Monday, August 15, 2011

Pianist Jannie Lo performs Tchaikovsky on the Esplanade

Pianist Jannie Lo, winner of the 2011 Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts Concerto Competition will perform the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto with Longwood Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday August 17, 2011 at 7:00 p.m.

Ms. Lo grew up in San Francisco, California where she started the piano at the age of three. She went on to study piano in Baltimore and in Freiburg, Germany. When asked what city she considers "home," she replied:

Because I have lived in a number of places, I have always had a desire to search for my real 'home', like how the Little Prince always yearns to go back home, but I am realizing lately that 'home' is perhaps in my own self, and to be at home everywhere I go, is to be at peace with one's self.

This is Ms. Jannie Lo's fifth summer participating in the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts Annual Summer Festival. What makes it so special?

I have been to many summer festivals, and this is definitely one of my favorite places to be. The faculty are of such high caliber, and each of them are truly unique and special artists.Their lessons and master classes are wonderful. Having the opportunity to converse with them individually is an inspiration. Each conversation has been a mind and heart opening experience, and life changing because each of them has their own inspiring story to tell.

This is the 20th anniversary of the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts Summer Festival. Jannie Lo explains and essential part of its longevity and success.

Dr. Cathy Chan [the founder of the Foundaion] makes it such a well-rounded festival, with trips to Tanglewood, Tai-chi classes, etc. Dr Chan, the founder and director, is also one of the most generous and kind persons I know, and her spirit pervades the festival.

Any thoughts about the Tchaikovsky? Is it a work you have wanted to play? When did you first hear the work?

I have wanted to play this piece all my life, since I heard [Marta] Argerich's recording as a child. It was a coincidence that I entered the competition actually, because I had been learning it, and only realized later that it was the piece designated for the competition this year. I entered it thinking it would help me learn the piece faster.

Every time before I play the Tchaikovsky, I always think that the spirit is one of the highest nobility and the greatest generosity. The famous first theme is actually a Ukranian folk tune, a melody Tchaikovsky first heard performed by blind beggar musicians in the market. I read somewhere that the folk tune was about the coming of spring, but I have not been able to find any other source to verify the information.

Jannie Lo also reflected about Longwood Symphony Orchestra and its unique connection to music and medicine:

Dr Chan teaches us a Chinese character to all of us every evening at our meeting and explains the philosophical meaning behind the construction of each character. Tonight, it was the second character that makes up the word 'music' in Chinese -- "yue". She explained to us that it is the same character as medicine, minus three strokes on the top.

Thus, music is truly synonymous with medicine and healing. It is our mission as musicians, to help heal; it is something that is vital in this world, and we need to remember that everytime we are given the opportunity to do our mission on stage...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Getting to know Guest Conductor David Commanday

Guest conductor David Commanday will be leading Longwood Symphony Orchestra on August 17, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. for its annual FREE summer concert at the DCR Hatch Memorial Shell on the Esplanade.

Music Director of the Heartland Festival Orchestra in Illinois, Commanday is no stranger to Boston, having previously attended Harvard University, and conducted the Boston Ballet and Greater Boston Youth Symphony.

David Commanday was recently named Conductor of the Year 2011 by the Illinois Council of Orchestras.

We caught up with Maestro Commanday a few days ago and he shared his thoughts about music and healing:

1. Where were you born? Do you come from a musical family?

I was born and grew up in Berkeley, California. My father was a musician who studied at Harvard and Juilliard, He was conductor of choruses at U.C. Berkeley, and then later music critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. My mother was a pianist, but her profession was teaching languages.

2. When did you start the cello? Was this your first instrument? Do you play other instruments?
My first instrument was piano, starting around 6 years old, but the cello is what captured me, when I started at age 9. I had a magic teacher, Margaret Rowell, who brought up generations of wonderful cellists in the Bay Area.

3. What is it about the cello that you love most?
The cello is how I found my most personal musical voice. When I play there is a very deep connection to who I am and what I need to express. That connection is what brought me into music. For me keeping that connection alive, on the cello or with the orchestra, is what making music is all about.

4. When did you start conducting? What was your inspiration?
I began conducting in college -- first at Indian Hill (summer arts workshop in Stockbridge, MA), after my freshman year at Harvard, and then more and more. I conducted pick-up groups, mostly at Lowell House for special concerts we organized. Conducting the Lowell House Opera in my senior year was what really hooked me -- guiding and leading so many individual spirits in the re-creation of a work, which becomes far more than the sum of the individuals and far more than my self, was immensely rewarding. I was inspired and influenced by the conducting of Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, and Aaron Copland, when I played principal cello as a student at Tanglewood.

5. You mentioned that you first wanted to be a brain surgeon. What changed?
Around the time of the opera (despite having taking some pre-med courses and majored in psychology), I came to recognize that making music was my calling, and that this was my path to fulfillment. In considering future careers I believed it would be for me both the biggest challenge and the most rewarding path to follow. Experience has shown that I was right in both respects!

7. Do you consider music to be healing?
Music heals in deep and manifold ways. In shaping time it offers not merely distraction from the accelerated speed and intensity of our lives, but real refreshment and restoration. Hearts often suffer from stifled, overly-controlled emotions - so much goes on inside us which cannot be expressed. A song can be the flight of a beautiful bird released from a cage - released not only from the singer, but from the listener as well. To sing well (I include instrumental playing as a variety of singing) we must breathe, and breathe the right way. It raises the chi, and accesses our fundamental vitality and strength. Well-made music also sets right the listener (who makes the music as well, when truly taking it in).

8. Any comments about how you chose the repertoire for this program? Any piece that is particularly special to you?
In choosing repertoire for this concert I considered the outdoor informality of the setting. This is music that is moving and and thrilling, and has some humor as well. Fledermaus and Dvorak 8 I came to love during my conducting training in Vienna. I also played them as cellist in the Vienna Volksoper Orchestra, an experience which deepened by appreciation and sense of the Viennese tradition in these works. There are other connections with our encores, but I won't give those away quite yet...

9. Is there anything special to you about LSO in particular?
The LSO is a unique treasure - its musicians bring musical talent, intellect, imagination, and generosity of spirit to every rehearsal and every concert. They use all of these resources to transform their own pleasure in making music together into rich gifts back to the community - in the music itself and in significant and substantial fund-raising for essential philanthropic causes. Being part of the LSO in this concert is an honor and a pleasure.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Activities

During the summer, the musicians of the LSO have a chance to take a break from their usual rehearsals and schedules to pursue other interests. Some of them go away to do research, others find time for musical pursuits.

During the early weeks of August, here are some of the activities that our members have been engaged in:

Pan Mass Challenge:
As if they did not have enough to keep them busy, two of our musician members, Dr. Wolfram Goessling and Dr. Mark Gebhardt, have been toning up all summer in preparation for Pan Mass Challenge, the two-day biking marathon that raises money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Both have devoted their lives to treating cancer - Mark is an orthopedist who specializes in bone cancer and will be riding with one of his patients, a cancer survivor.

Wolfram is an oncologist specializing in liver cancer. For him, this is a personal journey as well. Wolfram rides in memory of his father (pictured below). He writes:

"My mission is to raise funds for our research on hepatoblastoma, a form of liver cancer that affects children. I am extremely proud to be riding for Team L.E.G.S. - Legs Ending Great Suffering - a team of very dedicated (and fast) riders who have supported our lab from the beginning. But the real reason for me to ride is my dad who passed away from liver cancer two years ago this weekend. The fight against cancer is not just a great scientific challenge, it is also personal, and we need to win it pedal stroke by pedal stroke and mile by mile."

Good luck, Mark and Wolfram!

Seeding Labs

On Thursday August 4, Longwood Symphony musician/scientists sponsored an reception to meet the 2011 Novartis Seeding Labs Fellows to talk about creativity and shared international interests. This remarkable group of medical school professors from Mali and Ghana are visiting the United States for an intensive 9 week fellowship in Boston, sponsored by Novartis. Their research varies from infectious disease interests in tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and Leishmaniasis to public health and pharmacology, studying sustainable food sources and the search for bioactive compounds from natural products.

Seeding Labs CEO and Founder Dr. Nina Dudnik, launched the fellowship in 2010. She talked about how important it was to connect scientists around the world. Violinists Sherman Jia (a 5th year HMS-HST student) and Dr. Mark Emerson (post-doc in Genetics) found scientists who shared their similar research interests. Dr. Lisa Wong met Dr. Dr. Rita Dickson, a professor of pharmacology, who studied at King's College in London before returning to educate the next generation in her native Ghana.

The evening concluded with a music, as Ashley Lau, a 2nd year M.D./Ph.D. student and Lisa Wong performed works by Bach, Kreisler and Elgar. Following the concert, many of the guests shared that they had never heard a performance by violin and piano before. Some had never seen a violin, and a lively conversation about similar African stringed musical instruments ensued.

We look forward to continuing our conversation with these talented scientists, even after they have returned to their home countries, and are grateful to Seeding Labs for its vision.

Music on the Esplanade

On August 17 at 2011, Longwood Symphony musicians will come back together to launch the 2011-12 season with their annual summer concert at the DCR Hatch Memorial Shell on the Esplanade.

Guest Conductor David Commanday will lead the orchestra in a performance of Johann Strauss' Overture to Die Fledermaus, Tchaikovksy's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the winner of the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts concerto competition, and Dvorak's pastoral Symphony No. 8.

This free summer event is a season favorite--Bring your friends and family with a picnic and blanket to enjoy music under the stars.