More Concertos, More Friends

The East Metro Symphony Orchestra is presenting a concert this weekend featuring students and teachers from Woodbury’s K&S Conservatory of Music as soloists. This is the third season that we are presenting a concert featuring local musicians as soloists, and it has been a delightful process to explore all manner of solos with all manner of soloists from our community over these three seasons.

How did this come to be? I’m told that years ago the 3M Orchestra (out of which the East Metro Symphony Orchestra was born) used to perform a concert featuring young musicians as soloists whose parents were affiliated with 3M. That tradition had waned by the time I came to the orchestra in 1999, and in the meantime many opportunities had arisen for young, accomplished musicians to compete for the opportunity to perform as soloists with a variety of local orchestras – professional, amateur and student orchestras alike – so there really seemed no imperative for our orchestra to create another such event to serve the highest level of local student musicians.

Then several years ago one of our orchestra members introduced me to Elena Piastro, an esteemed piano teacher based in Oakdale. (You can read more about her in a previous blog post). We created a delightful concert, Piano Concerto Extravaganza, featuring five of her current and former piano students. For the most part these piano students would probably not win those prestigious young artist competitions, so likely would not have the opportunity to perform as soloist with an orchestra. (It is not a simple thing to perform as a soloist with an orchestra. Simply given how many individual musicians there are in an orchestra, it is infinitely more complex to perform as a soloist with an orchestra than it is to perform alone, in a chamber ensemble, or with piano accompaniment.) But with the high-quality training that piano students received from Elena, combined with the affectionate, respectful and patient support they received from me and the members of EMSO, we created a splendid and heartwarming experience for soloists, orchestra members, Elena, myself and our audience members.

Our second concerto concert came out of a convergence of occurrences:
1. Orchestra members truly enjoyed the experience of performing with the wonderful soloists during our Piano Concerto Extravaganza, and were interested in creating more opportunities like this.
2. Key members of the orchestra discovered my background as a pianist (having earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance), and asked if I would consider preparing a piano concerto to perform with the orchestra.
3. Kelly Karow, the orchestra teacher in our home school district (South Washington County District 833) offered to perform an oboe concerto with the orchestra.
4. Our concertmaster, Michal Sobieski (recently retired from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) expressed interest in performing a concerto with the orchestra.

This convergence resulted in Concertos with Friends, with me, Kelly and Mike as soloists. Kelly performed The Flower Clock by Jean Françaix, I relearned the wonderful Mozart Piano Concerto in A, K.433, which I’d last performed as part of my masters degree requirements many years previously, and Mike performed the glorious Brahms Violin Concerto. It was especially gratifying to let each of us shine in a way that we don’t customarily get to in our conventional positions with the orchestra, and it showed yet again what a grand opportunity a community orchestra has to serve its community in unique and satisfying ways.

Therefore when it came time to plan the 2013-2014 season, I hoped to find more community-based performing partners for another concerto concert, and K&S was the perfect organization to work with. Having known the great work the school does in the Woodbury community – not just teaching, but advocating for arts learning opportunities more broadly – they were my first choice for creating a program to highlight the accomplishments of their music students and faculty. (Did you know that Sue Krebsbach – the K of K&S – was one of the founders of the Woodbury Youth Orchestra, which was critical in developing the orchestra program that now thrives in South Washington County Schools?) Last winter I first approached Sue about having members of her K&S community perform with EMSO as soloists. By this past spring a number of her music teachers suggested students who would be good soloists, and several teachers offered their services as soloists too. So here we are!

The coordination involved doing a program with 7 soloists performing 6 different works for solo and orchestra can be daunting. They involve communicating with all the individual soloists themselves, their teachers, and parents, coordinating many different schedules and accommodating various levels of experience and expertise. Our soloists include a high school student, a legal secretary, retired members of an army reserve band, and professional musicians. The performers prepared their solos with the assistance of their private teachers, but our work together began with private coaching sessions with me, where we worked through issues that would affect how well things would work once they began to work with the orchestra. EMSO spent its final two weekly Tuesday evening rehearsals working through each of the solos with our soloists, moving quickly through each solo, almost like a production line to squeeze everything into our 2-hour rehearsals. At our dress rehearsal on Saturday we will run the program in performance order in our performance space for the first time. This will be the only time we will be able to do this – to work out all the details of balance between the soloists and orchestra, accommodating the changing sizes of the orchestra for the various soloists, when and how to roll a baby grand piano into place, clarifying entrances and exits for each of the soloists, and all sorts of details – before our performance the next day.

Please join us to see how it all works out, to enjoy an orchestra concert in a pleasant east-metro location and to celebrate the talents of some of our local musicians.

Elizabeth Prielozny Barnes
Music Director and Conductor

Concertos with Friends II
Sunday, October 27 at 5p.m. (coffee and cider reception to follow!)
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church
14107 Hudson Road South, Afton, MN 55001
Tickets available at the door:
$10 adults, $6 students and seniors, children 13 and under free!