RENESAN is currently hosting the three-fold course “A Week with Pro Musica,” a musical experience that walks the course members through the orchestral music-making process. This includes attending an engaging lecture (featuring Thomas O’Connor, Music Director, and Carol Redman, flute soloist), sitting on stage for a rehearsal, and hearing a live performance of Tchaikovsky Serenade this weekend at St. Francis Auditorium.

Here is an interview with Music Director Thomas O’Connor, telling us what it’s all about:

Interview with Santa Fe Pro Musica Music Director Thomas O’Connor

What can we expect to learn from the Renesan lecture during the “Week with Pro Musica?”

Carol and I will take different approaches to the music.  She will focus on the history and cultural context, and I will focus on the nuts and bolts of music: the structure of the piece, the important melodic and harmonic features, and how the composer develops and manipulates the material. One of my goals will be to give the listeners some tools to better understand and appreciate the music.  It will be an exercise in “guided listening.”

At some point there is the question, “What does this piece mean?” When you understand the cultural context and some of the musical elements, it is almost inevitable that you will enjoy the piece more fully and, at some level, arrive at an understanding of its meaning.  It can also be fine to have the music wash over you without bothering to dig deeper. In that case, the meaning might be your emotional response to music, nothing more, nothing less.  Music can be profoundly moving and, to paraphrase the words of Francois Couperin, it is better to be moved than amazed.

How is your role as conductor different when the concert features a soloist performing with the orchestra?

Conducting a concerto or character piece for soloist and orchestra is always a challenge.  There are inevitably times in a piece where the orchestra has to enter after a cadenza or extended solo. Catching the soloist in one of these places in a Mozart or Beethoven concerto (particularly Beethoven!) is the stuff of conductor nightmares (by that I mean nightmares that conductors have, not ones they create or, worse yet, the ones they are)! That said, one of joys of conducting a concerto is to meld your interpretation with the soloist.  You have an idealized sound in your head, and so does the soloist.  Finding the common ground and developing the rapport that helps establish a unified approach can be very satisfying.  Reacting to the soloist in performance so that there is a real give and take is both a musical skill and an interpersonal skill. 

How do you think attending the live rehearsal will enhance the experience of seeing the live performance?

I think for many listeners the rehearsal process is a bit of mystery.  How do you get to a performance level with limited rehearsal time?  What is the role of conductor in rehearsal?  Is he/she merely a timekeeper or is there something more?  I think if you sit in on a rehearsal, you will have a better idea of what the conductor is doing in the concert.  One of the things we want to do with the class is have the participants seated onstage behind the orchestra so that they can hear the exchanges between the conductor and the orchestra.  What you get at an orchestra concert by looking at the conductor’s back is not at all what the musicians experience.  Here’s a chance to witness an orchestra rehearsal up close.  You will be able to see what you’ve been missing!  I’ve often read that the conductor’s work is in the rehearsals and that in concert the conductor is there more for the audience than the musicians.  I think that’s not really the case, and for the people who take our class, I hope to demonstrate that the collaboration between conductor and orchestra is nurtured in rehearsal and blooms in the concert.

St Francis Orchestra 2

© Santa Fe Pro Musica 2013


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