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Monday, August 19, 2019

You Are a Dodge

From the Music Vault Dept.: The Schenectady-based Empire State Youth Orchestra is an incubator of amazing talent, and has seen some amazing conductors come through. One of the best was Eiji Oue, who went on to become music director of the Erie Philharmonic, associate conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, music director of the prestigious Minnesota Orchestra, and principal conductor of the Osaka Philharmonic. Here’s an interview piece I wrote at the start of his brief Capital Region tenure.


THE LAST MOVEMENT of Beethoven’s Fifth is like the last inning of a good ball game: Tense, exciting. The Empire State Youth Orchestra is rehearsing this movement on a Tuesday in late October in preparation for a concert this Saturday at the Troy Music Hall. It is the first time they have looked at the music. On the podium is their new music director, Eiji Oue.

Eiji Oue
“This is how it should be bowed,” he tells the strings. “Down, down, up. Down, down, up.”
A few players try it. It takes some getting used to.

“Listen,” Oue exclaims. “That’s a really professional bowing, the one that the Boston Symphony uses. And we’re doing it because you can do it. And this is the hardest part of the symphony!”

This heightens the enthusiasm of the young musicians. It is nearing 10 PM, the end of rehearsal, and there are many tired faces in the room. They begin again from the start of the finale. And it sounds especially good. “Elegant, elegant!” the conductor calls out. The kids listen and respond. They obviously want to please their leader.

Where the ending had been ragged before are now some very clean touches. “I just played this piece with a major orchestra in the midwest,” Oue tells the group. “It took them 10 minutes to learn this movement. And you guys have done it in five.”

The Youth Orchestra made a nice coup in securing Oue, a powerhouse hitter who has spent many years working with orchestras in the northeast and has studied with many illustrious conductors, including Bernstein and Von Karajan.

Last summer he conducted the Boston University Tanglewood Institute’s Young Artists Orchestra; he also is an assistant professor of music at Brown University, where he conducts the school’s orchestra. Obviously, he enjoys working with students.

“You look at the kids’ faces,” says Oue, “and you can see they’re having a great time. But they’re also learning. Maybe they forget this nuance or that, but they are learning how to enjoy music and they’re learning a new style of listening to music.

“This concert that we’re doing in November, it’s something for the whole community, you know. I want them to feel that this is our group. Of course we’re going to get the parents and relatives and friends of the players, but I also want to get some people who just come for the music, because they know that the music is something we can give to them. This is the Empire State Youth Orchestra, after all. We might as well make it stand for the best our state’s students hare to offer.”

Oue speaks with the same enthusiasm he brings to the podium, his face a marvel of changing expression. His voice becomes confidential. “I hate this term ‘youth orchestra’ anyway,” he declares. “We audition these players the same as any professional group. It’s my orchestra – it’s our orchestra.

“And I say they’re professionals even if the kids don’t go on to music school. How many will go on? Ten percent? So what? We’ll still have 100 percent of them music lovers, with music experience.”

The program will demonstrate the many strengths of the ensemble, including a solo by principal clarinetist Lisa Cole. She is a senior at Columbia High School in East Greenbush, and she does plan to continue with music education. She will play the challenging Clarinet Concerto by Mozart.

Beethoven’s Fifth, of course, is scheduled, along with the Meistersinger overture by Wagner and Bernstein’s “Candide” overture.

As rehearsal draws to a close, Oue leads the players once more through the very end of the Beethoven symphony. He is instructing the winds how to play an accelerando passage against a steady beat in the brass.

“You,” he says, pointing to the wind section, “are a Ferrari. You” – this to the brass – “are a Dodge. The Ferrari is behind but wants to catch up.” He and the students laugh, and this reminds him of an observation he has made in his travels. “Americans build the best luxury cars. I mean, you drive a Ford, it’s very comfortable. I had a Rolls-Royce once, and it looked great, but it wasn’t comfortable. Germans – they build the best engines. The Japanese? Best economy cars. Can’t beat ‘em for that. And the English make the most complicated engines. I had a Jaguar once, and do you know it took them two days to remove and replace a radiator?” He laughs again, then points with his stick. “Okay. You are a Dodge ...”

Metroland Magazine, 6 November 1986

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