The BSO Academy is a week long summer ‘band camp’ where adult amateur musicians get to play with the members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Their slogan is “side by side with the pros.” I went last year also and this year, amazingly, was even better than last year. Both experiences were awe inspiring. I think the difference was that this year I felt more comfortable with myself as a horn player. Last year was a ‘I can’t believe I’m sitting here’ experience but I was much more nervous and I played the music in my part very quietly and with great trepidation.
The music was much harder for me last year than this year. This year I played my parts with confidence. There wasn’t anything that I just couldn’t play. Last year there were passages in the music that were way beyond my capability. Granted, I chose to play 4th horn again because I didn’t feel I was ready to play anything that was exposed. I made a promise to myself to choose at least one part next year that wasn’t a 4th horn part. The really nice thing about the Academy is that we are sitting next to the pros. We are encouraged to play what we can and drop out, if necessary, when the music just gets too hard. This year there were only two measures, low, pp and exposed, where I opted not to play. The intonation had to be flawless and I just wasn’t comfortable doubling it.
There were 104 attendees this year, 56 of us returnees, and we were split up into two orchestras. Sitting on the Meyerhoff stage, seeing Marin Alsop walk out and start the rehearsal, was just as jaw-dropping this year as last year. The orchestra I was in played Tchaikovsky’s Cappricio Italian, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and suite 2 of de Falla’s Three Cornered Hat. All music that I really enjoyed. The Three Cornered Hat was the hardest for me because it has really tricky rhythms. At the first rehearsal I struggled with it but I had it down pat by the dress rehearsal.
In addition to playing in the orchestra, I also signed up to be in a chamber music group and to participate in the “Solo with a pianist” opportunity. In the chamber music group we performed the 1st and 2nd movements of Beethoven’s Septet for Violin, Viola, Cello, String Bass, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn. We had enough rehearsals to mesh as a group and I think the performance went very well. I had a few solos and I played most of them decently and I completely nailed the most important one in the 2nd movement. I was probably the least experienced member in the septet and I’m glad that I played well enough to not let our group down.
The ‘solo with a pianist’ option offered us an opportunity to perform a short piece with piano accompaniment. I chose to play the 2nd movement of Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto. We had one short rehearsal and then the performance was the next evening. I’ve performed that piece 4 times now, first at the Northeast Horn Workshop where I crashed and burned, then at my jury for school where I also crashed and burned (not just this piece but the entire jury), at church where it went ok, and then at the Academy where I think it went quite well. I still don’t perform well, usually playing well below my capability, so I was happy with this performance.
In addition to all the performing, the Academy keeps us busy with numerous seminars and master classes. Only a few were similar to last year and worth hearing a second time. This year I volunteered to play or be a guinea pig right from the start of the week. By the end of the week whenever volunteers were asked for people would shout out ‘Tina will play.” Last year I think I played only at one or two classes. This year I played in every class. Yay.
For more information, there are two interesting articles on BSO Academy written by Dan Wakin, attendee at the Academy and a writer for the NY Times, Band Camp for Grownups (I’m in the cover picture!) and Every Player in this Temporary Orchestra has a Story.