This past weekend, I sang at a fundraising gala for the Napa Valley Youth Symphony. As I walked out on stage to sing the final number of the evening, I looked back at the children and teenagers of the youth orchestra that crowded the stage, their instruments poised to play the first notes of Make Our Garden Grow from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. One young man, who could not have been older than 8, was too little to sit, and therefore was standing next to his stand-partner. His bow, marked with a little piece of yellow tape to show its center much like my first violin bow had been, was set and ready to play the first chord. Looking back at those kids, I was reminded of my own youth orchestra days - days that I have been thinking about a lot this week since I left Napa.
My very first summer at Interlochen, just after finishing the 8th grade, our orchestra played, among other things, excerpts from Stravinsky's Firebird. It was my first taste of Stravinsky's music, and I found myself transfixed. When I returned home to Ann Arbor after camp was over, I rummaged through my father's collection of recordings to see if he owned a recording of the complete piece. What I found was a recording with a flashy, red, yellow, and blue cover of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Pierre Boulez conducting. A few years later, my youth orchestra in Detroit was tackling Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, and as I struggled to understand the piece, I looked for a recording to put my confusing second violin part into some sort of context as I studied it. I wrestled so diligently with that piece that I moved up 10 chairs from the back of the second violin section all the way up to the front when it came time for challenges that semester. The recording I turned to was also conducted by Maestro Boulez and the CSO. Just a couple of years ago, long after I had given up the violin and was singing professionally, I turned yet again to an album recorded buy the same forces as I was trying to make sense of Bartók's Cantata Profana when I performed it a couple of years ago with the St. Louis Symphony. Throughout every phase of my musical life, I have always looked to the recordings of Maestro Boulez and the CSO when it came to understanding music composed last century.
Today, sitting in my chair on stage at Symphony Center here in Chicago during our afternoon rehearsal, I looked up from my Pulcinella score at Maestro Boulez beating time with his hands and marveled that I was here actually making music with these people who, whether they know it or not, have taught me so much about music. For those parts of the rehearsal that I wasn't singing, I found it very hard not to stare star-struck and gape in awe that I am actually here this week.