of mu­si­cal un­der­stand­ing and hu­mor. “It’s a lit­tle noisy, thickly or­ches­trated, with four or five things go­ing on, but we’ll sort that out,” he said. At one point he told the wood­winds, “That was too charm­ing; give me real at­tack.” For an­other sec­tion: “Run it like a race­track that’s curvy, not like a march. Fol­low the shapes in a line ... feel the har­mony mov­ing around.” He told the trum­pets. “You’ve got to get your spurs on.”

“Oliver is amaz­ing,” said Ruiz. “What of­ten starts out sound­ing dis­jointed on first read­ing be­comes beau­ti­ful in six weeks’ time. He breaks down phrases.” In ad­di­tion to con­duct­ing, Prezant plays the vi­ola and has played with the New Mex­ico Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, Santa Fe Opera, and the Cal­i­for­nia Cham­ber Virtuosi. Since tak­ing the job with the com­mu­nity or­ches­tra, he has fo­cused on build­ing up the string sec­tion, in­clud­ing do­ing sec­tional re­hearsals that he sched­ules on his own time. “It’s my own vol­un­teer work,” he said. “There’s a men­tal­ity needed for a vi­o­lin sec­tion to play to­gether.” The mu­si­cians spend a great amount of time work­ing on bow­ing and ar­tic­u­la­tion. “For a brass player, the breath­ing is nat­u­ral, but the dy­nam­ics of the bow is re­ally dif­fi­cult. You get dif­fer­ent sounds from dif­fer­ent parts of a bow. We fo­cus on the ba­sics you need for artis­tic play­ing.”

Also on the pro­gram for the sea­son-open­ing con­cert is the Sin­foni­etta by Leosˇ Janácek,ˇ which was ded­i­cated to the armed forces in Cze­choslo­vakia and has a large con­tin­gent of brass play­ers. Prezant re­cruited trum­pet play­ers from Santa Fe High School to aug­ment the or­ches­tra, part of his mis­sion to “part­ner

mean­ing­fully” with the school mu­sic pro­grams and young mu­si­cians of Santa Fe. A fo­cus on young peo­ple’s con­certs has evolved re­cently into a more mul­ti­fac­eted ap­proach to the or­ches­tra’s ed­u­ca­tional out­reach pro­grams. Martha Caplin, a vi­o­lin­ist who has been con­cert­mas­ter of the Or­pheus Cham­ber Or­ches­tra and is now a Santa Fe res­i­dent, vis­ited two mid­dle schools while pre­par­ing to solo with the com­mu­nity or­ches­tra. The stu­dents learned some of the mu­sic the or­ches­tra would be play­ing and then prac­ticed with Prezant as con­duc­tor and Caplin as soloist. Fi­nally, they at­tended a SFCO per­for­mance in which the pieces were per­formed, which gave them the op­por­tu­nity to wit­ness a “high-level” per­for­mance by some­one they knew.

Soloist An­gela Gabriel, who plays the xy­lo­phone in the or­ches­tra’s per­for­mance of Fan­tasy on Ja­panese Wood Prints, Op. 211, by Alan Hovhaness, has been work­ing with two ele­men­tary-school classes in which the teach­ers are in­struct­ing their stu­dents on small xy­lo­phones. The stu­dents will per­form two short pieces on xy­lo­phone and glock­en­spiel dur­ing the con­cert. A per­for­mance of Haydn’s or­a­to­rio from The Cre­ation at the Cathe­dral Basil­ica was aug­mented by 60 singers from the choral pro­grams at Cap­i­tal and Santa Fe High Schools. “It was a rare op­por­tu­nity for the kids to sing with a live or­ches­tra. Some had never even been in the Basil­ica,” Prezant said.

Later in the sea­son, the or­ches­tra will present fa­mil­iar works, like the Wil­liam Tell over­ture by Rossini and Rach­mani­noff’s Sym­phonic Dances on Dec. 5. On the same pro­gram, Sally Guen­ther, for­merly the solo cel­list of the Ber­gen Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra in Nor­way, joins the or­ches­tra for the Mil­haud Con­certo No. 1 for Cello and Or­ches­tra, Op. 136.

Feb. 26 marks the pop­u­lar Let’s Dance per­for­mance, an evening of swing and ball­room danc­ing to live mu­sic. Prezant said the free event at­tracted 850 peo­ple to the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Con­ven­tion Cen­ter last win­ter (“Clearly, peo­ple are hun­gry for that kind of evening out.”), and he is hop­ing to re­peat the suc­cess this year.

In March, the or­ches­tra per­forms Mahler’s Sym­phony No. 5 in C-sharp Mi­nor. The April 17 con­cert fea­tures the win­ner of the SFCO Con­certo Com­pe­ti­tion and a per­for­mance of Beethoven’s “Pas­toral” Sym­phony No. 6. “The or­ches­tra has been ask­ing to play that for many years,” Prezant said. The sea­son fi­nale fea­tures Co­p­land’s suite from Billy the Kid, plus a world pre­miere from the win­ner of the New Mex­ico Com­posers’ Com­pe­ti­tion, a con­test the or­ches­tra holds ev­ery year, and the Brahms con­certo No. 1, Op. 15, in D mi­nor with pi­anist Ioan­nis Po­ta­mousis.

Prezant ap­pears in two “Anatomy of a Sym­phony” con­cert pre­views dur­ing the sea­son. “It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for any­one in­ter­ested in clas­si­cal mu­sic. I’m chat­ting about the com­poser with a full or­ches­tra on stage, so I can take apart the mu­sic, and then you can hear what I’m talk­ing about. I can say that Brahms was reclu­sive, and then find it in the score. It’s an en­gag­ing way to get in­volved with the mu­sic.”

Oliver Prezant with mem­bers of the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Or­ches­tra

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