Thursday, April 30, 2009

YouTube Symphony: Playing Carnegie

Two hours before curtain I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Martin Steinberg, a cellist and supervising editor of the Associated Press, and we shared our similar experiences of playing in Carnegie Hall. Read his story here. Steinberg’s story inspired me to write my own account of what it felt like to play in Carnegie Hall for the first time (see below).

And read Steinberg’s review of the YouTube Symphony concert here.

carnegie hall, for the first time

I was excited, but also a little cynical.  As a winner in the YouTube Symphony international music competition, I was invited to Carnegie Hall to perform as a member of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas.  I was excited to work under MTT and to play in an orchestra with so many fine musicians from around the world who had also won the competition.  Playing on the stage at Carnegie added a layer of prestige to the competition.  People were really impressed when I told them I was going to New York to play a concert in Carnegie Hall.  But to me, the venue was less meaningful than the actual music making that would take place and I wondered, would the YouTube Symphony performance really feel like a legitimate, magical Carnegie concert, or would it just be an expensive hall hosting a one night event?  

I have never played in Carnegie Hall but I have played in some pretty nice venues.  I practically grew up in Hill Auditorium in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a space respected worldwide for its pin-drop acoustics in a hall which seats nearly 4,000 people.  In addition to being the auditorium where I had seen performances by the Vienna Philharmonic, Rostropovich, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Yo Yo Ma, Cecilia Bartoli, James Galway, the New York Philharmonic and many others, it was also the concert hall for various special school concerts in which I performed.   Later, as a student at the University of Michigan, I played in Hill Auditorium on a weekly basis.  Another hall I performed in which I remember fondly is the Esterhazy Palace outside Vienna, Austria, where my high school orchestra played on a European tour in 1989.

After a day and a half of intense rehearsals, the members of the YouTube Symphony prepared to enter Carnegie for our first rehearsal in the hall.  By this time I realized that the YouTube Symphony was a very serious musical endeavor. Yes, there was hype and a fun but talent-show-like atmosphere to the contest voting, but when it came time to play in New York, this was the real deal; serious musicians making music at the highest level, a level worthy of Carnegie Hall.

The backstage area was unremarkable and crowded with stage hands. As I neared the stage, I saw a flash of red and a sparkle of gold.  For a moment I was blinded by a spotlight, and then with another step my vision cleared and I was standing at the threshold of the legendary Carnegie Hall stage.  The ghostlike emptiness of those 2800 seats just waiting for music to burst forth filled me with a strange and eerie awe.  You could almost hear the faint echo of applause trapped within the plaster walls.  It hit me. Playing in Carnegie meant something, to the public, to my family, to my friends, and to me.  I was suddenly fighting back tears.  I could feel the presence of my late grandfather, Papa Jerry, a talented guitar and banjo player from New York, who took me to a Broadway show or to performances at Lincoln Center every time I came to visit.  He was my first music teacher, showing me how to play a chord on his guitar or shake a maraca while he sang Tin Pan Alley songs, and he instilled in me a love for performing which made me dedicate my life to a career in music.

At the performance the next night, the house was sold out and electrified.  We began with the third movement of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony and the warm sound of strings, winds, and brass burst from the stage, wrapping itself around the audience. As the three-hour concert progressed, the energy continued to build and the audience grew more enraptured, cheering after each piece. At the night’s conclusion, the audience members rose to their feet without hesitation.  There is nothing as delightfully shocking to a performer as frenzied applause, especially when it reverberates in an acoustically perfect space like Carnegie Hall.

On April 15, 2009, something magical happened at 57th and 7th, and I know the spirit of my Papa Jerry was there with me, in his beloved New York on the most prestigious stage in the world, and he was proud.

       by Nina Perlove      
Visit my YouTube Symphony 2009 Photo Album

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