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Cindy Fong’s Inspired Program Notes

Posted by cstumpf in Announcements, Artists on March 18, 2012

You may not know this, but Lexington Symphony’s program notes are written by second violinist Cindy Fong. Cindy is a playing member of the orchestra, which she joined in 1996. A double-major in music and English at Stanford University, she is now making use of both as a professor of  Piano and English as a Second Language at Bunker Hill Community College.Cindy Fong Her other violin activities include regular participation in the Manhattan String Quartet’s workshops abroad and an occasional orchestral gig.  She also continues to be active as a pianist and has performed in piano chamber music concerts in the New England area and as orchestral pianist for the Longwood, Newton, and Brockton Symphonies.

And, most importantly for our purposes today, she has been writing the program notes for Lexington Symphony since 2007. We asked Cindy to talk a little bit about her experience with writing these notes…and we got her to share a sneak peek at the program notes for our March 24 concert!

LS:  Can you describe your writing process?

CF: The preparation part has developed over the years – now it usually involves collecting as many notes on-line as I can and then also reading a few relevant chapters in one or (preferably) two books, when I can find books.  Sometimes, I detour into ancillary research, too, like reading the short Wikipedia bio on Oluf Hartmann, the artist for whom Nielsen’s “Artist’s Bier” was written. When I’ve finally reached a critical mass of information – it’s like dating a composer for a few weeks, until I have a sense of him (Brahms was basically my  “boyfriend”for several weeks the summer I wrote up his First Symphony) — I listen to the piece a couple of times.  Sometimes I have to listen MORE than a couple times, all while reading descriptions of the work, to have a
real understanding of it. I’ll also come up with my own reactions while listening, like the touches of Gershwin I detected in the Nielsen clarinet concerto, which was not mentioned in anything I read.

Then comes the writing part, at LONG last, usually after at least one or two weeks of gathering info.  I almost always fear I don’t have anymore notes in me (thus relating a little to the writer’s block some composers experience), and always start with a Brainstorm page where, to loosen up, I just type random things about the piece until suddenly, I find a starting line (whew!). Sometimes, it takes a long time to find it, while other times, I have the shadow of it in my head even before starting (it sometimes comes to me during laps at the pool), which always makes life easier.  When I finally get the first paragraph out, I relax and can start to enjoy the whole writing process.

Along the way, I’m always wondering how I’ll end the thing.  I’ve been lucky many times, though, that a cool final line somehow ju

st comes to me almost automatically. But I never stop worrying that that may be the last cool ending line that will ever come my way.  And then, even after the last sentence is written, I usually let the thing sit around for a week (often on my dining room table), just to “age” a bit and allow for some compulsive tweaking.

LS: What do you enjoy about writing the notes?

Cindy: I enjoy the challenge of putting a lot of disparate information together into a coherent tale.  (Sometimes, it feels like things go into ahopper and then just come out, all put together.)  I enjoy adding my personal spin on a piece (as long as it seems accurate). Sometimes, I can’t resist being droll, too, which is fun. And I feel that knowing more about each piece we’re playing gives me an edge in playing even my lowly second violin parts.

And I love doing notes for a group like the Lexington Symphony, which is truly a unique group, full of excellent, precise musicians who care about music-making (and not just check-collecting).  It’s like contributing to a family effort in a family I’m proud to belong to. The players (oh, and Jonathan too) are also awesome people, which helps.

And now, a sneak peek at the program notes for March 24:

Perhaps not since that rock star Franz Joseph Haydn in the 1790s had a composer so captivated the London public like Antonín Dvořák, the shy, stocky butcher’s son with the endearingly fractured English, whose impressive Symphony No. 6 in D, Slavonic Dances, and, especially, Stabat Mater – one of the first modern Czech oratorios – had led to his first visit in the spring of 1884. Arriving in London on March 8 as an honored guest of the Philharmonic Society, the 42-year-old composer would spend the next two and a half weeks conducting three concerts of his own music. “I cannot tell you how great is the honour and respect the English people here show me,” he exulted in a letter to his father. “Everywhere they write and talk about me and say that I am the lion of this year’s musical season in London!”

It was a welcome shift to international stature for Dvořák, who, after spending eleven years as a violist in Prague’s National Theater Orchestra, plus three more as a church organist, had finally won enough attention – largely through his bona fide hit, the Slavonic Dances — to retire such positions for the life of full-time composer. Stuffed with banquets, trailed by autograph-seeking fans, he returned home from that first trip to London with, unsurprisingly, several new projects in hand, including a promise to write a new symphony for the Philharmonic Society.

This work, which would become tonight’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, was one that had actually preoccupied Dvořák since the fall of 1883, when his friend and distinguished supporter, Johannes Brahms, played through bits of his own new Symphony No. 3 in F for him in Vienna; a few months later Dvorak would hear the work in Berlin, with Brahms himself conducting. Brahms’ work nagged at Dvořák: could he ever reach such stratospheric heights himself? After finally setting to work on his Philharmonic Society commission in December 1884, he soon wrote to a friend, “…wherever I go I think of nothing but my work, which must be capable of stirring the world….” Brahms himself was urging the younger composer to outdo himself, telling him, “I imagine your symphony quite different from [the 6th symphony].” In three months, in a state of driven aspiration, Dvorak had completed his new symphony.

It was, in the end, quite different from his Symphony No. 6 in D…

To learn more about Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7, come hear the concert on March 24!

Meet the Lexington Symphony – Randy Hiller

Posted by admin in Artists on February 24, 2012

This week, the Lexington Symphony is proud to profile Assistant Concertmaster Randy Hiller. Mr. Hiller is a founding member of the Lexington Symphony whose passion for music far exceeds the walls of Cary Hall.

Randy Hiller, assistant concertmaster

LS: Randy, tell us a little about yourself. 

Randy: I have lived in Lexington since 1988.  I am currently playing/teaching music full-time, after semi-retirement from a financial management business.  I did my undergraduate work at Harvard and my graduate work at MIT.

LS: Besides performing with the Lexington Symphony, how else do you spend your time, musically or otherwise?

Randy: My passion is chamber music (small ensembles).  Four years ago I started the Lexington Chamber Music Center (LCMC), a non-profit enterprise with a two-fold mission:

1)    to introduce classical chamber music to middle and high school students in our community, and

2)    to share their love of music with senior citizens in local retirement homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities through outreach performances.

The ultimate goal of the Lexington Chamber Music Center is to share the joys of classical chamber music broadly with young students (ages 8-18) and senior citizens in our community, enriching the lives of both groups.

In its first four years we have grown to over 50 students, performing annually at 20 outreach concerts for over 500 senior citizens at local hospitals, retirement homes, and assisted living facilities.

Randy Hiller

I have also been involved with music education for many years, having served as President of the board of Project STEP, a Boston non-profit whose mission is to prepare musically gifted African-American and Latino students for careers in classical music.

I work with my daughter (Meredith), Yuki Beppu (of OKTC fame), and Lev Mamuya (from Project STEP) in a string quartet called “The Rotten Peanuts”.

LS: You’ve done amazing work in the community, Randy. How do you like to unwind?

Randy: Well, I spend summers in Nova Scotia, picking blueberries and fishing…I built an electric bass with my son, who now playsit in a jazz band at Washington U. in St. Louis. I love getting together for an evening reading string quartets with friends.  We get together at 8:00, play 3 quartets, then break out the wine and cheese to end the evening.  Fellow LS violinist Rebecca Hawkins has frequently participated in these fun evenings.  And Anne Black who has joined our viola section for recent concerts came to the LS through these evenings.

While I was trained as a businessman and a mathematician, I am living my passion through music.  I love performing with Lexington Symphony, and seeing members of the audience I recognize from around town.  Come and say hi!

Meet the Lexington Symphony – Rich Given, Trumpet

Posted by cstumpf in Artists on January 4, 2012

Welcome to our new blog series – Meet the Lexington Symphony!  Over the coming months, we will be taking you behind the scenes at the orchestra to bring you interviews with the Lexington Symphony Playing Members. These personal profiles are a chance for you to get to know the people who bring you the music you love. Learn about their musical journey, their upbringing, their professional activities, and their interests outside of music. Even serious musicians often have fun (or funny) hobbies!

Richard Given

Recently, concertmaster Liz Whitfield sat down with principal trumpet player Richard Given and asked him about his love of the trumpet, his experiences with the Lexington Symphony, and his high school ski team.

Here’s what they talked about:

Liz: Was the trumpet the first instrument you played?

Rich: I grew up listening to my dad playing the piano. He was a jazz pianist. He started explaining to me what he did and it was so complicated, so I stayed away from the piano. My grandmother had suggested I take up the trumpet, and when there was an instrument demo in the fourth grade and I saw the trumpet I just fell in love with everything about it. I was lucky that I could make a good sound right away. I now realize after teaching for some time that this is not easy.

Liz: Did you always know you wanted to play the trumpet for a living?

Rich: When I was in the 9th grade, my parents paid $1.50 per lesson to someone who had played in the BSO in the 30’s. I decided at the end of that year that I wanted to be a trumpet player. I played with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra and did many summer youth camps.

Liz: I know how much you love playing the trumpet, Rich, but I hear you love the outdoors, too.

Rich: I love the mountains, I love skiing, both cross-country and downhill, and biking. I’m not so much of a beach person, though I love to kayak. I also carry baseball gloves in my trunk in case there is anyone around to throw with.

Liz: I understand you ski competitively. 

Rich: I do, mostly with myself. I guess I’m a competitive person. When I’m on my bike I’m always trying to beat my best speed. I’ve been skiing since I was two years old growing up in Vermont, and I got involved in racing and continued until my parents moved to Weston. When in high school, I started the Weston High School ski team and it still continues to this day. At college I taught skiing to help pay my way. I just love the exhilaration of feeling like you’re flying down a hill.

Liz: Where did you go to college? 

Rich: I went to Eastman [School of Music at the University of Rochester] for one year then moved to NEC [New England Conservatory] because I really wanted to study with Roger Voisin. I had heard him play and wanted to make a sound like him. He took me through a lot of technical repertoire. In my senior year I won a job as principal trumpet in the Atlantic Symphony in Halifax. It was like utopia getting a job in an orchestra as a 22-year-old. After a short time there I came back to Boston and started free-lancing with the Boston Ballet, Boston Opera…I subbed with the BSO and Pops, and did many shows at the Schubert and Colonial.

Photo by Art Illman

Liz: You’ve played with Lexington Symphony for a number of years. What is it that you enjoy about it?

Rich: I’ve played with most of the New England orchestras over my years of free-lancing. Of all these orchestras Lexington Symphony is by far and away the most fun. There’s a spontaneity and excitement that I haven’t experienced in many others – it’s a rarity. It’s a great group of people and I get along with everyone. We are on the same page when it comes to music making and that’s impossible not to enjoy.

Liz: What’s the most frustrating thing about playing the trumpet?

Rich: The search for the right mouthpiece. Of course there is no perfect one, but you need different equipment for different music.

Liz: How many mouthpieces do you have?

Rich: 750.

Liz: 750?!

Rich: I think only Doc Severinsen has as many as I do. You’re always looking for something that makes it easier to play what you are playing.

Liz: How do you store them? 

Rich: In plastic bags, to keep them from tarnishing. I was going to make boxes for them all, but never got around to it. I pretty much only use 20-30 mouthpieces but it’s great for my students to have so many to try out.

Liz: If you could choose one piece to play, what would it be? 

Rich: Mahler 5. Every trumpet player’s dream!