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.

March 5, 2014

"She's Just Like You And Me...But She's..."


Humility, responsibility, and gratitude definitely go hand in hand.   I was again reminded of this fact on Tuesday when, after many things out of my control resulted in missing a bus to Philadelphia and consequently missing a rehearsal, I had to make a call.

After getting the times of the next schedules out of Baltimore, I both called and emailed both the conductor and personnel manager, and waited, thinking "If I'm replaced, then so be it."

Fortunately, the conductor was forgiving, and I'm still playing the concert.  THAT, however, is not what this essay is about.

One of the things that I love about my life in Baltimore is that I live in a part of the city that is a serious transit hub.   Not only is the light rail station ten minutes away, but the corner of Falls Road and Northern Parkway is a transfer point for three major bus lines here, including the #27 which takes me literally from my front door to the Greyhound Bus Terminal.    That in mind, waiting for the bus home from the Greyhound was no big deal.

As I waited, a blonde man came walking towards me - he too was going to take the #27 Northbound.   He said hello, and we exchanged a few words.    This man seemed to be a humble man, a kind man - and a man who needed a great deal of compassion as he had in his possession a LARGE suitcase (with wheels), a smaller suitcase (also wheeled), and three handbags of various size that were overflowing with aluminum soda cans, potato chip wrappers, and many other things.

Of course, when one gets on the #27 in that part of Baltimore one should expect the bus to be crowded.   It was - I let the man go before me, as he had a lot to carry while I had my violin case.   Again, I found myself impressed by this gentle soul as he both smiled and apologized to the people sitting at the front of the bus.

They, however, spent most of the ride laughing at him and talking about him.  The words are words that I shall not repeat, and I trust that I do not need to as we have probably all either said them or thought similar things upon seeing someone in such dire straits.  I remained silent (and uncomfortable) as a few people, while ridiculing this weathered man under their breath, took photos of him to post on Instagram (?!).    They all got off of the bus before he did - in fact, he exited just a few blocks away from my home.

You may ask why I write this tonight - and here's the answer.  We've all read stories of incredibly educated and visibly wealthy people who, after series of unfortunate circumstances, become homeless and destitute.   Furthermore, I'm sure that more of us have lived on the edge of homelessness than not.    Perhaps we should remember that and resolve both to live with a bit more gratitude while also thinking AND acting with a bit more compassion when we see a fellow man in distress of any kind

Perhaps?   YES, we should - because the switch could flip for any of us, at any time...and at that time, shall we remember feeling pity, giggling, or reacting with a bit of disdain and disgust upon seeing the person carrying the weight of the world (and all of his worldly possessions) in two suitcases on a crowded bus?

Back to Paganini Caprice #11,

February 15, 2014

Full Circle

I think that it was this weekend in 1995 that I flew from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Houston, Texas for the purpose of auditioning for the Master of Music program at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music.   The trip was my third to Houston, the first having been in 1993 to participate in the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival, which is held annually at the Moores School of Music of the University of Houston.  

While there is much more to the story, and there was much more to that day - that will come later - today I had the pleasure of having lunch with my teacher, Kenneth Goldsmith, and the even greater pleasure of hearing the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal at Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in preparation for concerts that will take place both tonight at the Meyerhoff and on Tuesday, February 18 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.    How wonderful, once again, to be reminded that we are indeed a part of something larger than we can possibly comprehend....

More soon,

January 19, 2014

"Imagination" - an interview with Kelly Hall-Tompkins

“…if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.”
– Joseph Campbell

If there is any violinist whose life and work demonstrates the validity of Joseph Campbell’s words, Kelly Hall-Tompkins is that violinist.    One of New York’s most in-demand violinists,
Ms. Hall-Tompkins is considered “a shining example ” by her colleagues, having established a career that includes solo, chamber music and orchestral performance as well as making significant contributions to the lives of others through her recordings and humanitarian activities.   In a telephone conversation that took place shortly after the 2013 Gateways Music Festival (during which Kelly, cellist Troy Stuart and pianist Terrence Wilson gave a dynamic and compelling reading of the Beethoven Triple Concerto under the direction of Michael Morgan), Kelly spoke about Music Kitchen, many upcoming projects, the music of Eugène Ysaÿe and the importance of staying true to one’s deeper imperatives.

“If you decide to go into music, you must do it because you HAVE to do it and that your soul calls you to do it,” Ms. Hall-Tompkins said.     “Music is not one of those things that you can take casually.”    This philosophy has served Kelly quite well, and her list of accomplishments is a living testament to a well-considered life.  

In addition to having played over 150 concerts with the New York Philharmonic after successfully reaching the finals in auditions held by that orchestra in 1994, and having performed extensively throughout the United States, Japan and Europe with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Ms. Hall-Tompkins is a tenured member of the New Jersey Symphony.   Ms. Hall-Tompkins is currently on an extended leave of absence from the orchestra while pursuing her solo and chamber music career.    The winner of a Naumburg International Violin Competition Honorarium Prize, Kelly has been featured as soloist with orchestras including both the Dallas and Jacksonville symphonies and the Philharmonic of Uruguay.   She is also a founding member of the Florida-based Ritz Chamber Players, an ensemble that has performed to critical acclaim throughout the United States and Europe.    

Kelly has also achieved success as a recording artist, and the perspective gained both through life and her dynamic career is partially the motivation behind her latest project, a music video titled Imagination that is slated for release in January 2014.  “I have recorded and released two CDs to date.  In the time between those releases, Tower Records disappeared – there are no ‘bricks and mortar’ places to sell CDs.  In contrast, there is a continuously growing online streaming world.   Being a part of the ‘MTV generation’, I was somehow overcome with the idea that video can be used to enhance and express what classical musicians are doing as an alternative recording process. “  

YouTube has become a tremendous resource for musicians across the globe, and subscribers can regularly view both Berlin Philharmonic and Detroit Symphony concerts via the internet; for non-operatic classical music, video streaming is still ‘a new wave’.    “For classical music, the music video genre in particular, as a means of giving more artistic interpretation of the music, is still a new concept, and personally this a new element to my recording.”   Collaborators on this project included a team engaged by William Caballero, a New York-based cinematographer whose documentary AMERICAN DREAMS DEFERRED was premiered nationally on PBS.

For this project, Ms. Hall-Tompkins visits the music of Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe – “the thinking person’s Paganini,” she said.   “Like Paganini’s entire body of work, Ysaÿe’s six sonatas are highly technical, but they contain so much more to work with in color, imagery and fabulous harmonies.  The sixth of these sonatas, which was dedicated to Spanish violinist Manuel Quiroga, is incredibly virtuosic - like Richard Strauss’ Don Juan but for one person!   Having recorded the Ballade, I have remained very attracted to the one-movement statement, and was somehow overcome with the desire to record the sixth sonata.”    

Ysaÿe’s hair-raising Ballade is one of seven works included on “In My Own Voice”, Ms. Hall-Tompkins’ critically-acclaimed 2008 release on the MSR Classicis label that also includes Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo (dedicated to Ysaÿe in friendship), the great Chaccone of J. S. Bach, and works by William Grant Still, David Baker and Josef Suk.

“Ysaÿe uses very large chords and incorporates the complex harmonic ideas that developed during his lifetime – almost reaching into jazz harmonies,” Kelly said. “That musical fact inspired me to include my own jazz arrangement of a very well-known film tune in this project.” To remark on Ysaÿe’s deep understanding of evolving sonorities shows an incredible depth of reverence for and understanding of the man who was regarded as “The King of the Violin”:   during his life the Belgian master gave the first performances of over fifty works, that list including the violin sonatas of César Franck, Camille Saint-Saëns and Guillaume Lekeu, Ernest Chausson’s rhapsodic Poème for Violin and Orchestra and the string quartet of Claude Debussy.  

In addition to her continuously expanding concert schedule, Ms. Hall-Tompkins is also the founder of Music Kitchen.    Now in its eighth season, the seed for Music Kitchen was planted in February 2004 when Kelly was encouraged to play through a recital program for residents of the Holy Trinity Lutheran’s Men’s shelter.      Since its founding, Music Kitchen has expanded to include many shelters in New York City and has been chronicled by The New York Times, Chamber Music America, Strings Magazine and Spirituality and Health as well as other media outlets.  The list of musicians who have contributed to this series includes Berlin Philharmonic principal oboist Albrecht Mayer, pianist Emmanuel Ax, violinist Mark O’Connor and jazz vocalist Rene Marie in addition to over 100 of New York City’s emerging artists.   

“It’s an underfunded labor of love,” Kelly shared.  For her, the creation and sustaining of such a venture has been enlightening in many ways:  “It’s amazing the things that I have discovered, foremost being the reactions that people have had.   Some shelter residents had never heard classical music before and some were knowledgeable about it, but all seemed interested and moved by the music, and a lot of the time people were excited when they saw musicians coming in. I never thought that I would administer a program, but when I see the benefit of it and the effect on people, I’m constantly inspired to keep going.” Ms. Hall-Tompkins’ commitment to this venture recently culminated in a successful fundraising drive, during which over $10,000 was raised to support new programming and other initiatives.

A staunch advocate of classical music performance and reaching new audiences, Kelly is keenly aware of the power of music.   “When the economy took a dive in 2007, people were initially far less excited to see strangers arrive in their midst, but the music was also far more powerful then.   At Music Kitchen concerts, people speak and write passionately that they have been profoundly affected by a performance,” she said.  “While my small charitable organization doesn’t have the burden of ticket sales, my success with this program has shown me that classical music moves people on a grand scale and still has vast untapped potential with audiences.”   The artists that have performed have been profoundly affected through their participation in this series as well:   the New York Times commented that “the concerts have an air of authenticity and directness that sometimes does not exist in concert halls.”

“You can never stay the same after you broaden your perspective, both nationally and internationally either through reading or through direct exposure to many things,” Ms. Hall-Tompkins said while reflecting on the many experiences that have shaped her life.  “Both my continued involvement with Music Kitchen and all of my international trips continue to add new facets to my music-making.   Having performed across the globe, I can definitely say that music is an international language.”

“Much like the responses to classical music performances that I have witnessed through Music Kitchen, if there’s anything that I’ve learned from my travels to Europe, it’s that this music is as much my own as someone who was born in Europe.”

For more information on Kelly Hall-Tompkins, please visit www.kellyhall-tompkins.com    For more information on Music Kitchen, please visit www.musickitchennyc.org.

January 15, 2014

A New Year....Complete with New Releases and

Well, we are now halfway through the first month of 2014.    As every year does, 2014 holds a great deal of promise for all of us, and it is truly wonderful to have started the new year with the resolution of the longest work stoppage in the history of America's orchestras, that being the 474-day lockout of the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.   As of January 14, 2014 an agreement has been reached that is effective on February 1, 2014.

There are so many things that can be said at this point, as there have been many things said by many parties since the lockout began in October 2013.   Personally, I sincerely hope that we all make the conscious choice to remain both grateful and vigilant in our respective musical communities as there are many lessons to learn from this situation.  

One person who paid very close attention to the unfolding story in Minneapolis is Drew McManus, orchestral consultant and publisher of Adaptistration, a daily blog which contains his analyses of contract negotiations and other situations that have faced orchestras in the United States.  Reading his recent column, I am both surprised and pleased to see that Mr. McManus takes the wise position that one finds espoused by those working in social justice:

"What’s critically important to keep in mind at this juncture is that neither side has released a full, unedited copy of the agreement...By all means, be happy that the lockout has come to an end, but wait patiently for the full details before forming conclusions and question everything."

Mr. McManus is not the only person who has, over the past fifteen months, kept a watchful eye on the situation in Minneapolis.   For a fairly comprehensive list of those writers who have, please follow this link.

Special attention should be paid to the research and writing done by Emily E. Hogstad, a Wisconsin-based violinist who is also the author of a blog titled Song of the Lark.

In other news, it feels GREAT to be writing again, and I'm very much looking forward to sharing interviews and thoughts on many of the "on the ground" projects that are soon to be released, including at least two new recordings.

Until then...

November 10, 2013

Going to Meet the Maker

Marilyn Wallin, #81 - 1996

"I have a humble room for us," she said as we walked down the hallways of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.   Hundreds of cases greeted us as we opened the door - large shipping cases in which the many attendees at this year's Violin Society of America Conference had used to send instruments, cases, and supplies to Baltimore for the two-day event.  

The four of us settled into the space, and magic happened over the course of about thirty minutes as Marilyn Wallin and her Rodger Perrin team-adjusted my violin, an instrument made in 1996 by Ms. Wallin.  

This violin, which came to me in a shipping crate from Boston, has been at my side since May of 1996 and it is the instrument with which I "hit my stride":   this is the violin that I played when I successfully auditioned for the substitute list of the Houston Grand Opera Orchesta and on which I have played during all of the "important" concerts including my 2006 debut at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas.  

It has been a joy owning and playing this violin, and equally so to have developed and maintained a friendship with Marilyn.   Ms. Wallin is a very thoughtful, sensitive soul in addition to being an excellent instrument maker, and we have shared MANY things over many years, including promises and hopes to meet in person.    Fortunately, the stars aligned this weekend, and while our visit was a short one I am so thankful to have finally had the opportunity to come face-to-face with a person who has played a large part in my life to-date.  

More soon,

November 9, 2013

Delandria Mills

Delandria Mills and The Global Presents performing Orrin Evans' "The Sluice"

 I think it was in November of 2010...violist Robin Fay Massie invited me to a CD release party being held at An Die Musik Live, a Baltimore concert venue where both jazz and classical music concerts are presented. Having recently moved back into the city, of course I was excited to hear live music and also to support a friend. The release party was hosted by Delandria Mills, flutist and Houston native who now divides her time between New York City and Baltimore.

 The night was a special one indeed, as audience members were treated to performances by Delandria's students, classical music, and jazz - all in celebration of Ms. Mills presenting three compact discs to the public. Yes - three. Nothing else needs to be said about that: taking the time to prepare works for recording is a feat in itself, but to have released three discs in one evening...can someone snap, please? *snap*.

 The highlight of the evening came when Delandria led a quintet of jazz musicians in two numbers, the names of which I cannot remember. Regardless - during those twenty minutes I witnessed some of the most stunning and committed leading that I have ever seen, and the playing from everyone was of course out-of-this-world    Delandria definitely delivers whether playing classical music, jazz, or "the new". Take a listen to the wonderfully atmospheric and warm sounds of "Ephphatha", one of the 2010 releases.

I am proud to say that I have been included as one of Delandria's friends since that night, and would like to take a moment to wish the happiest of birthdays to one of the most creative and hard-working musicians that I have met to date.