June 17, 2015

At The Top of His Game: Odin Rathnam and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

In one of the many interviews that photographer Peter Lindbergh has given during his life he spoke of the group of five women that became known as "supermodels" and his continued work with those women over the last twenty-five years, commenting on both the fact that they (Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz) have all become more multifaceted and interesting people over time.  

As musicians, we are particularly lucky in that as we form and maintain friendships, we have opportunities to witness all of the highs and lows that make up "this thing called life", and that witnessing includes moments during which we find ourselves so pleased to see tremendous musical and spiritual growth.   May 10, 2015 was definitely that kind of day, as it was on that day that I went to hear the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, one of the finest ensembles in the Northeast Corridor.    

The first surprise of this day was seeing Tatiana Chulochnikova, a violinist whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing in 2009 at the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute.   During those two weeks six years ago, Tanya (as she is affectionately known to her friends) showed herself to be an eager, humble soul, playing in every master class and later having a last-minute opportunity to play as concertmaster for the last concert of the session - which included, within twenty-four hours, studying repertoire and being able to improvise cadenzas for large baroque orchestral works.    Now living in the Washington DC/Baltimore region, Tanya is a member of the Four Nations Ensemble and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra in addition to playing concerts throughout North America.

My reason for going to this concert, however, was to hear violinist Odin Rathnam, a man who I have known since 2010 via Facebook and "real-time" since 2011 when I heard him play the Korngold Violin Concerto with the American Youth Philharmonic and Philadelphia Virtuosi music director Daniel Spalding.    From that time until now, Odin and I have spoken about violin playing, musicmaking, psychology and countless other subjects, and I must say that I am pleased to be included as one of his friends – a friendship that is both dear and definitely not built on "public relations".   Over the past five years Odin has not only championed my writing and shared advice on how to approach this stage of my musical life:   he has generously and earnestly helped me to understand and integrate bow arm principles taught by Boris Kuchnir that Odin learned from his longtime friend and collaborator Nikolaj Znaider.

In the years that I have known Odin I have heard him perform the concerti of Korngold, Brahms, and Beethoven in addition to this day’s Mendelssohn.    There is no denying Mr. Rathnam’s commitment to the craft of music making:   the praise that he has received for his “captivating temperament” and “brilliant technique” is not empty, and I am continuously impressed by the profundity of Odin’s grasp of the totality of any composer’s musical language.    This Mendelssohn concerto was one of the most technically complete and well-conceived readings that I have heard, a performance highlighted by a most spacious second movement and a brilliant yet controlled final Allegro.  Odin Rathnam showed himself to be at the height of his violinistic and musical powers on that Sunday afternoon, and Markand Thakar and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra were the perfect partners on that journey.

March 19, 2015

From Charleston Today....

While I thought that this was posted in November 2013, well, here we are:

What a surprise it was to come home and find that one of the concerts at the Colour of Music Festival was reviewed!   Many thanks to writer Peter Ingle for taking the time to come, and especially to Hassan Anderson, Audrey Harris and Kenneth Law for what was a wonderful performance of the Britten Phantasy Quartet during the inaugural season of the festival!

You can read the review here:  Charleston Today

March 17, 2015

Flashback: The Sharan Nixon Show!

A dear friend of mine shared this with me tonight - this interview was definitely a surprise, and as you listen you will hear that this seemed to be more of a lovely and easy "dinner conversation"!    Many thanks to Sharan, the founder of Baltimore Fashion Week, for this opportunity!

March 9, 2015

Bach, Being Convinced, and Opening Ears

Let's hear it for the power of social networking and social media, as I was recently invited to attend the most recent concert presented by The Spire Series, one which featured New York City Ballet Orchestra concertmaster Kurt Nikkanen performing unaccompanied works by J. S. Bach.   Having lived in Baltimore more or less full time since 2010, I find that I am still learning much about this city and the wide range of artistic and cultural activities available here.    As The Spire Series is a "new-to-me" series, of course I went, and it was even more fulfilling to have a student and his mother come along with me.

The Spire Series is presented at First and Franklin Presbyterian Church, a stunning Gothic Revival church in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, and was the perfect venue for this performance that included both Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor and Sonata No. 3 in C Major.

As musicians, as with anyone living on the planet, it is vital that we keep our eyes and ears open (as I type this I recall a conversation with a friend during which he shared that there are performances that he heard at the age of sixteen that still shape his expectations), as everyone has something to contribute.   This was definitely the case with Mr. Nikkanen, who took the time to explain the difference between a sarabande and a chaccone to the audience and followed that explanation by playing all of the movements of the D Minor partita with an incredibly secure technique, bringing us to an incredibly well-conceived interpretation of the monumental chaccone.

After the intermission, Mr. Nikkanen delved deeply into the C Major sonata so convincingly, his reading including one of the most well-paced, exciting and convincing readings of a fugue that I have ever heard, that movement being followed with a most intimate yet visceral Andante.

While a student at the Shepherd School of Music, I left many performances being "convinced":   hearing interpretations that were so well-conceived that there could be no other way of sharing that music, yet sure that no one else could share as each of those young artists did.   This evening left me the same way:   while I have been a devotee of many other violinist's performances of these works, there is something very special about Mr. Nikkanen's approach to unaccompanied Bach performance that left me again grateful to be a musician and a thinker.

One of the wonderful things about The Spire Series is that they host post-concert receptions during which audience members can meet the artists who performed, and I am incredibly grateful to Mr. Nikkanen for taking the time to speak with my student about memorization and the "rite-of-passage" that is delving into the Sonatas and Partitas.   Furthermore, many thanks to Jason Kissel and everyone involved with The Spire Series for bringing this phenomenal musician to Baltimore.

March 6, 2015

"The deepest sincerity leads to happiness" - Holly Mulcahy on Jennifer Higdon's Violin Concerto

“The deepest sincerity leads to happiness.”  – Tim Stephens

Holly Mulcahy, Violin
Photo:   Bo Huang

Violinist Holly Mulcahy is a person who approaches every facet of her life with intention and sincerity.    Now in her second season as concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony, Ms. Mulcahy is acting in truly interesting ways to engage both her musical colleagues and her musical community.    “I’m grateful to be in a position where I can connect people, and when I took this position I did it with the intention of being a true and human presence in my community,” she said in a telephone conversation.   

“Since being in Chattanooga, I have done things like inviting both orchestra members and audience members to talk after concerts.    People have responded in such a beautiful way:   orchestra members come and talk about how they performed during the concert, and audience members have come and talked about what they liked about those performances.   These group discussions help us all see that there is an intertwined network of people who love the product from all angles, and they also lend to a feeling of community ownership of an entity.”

Thoughtfully, Holly shared her reasons for acting in ways that seem unprecedented in the world of classical music.   “Our time as performers in classical music is limited unless we go and fight for it – but we have to remember that the audience has to be loved as much as we love the music.  We need an active and passionate audience, and we have to remember that we have to cultivate them as much as we cultivate our skills.”    This philosophy is reflected in the way that Ms. Mulcahy relates to her colleagues as well:   “There are people playing the Chattanooga Symphony who made Carnegie Hall debuts and some who’ve retired here from bigger jobs.    One of the violinists is a former student of David Oistrakh – everyone adds to this orchestra, and the quality is just outstanding!”

Ms. Mulcahy’s dynamism and desire to connect is also reflected in NeoClassical, a blog in which she shares thoughts about her new community and its openness to new works and people, the classical music industry, and her own sense of adventure – that leading to her inspiring a Chattanooga bartender to create a cocktail named "The Awakening" in honor of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto, which Holly will perform with the Chattanooga Symphony on March 12, 2015.     

“Several months ago, during a post-concert cocktail gathering with members of my orchestra, audience, board, and staff, I began talking with one of the bartenders and wondered aloud if he thought he could capture the essence of a violin concerto in a cocktail,” she said. “My goal was to offer the cocktail as a device to explain, entice, and invite people to listen to a newer violin work with an open mind and heart.”

This adventuresome spirit is the perfect one with which performers and audiences can experience Jennifer Higdon’s captivating concerto, which was written for and premiered by violinist Hilary Hahn.    Written in three movements (“1726”, “Chaconni”, and” Fly Forward”), this Pulitzer Prize winning concerto is also the ideal vehicle with which Ms. Mulcahy continues to integrate her desire to help a community continue embracing itself.

“This concerto was chosen for many reasons, one of which being that Jennifer’s family is from this area, and orchestras have a sense of pride and ownership regarding local members and composers.    The piece is amazing – it’s so reflective of her personality, you know that this is HER concerto.”

Holly is also keenly aware of the challenges inherent with performing modern music.   “The human race doesn’t always want it safe.    With new concerti, a quality work like this pushes an edge – you don’t know how it’s going to end, but you know that you’re going to have a pretty good ride.   The wonder of new works is the music can definitely result in everyone involved experiencing emotions that we like, yet in different ways than when we hear standard works.”  

“One of the many things I really like about Jennifer is that her music comes from a very sincere place, and does all of what I mentioned.  She also helps musicians and orchestras – a very vocal advocate for the arts.    That makes her approachable, and in the big picture she helps keep the industry alive.”

Indeed, Ms. Higdon has become an incredibly well-recognized force in the music industry.
Her blue cathedral, a two-movement sonic adventure for orchestra, has become one of America’s most performed contemporary orchestral works, with more than 500 performances worldwide since its premiere in 2000.   The Violin Concerto, however, since being premiered by Hilary Hahn, is currently only in the repertoire of four contemporary violinists, those being Ms. Hahn, recent
Montreal International Competition winner Benjamin Beilman, Naha Greenholtz
(concertmaster of the Quad-Cities Symphony) - and Holly Mulcahy.

While having spent several months learning the concerto (“My neighbors have listened to every facet of this concerto.  They have been lovely to accept the major 7ths being pounded out on a regular basis!”), Holly’s admiration for the work had deepened.   “With any composer who writes sincerely, performances and audience reactions are going to be deeply personal - you can tell when a composer is writing in a personal level.   It’s a unique sound, and there is such a great chance that the sincerity of her music is going to touch people.”

Ms. Mulcahy has received many accolades from people in the industry for her approach to embracing a community, and that is reflected in her views of the Chattanooga.   “This place is an oasis of sorts – a mini-Chicago!   There’s a huge cultural area with galleries, sculptures, and such and incredible theatre!   There’s a group of audiences for everything and a healthy appreciation for everything.”

“It’s a very pride-filled city.  Chattanooga is filled with proud people, but there’s an intelligence behind it that which creates something larger.   You can live a lot of places in the world, but when you step off a plane or drive into Chattanooga you feel that the people who have created this place love life.   You can’t help but feel alive - when you’re surrounded by life, you live better and you’re a better person.”

Violinist Holly Mulcahy performs Jennifer Higdon's Violin Concerto with the Chattanooga Symphony on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

For more information on Ms. Mulcahy, please visit www. hollymulcahy.com.   
For more on Ms. Higdon, please visit www.jenniferhigdon.com.    

March 5, 2015

"Philadelphia Freedom..."

One of the greatest parts of living in Baltimore is - believe it or not - working in other cities!    NO, I do not say that with any lack of love for my friends and colleagues here, but I have been quite fortunate since being here in that I have had the opportunity to play in and meet people playing in ensembles based both in Washington DC and Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is a very special place:   for me, this sense of wonder first came in 2012 when, upon stepping off of an Amtrak train, I felt a tremendous feeling of psychic freedom.    That trip was one during which I was playing with the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, a trailblazing group started by Jeri Lynne Johnson.    Since its founding in 2008, the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra has firmly established itself in Philadelphia and the region as a true artistic force in addition to having been recognized nationally as an ensemble that both reflects the true diversity of its community while also serving its community in truly innovative and meaningful ways.

It was through performing with the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra that I met Vena Johnson and Jennifer Boorum, and as I type this I remember December 2013 when, after having gone to Philadelphia for a rehearsal, the opportunity to speak quite deeply about social justice issues with Jennifer that I found out about Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble in residence at the historic and stunning Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia.   

Needless to say, it was so pleasing to have an opportunity to write about Prometheus last year, and to gain knowledge of their mission to change the way audiences experience orchestra concerts, the relationship of the orchestra to the community, and the way musicians perceive concert programming and artistic responsibility.   How interesting, therefore, that the year 2014 also included Black Pearl's performance of Beethoven #9 at the Dell Music Center in a concert that furthered its mission of embracing community through featuring a host of amateur musicians playing alongside members of the orchestra.

In recent days, much good news has come out of Philadelphia about both ensembles, and I invite you to read both about Prometheus Chamber Orchestra's recent receipt of a grant from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and how, with Jeri Lynne Johnson and the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, destinies seem to be beautiful created.  

More soon, 

February 27, 2015


"A leader knows when to take charge, and when to yield...."

Post-Sibelius performance with Dorian Neuendorf

After almost 48 hours of delays, I am now back in Baltimore.   Having lived in Baltimore full-time since 2010, I seem to have forgotten that there are places and airports that do not have de-icing equipment (that would be Charleston, South Carolina), yet I sit grateful for the two day delay as I was able to spend time with my three-year-old niece.

Every performance is a rite of passage, and Monday's was no exception as it was my first performance of the Sibelius concerto as a professional.    This tremendous opportunity came to me last summer through being at the Vermont Music and Arts Center, where I met and read chamber music with a wonderful human being and his wife.

David Appleby is a man dedicated not only to his craft (he is a more than worthy pianist), but also to fully engaging with and working within his community.    Mr. Appleby is not only a member of the Board of Directors of the Columbia Community Orchestra, but also incredibly active as a member of the Salvation Army and has helped many men enter and continue recovery.    It was after a week of speaking with him and later reading Darius Milhaud's Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano
(Mr. Appleby's wife Eileen was the clarinetist) last summer that he proposed my traveling to South Carolina for this performance.   I had heard of the orchestra, and was thrilled to have been invited as the Columbia Community Orchestra was founded by my first private teacher and her husband - and even happier that the opportunity "came to me" as it had been in my thoughts to contact Ms. Ezell and ask about performing with the group at some time.  

And how do I continue this essay?

It need not be said that a tremendous difference exists between playing a concerto with piano and actually standing as the soloist, feeling undescribeable excitement while being surrounded by a tutti passage experienced primarily as a listener.     Furthermore, it need not be said that the work involved in preparing a concerto for performance can be both intense and fulfilling.  For this one, I took the opportunity to have what was a needed and beautiful lesson/coaching with Nurit Pacht, a violinist who I had the pleasure of meeting first in 1995 and again in 2014 (and about whom I shall write more in the coming weeks).

But how do I continue this essay?  

As stated before, every performance is a rite of passage, and this one for me was one in which I found the balance of being gracious while truly collaborating.    This experience was truly an educational one, an experience through which I was challenged to fully embrace a score and share that knowledge with a group of musicians who were incredibly eager and willing to bring the best of themselves to a situation.

And again, HOW do I continue?    How do I share my thoughts and observations?    Perhaps the thoughts and observations are so deeply personal that I cannot fully share them.    Nevertheless, I am incredibly grateful to everyone who made this possible, and especially to Dorian Neuendorf, a wonderful student conductor with whom I laughed, stressed, and consulted, as the decision to program the Sibelius was hers, and it was through working alongside her that I was able to bring deeper parts of myself - some of the best parts of myself - into the world.

More very soon,

February 8, 2015

Yes, The Bows Can Be Saved

Have I really not written an entry in almost an entire year?    From the dates I see, yes, that is the case.   What can I say - there's been a lot going on both internally and externally, including the year of both adventures and misadventures with one of my bows, a wonderful bow made by Adolf Schuster.    

I bought this bow in 1998 - it was at the time thought to be a French copy of the work of English bowmaker James Tubbs.   Flash to 2014, and I had the great fortune of finding out that it is actually a Schuster.    My intention was to sell this bow; however, after getting many things done (including replacement of the silver winding with a lighter winding), the weight of the bow dropped considerably (three grams?!), and after spending the summer playing with this bow at the Vermont Music and Arts Center I decided that I would keep it.

My time in Vermont was fruitful in many ways, and how perfect in some ways, to have the opportunity to become reacquainted with a bow while also having serious nuts-and-bolts bow arm coachings from a colleague and friend.   I have said it before, and I'll say it again - Evelyn Estava is the bowmaster, and I remain grateful to this moment for the time that I spent both with her and Madeline Adkins.

All going smoothly, as I was practicing and preparing for a performance of Winter from Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the Colour of Music Virtuosi - until this happened in September.    

Yes, it snapped.    Unexpectedly.   The stick was not dropped - in fact, it had been gently placed on my bed for ten minutes.    Nothing else to say.    Needless to say, while grateful to have two others in my possession, this was incredibly disturbing.    Fortunately, I received a lot of very good advice (after wrapping the bow in bubble wrap and placing it on a shelf), and later took it to Perrin and Associates Fine Violins, where the wonderful Carolyn Foulkes took the time to explain many things to me, including how she would repair it.

I am pleased to say that I got it back in early January, and the bow still plays like a dream.    Here is a photo of the repaired stick.   Deepest thanks to you, Carolyn, for your patience, for sharing, and for helping a guy get his voice back!

March 16, 2014

1999-2014, and Benjamin Britten

Of course, I find myself wishing that I had Paul Griffith's notes to Thomas Zehetmair's recording of the Six Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin at my side.

It was after a concert given by the New World Symphony (an organization of which I was a member) in early 1999 that I decided that it was time to learn Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto.  How could I forget that day:  on a Sunday afternoon, after the third performance of a program that included Benjamin Britten's
Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Elgar's Symphony No. 1, two of my NWS colleagues and I walked in silence from the Lincoln Theatre (now the home of a H&M?!) to the Plymouth Hotel (where we lived).   The silence was more than appropriate - in fact, during the walk one of us started to speak, and was met with a shake of the head and a raising of the hand....

"...no, don't talk...we need to think about the music that we just experienced..."

This week, I find myself revisiting that time as once again I am playing in an orchestra that is performing Britten's Four Sea Interludes....and that is all that I can say.    The memories, responses, and reactions are all mine, all personal, and all private.

However, the magic of this music is not - enjoy.....

March 14, 2014

Embracing Community: Prometheus Chamber Orchestra

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
 – John F. Kennedy

Upon both hearing and meeting members of Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, one of Philadelphia’s newest string ensembles, one feels a wellspring of positive and constructive energy. Founded in 2013, Prometheus Chamber Orchestra is a self-conducted and self-managed orchestra in residence at the historic Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia. Comprised of 18 musicians, Prometheus seeks to use the self-conducted orchestra to change the way audiences experience orchestra concerts, the relationship of the orchestra to the community, and the way musicians perceive concert programming and artistic responsibility.

Prometheus Chamber Orchestra will present its second concert on Saturday, March 15, 2014. While in Philadelphia to perform with the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra last week, I had an opportunity to meet with four of the founding members of the group (Vena Johnson, violin; Jennifer Boorum, viola;Thomas La Forgia, cello and Lorenzo Raval, violin and viola) and found myself deeply impressed by the level of commitment that they show to the craft of musicmaking while also truly embracing the community that they serve in ways through actions somewhat unprecedented in the field of classical music.

“About three years ago, bassist Jerrell Jackson and I came up with this idea, inspired by groups like Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and A Far Cry,” Vena Johnson shared. “There was also the passion of playing music with our friends who are a part of the musical community in Philadelphia.”

Possessing an incredibly holistic perspective of the definition of community, Ms. Johnson continued. “While Philadelphia is a great musical city - home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Curtis Institute of Music, Temple University, many other fine ensembles - there are many fine players who are kind of wandering. Prometheus Chamber Orchestra came from all of those ideas, with the purpose of bringing people together in a way that is completely new to Philadelphia as well as being new to the concept of an orchestra as it relates to and interacts with the community it serves.”

When asked about the process of recruiting members, Jennifer Boorum shared that “Vena and Jerrell thought long and hard about who to approach with the idea of Prometheus. Part of that thought process was finding people who have had different experiences and different paths to come together."

Indeed, the four members of Prometheus with whom I spoke have had a myriad of educational and life experiences. Ms. Johnson is a 2010 graduate of Temple University and teaches group violin classes in two El Sistema-inspired programs existent in West Philadelphia. Mr. La Forgia hails from North Carolina and is currently employed as a luthier at Mount Airy Violins and Bows. Violinist/violist Mr. Raval, also a Temple University graduate, is originally from the Philippines, and Ms. Boorum (also a Temple alumnus) is a teaching artist with both Tune Up Philly and Symphony in C.

The concepts of embracing, building and redefining “community” pervade many aspects of Prometheus Chamber Orchestra’s philosophy. Many of the orchestra’s members teach in programs that bring stringed instruments to underserved communities and the musicians have noted that both introducing young people in these communities to string playing has been incredibly beneficial both to the students and the teachers themselves. “Music has such an impact on the students that we’re teaching, and their parents – it changes families,” Ms. Johnson said.

“Many of us in the orchestra became friends through really being ‘on the ground’,” Ms. Boorum added. “If you live in Philadelphia and keep your eyes open, you see that there are communities like this that are almost forgotten. As an example, this community barely has a grocery store. One of the schools at which I teach through a Symphony in C program is in this neighborhood,” she continued. “Being a part of Prometheus has brought me back to the community where I did undergraduate work. This community has a feeling of home to me.”

A significant part of Prometheus’ mission – changing the relationship of of the orchestra to the community – influenced the orchestra’s choice of home. Prometheus Chamber Orchestra is currently in residence at North Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate, a facility considered of the best American examples of Gothic Revival style and the only major building of its period based systematically on French sources. “The Advocate has a rich history in civil rights, as well as the arts,” Ms. Johnson shared. “This IS the place for us to have conversations about how to approach building an orchestra within a community, because so many conversations have happened here. This church has always had that role, as it was founded with very socially-conscious goals.” 

The Church of the Advocate became a center of activism during the Civil Rights Movement, embracing the causes of both African-American and women’s rights. It was the site of several nationally significant events of both movements, and currently houses a stunning collection of wall murals created between 1973 and 1976 that were inspired by Biblical passages of oppression and captivity that continue to resonate with many people, documenting the critical social role held by inner city churches in the United States. Recently, the Advocate was the site of a discussion about gentrification and its devastating effects on longtime residents of communities like North Philadelphia that is slated to take place again at the United Nations. 

Prometheus Chamber Orchestra in rehearsal at Church of the Advocate

“One of the concepts behind Prometheus Chamber Orchestra is ‘redefining the orchestra’,” Mr. La Forgia said. “Prometheus is in a neighborhood where one would not expect to see an orchestra. There seems to be the notion that classical music is for the socialites of the world, and that’s not true – it’s a people’s music, and there are people who will not go to Center City to hear a concert."

"If we’re rooted here," he continued, "getting to know people in the neighborhood, actively contributing to the church by playing at the soup kitchen and having people in the neighborhood know that we’re here to stay, we shall create a conversation and create a connection that will not only be good for classical music but also for a community that’s struggling.”

Through its presence at the Church of the Advocate, Prometheus Chamber Orchestra is asking a larger question, that being why one would not expect to see an orchestra in North Philadelphia, particularly considering that the Church of the Advocate is a wonderfully exquisite place. In brainstorming Prometheus, Mr. Jackson and Ms. Johnson thought that the Church of the Advocate would be an ideal venue: not only is the church a true gem unknown to many Philadelphians, but the neighborhood is also not a center of artistic activity, save for that taking place in the somewhat insulated world of Temple University. As luck would have it, the governing body of the church echoed the level of interest presented by the orchestra’s members, and a beautiful relationship has continued to develop.

“It’s our hope that our programming will reflect the issues in this community and in Philadelphia at large,” Ms. Johnson said. “Our artistic identity is informed by our relationship here - we’re not descending upon a community and forcing our culture onto them.” One large part of the orchestra’s agenda is to have a meeting with both advisory boards and community leaders, during which the orchestra members will ask what the community leaders see as needs within the North Philadelphia neighborhood which the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra calls home.

The fact that the members of Prometheus Chamber Orchestra have a real desire to interact with members of their community and understand the community’s needs is clear proof of profound understanding of how to become an integral part of any community. Another example of this understanding is that the first concert was advertised primarily via word-of-mouth. This was done purposefully, both to engage members of the immediate community and to ensure that those citizens realized that the activities taking place were first and foremost for them.

Mr. Raval, an incredibly articulate young man, elaborated on the ensemble’s built-in lack of the perceived posture of entitlement that plagues many legacy institutions: “What we do is that we don’t expect the community to come to us - we go to them. We have made this community our home, so we want to offer our artistry to this community. We regularly do soup kitchen concerts at the church, we do concerts that would inform and enlighten the community, and we also see another side of ourselves as artists through our programming, wherein we can program concerts from being inspired by the community around us.”

The depth of sincerity that fuels Prometheus Chamber Orchestra is not only visible in its approach to both embracing and working in a community: the orchestra is also truly self-managed, both allowing and requiring members to contribute to both artistic and administrative issues. Concerts are curated by members of the orchestra, with its first concert being the result of taking suggestions from all of the musicians and deciding a program by voting. Saturday’s concert, the second in the season that is referred to as “Season Zero” (“We’ve been figuring so many things out and experimenting,” Mr. La Forgia said), was curated by Mr. Raval and cellist Miriam Ingolffson and features Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Charterhouse Suite, Bartok’s Rumanian Folk Dances, Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei and pieces by Sibelius and Grieg.

“The concept of group curating,” Ms. Johnson said, “was an experiment through which we could both showcase the orchestra to the immediate community and find out our capabilities as an ensemble. Everyone had a different vision, and it was great to see where everyone was coming from.” This concept is reflective of the truly collaborative and democratic nature of Prometheus as well as reflective of the depth of each member musician. To date, not only have musicians remained enthusiastic about sharing their musical ideas, the orchestra now maintains a database of over fifty works and many complete programs that will be utilized for future programs.

Musician involvement in this self-managed ensemble also includes participation in the administrative aspects involved in successfully running an organization. “In addition to being musicians, each member brings something else to the table,” Mr. Raval said. “Jennifer is our web/social media developer/manager, Thomas and Vena are our fundraising and development committee. I am currently in the process of writing the organization’s bylaws and was in charge of curating this program – "

“And promotional materials for this concert were made by Liz Cary, who had no formal experience with graphic design before,” Ms. Boorum added. “Everybody is jumping in and trying to contribute what we can.”

The inclusion of many voices in the organization’s collective philosophy is paramount to the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra’s musical and social mission. “Responsibility comes from every player,” Ms. Johnson said. “Everything – repertoire, stylistic matters, operational issues – is voted on by every ensemble member in Prometheus, and that level of commitment definitely changes the quality of the work we’re doing.”

As this is the first year of a groundbreaking venture, the members of Prometheus Chamber Orchestra have many plans for the upcoming months and years. “We hope to have a summer gathering during which we will both play as much music as possible and also really hash out what we want democratically as a group,” Mr. La Forgia shared. There are also plans to start an educational component that includes a teaching artist system.

First and foremost, however, is the fact that the members of Prometheus Chamber Orchestra have truly embraced the organization’s mission, and see the results of their commitment on a daily basis. Ms. Johnson shared that she and Jerrell were recently approached by a member of their North Philadelphia community who said with excitement, “You’re with Prometheus!”

“This person was a member of this community,” Ms. Johnson said. “That interaction really told me that something positive is happening. With the historical significance of the Church of the Advocate, including the tremendous of works displayed in the sanctuary, we understand why we want to be here and the type of statement that we want to make. We all love Philadelphia, and while we have all come to Prometheus Chamber Orchestra from different angles, our shared goal is to make a statement of our commitment both to Philadelphia and to this community.”

* * *
Prometheus Chamber Orchestra presents “The Advent of Spring” on Saturday, March 15, 2014 at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. Admission is free.
Prometheus Chamber Orchestra is a program of CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia, which operates under the fiscal stewardship of CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia. For more information on Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, please visit their website: www.prometheusorchestra.org. For information on the Church of the Advocate and its history, please visitwww.churchoftheadvocate.org.