Monday, May 20, 2013

Brazil: Week 12 - Playing my Part with the Orchestra

Last week, I was honestly feeling like I was in a bit of a rut with my research project here in Campos.  I felt like I had observed so many rehearsals and classes that I wasn't learning many new things, and with the start of the Symphonic Festival, nearly everyone was too busy to sit down for an interview with me.  But luckily I broke out of this funk in a big way.

As the project provides lessons and training on standard orchestral instruments, they do not have any piano students.  In fact, in their new facility, they don't even have a real piano, although they have several electronic keyboards and they are in the process of purchasing a real piano.  Real pianos seem to be quite rare in this city, as the only places I have encountered them have been at the Centro Cultura Musical music school (the project's old home) where I went to practice one afternoon (but even their baby grand piano in their recital hall is not in very good shape at all,) and I saw an upright, but didn't get to play it or figure out what condition it was in, at the SESC center.  So when I heard that they would be playing Arturo Marquez's "Danzon No. 2" (a favorite Latin American classical hit and played often by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra) which features an important part for piano, I offered to play it with them, which they thought was a great idea. They also asked if I could play the harp parts on piano, as they don't have any harpists (an instrument I haven't seen any of in Campos), for two other pieces, Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei" and Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet," which I happily agreed to.

The convention center at UENF before rehearsal
I became very excited to soon get to get to play within the orchestra, and perhaps this is part of the power and experience of being in El Sistema.  I, like probably plenty of other yet younger kids, was hearing and watching these youths creating great music at a high level and I wanted to become a part of it myself (although, I know that part of it for me was also the fact that I hadn't gotten to sit down and practice for over a month.)  A month of sitting and watching these kids both made me want to join and make music with them, and also to pick up the violin or flute and start learning and practicing it myself (something I'm seriously considering while still here in Brazil.)  

I went into the first rehearsal in which I was playing having only been able to practice my part once with an actual instrument, so I was a little under-prepared compared to the students, but luckily I've had a lot of experience in situations like this, so I caught up quickly.  At one point, I came to the realization that I was the only non-Brazilian in an orchestra where everyone speaks Portuguese being led by a Venezuelan conductor who speaks Spanish!  I really was in a musical environment that I've never encountered before, yet was understanding and creating great music despite these cultural differences between us.  After this rehearsal, I felt fantastic, feeling that now I was, quite literally, playing my part in the orchestra.  Once again, I was experiencing how powerful music can be and how playing in an ensemble can unify people and tap into something that is deeper than all our combined differences, something that El Sistema takes great advantage of.

Rehearsal with the combined orchestras

But this rehearsal was just with the top orchestra, the Mariuccia Iacovino Symphony, on just the Bruch and Tchaikovsky, which are generally slow and lush romantic works.  The next day, I got to rehearse the Marquez "Danzon" with them for the first time, but with the Mariuccia Iacovino orchestra combined with the 2nd orchestra, the David Machado Symphony.  We packed about 150 people like sardines into the hot and stuffy rehearsal room (I had a set of timpani right behind my head!) and then we played.  What an energy rush!  Playing Latin repertoire in an orchestra with Latinos in Latin America is as fun and as thrilling an experience as I've ever had playing classical music!

The next day was the dress rehearsal and concert at the convention center of the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminese (The State University of Northern Rio de Janeiro State) which is the local, and well respected, university in the city.  The building was designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the famous Brazilian architect who designed the capital city of Brasilia, and is shaped like a giant whistle.

I was able to get a quick interview in with the Venezuelan conductor, Regulo Stabilito, but not the other two Venezuelans as I was told they weren't feeling well, so I didn't want to bother them.  Regulo's great grandfather was a man named Regulo Rico, who was the teacher of Vicente Emilio Sojo, who was a conductor that founded the Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra, the first orchestra in Venezuela, in 1930.  Sojo was also the teacher of Jose Antonio Abreu.  Regulo's training was almost completely within El Sistema, and now he travels around the entire country of Venezuela and abroad to El Sistema projects working with children's, youth, and professional orchestras. 

There I am on the left at the keyboard
(Photo by Anaceli Nuffer)
The concert went on to be really fantastic.  It opened with the brass and percussion from the top orchestra, joined by the brass teachers, playing Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" (click here to hear some other Brazilians performing it.)  Then the Infanto-Juvenile orchestra, the third most advanced orchestra, played a couple numbers, including an arrangement of "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."  Next up was the top orchestra, playing Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture," a piece which they learned in about two weeks, the Bruch with the Venezuelan cellist as soloist, Beethoven's "Romance No. 2" with the Venezuelan violinist as soloist and finally the Tchaikovsky.  The grand finale was with top two orchestras combined playing Bizet's Overture to "Carmen", Sibelius's "Finlandia" and the Marquez "Danzon No. 2" to finish off the night.  It was a delight to see and hear what progress these kids have made and to make music with them.  At the conclusion, all of the guest teachers were recognized and given a plaque, and to my surprise they included me as "Professor of Piano" from the United States, even though I didn't do any piano teaching, but I was honored nonetheless!  It was quite a memorable night!

Receiving my plaque from Luis Mauricio Carneiro
(Photo by Anaceli Nuffer)

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