“The Ultimate Balancing Act”: Eastman to Feature Student Soloists on Upcoming Concert

By Erik Elmgren

Tonight, Wednesday, December 7, the Eastman Philharmonia will present a concert consisting entirely of concertos performed by Eastman students. The first piece on the concert is the Morceau de Concert, Op. 151 for solo harp and orchestra by Camille Saint-Saens, performed by Elizabeth Ojeda. Next Chan Song (Christina) An will perform the Cello Concerto in D minor by Éduard Lalo. The concert concludes with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595, performed by Matthew Figel. To learn a bit more about this unique and exciting concert, I took some time to interview the student performers.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Elizabeth: This is my third year at Eastman- I’m currently a candidate for a Bachelor of Music in Harp Performance, and another in Music Education. I’m especially energized about my degree in education, and my ability to impact a lot of lives with it — I’ve thought intensely about starting an inner city music program after graduate school. I believe that all people are musical people, and capable of excellence. It is something of a responsibility for those who can do, to teach- however to demand excellence, you must demonstrate it, and it is in the pursuit of that excellence that I now find myself. I’m from a small town in the Hudson Valley, New York, and for that I’m extensively grateful- it’s given me the chance to recognize how fortunate I am to pursue such a niche interest, and makes it all the more important that I pursue what I love with dedication and commitment, if for no other reason than to honor the sacrifices that so many people (my parents especially) have made in time, energy, and financially, to allow me to do what I am doing.

Matthew: My name is Matthew Figel and I am currently an undergraduate sophomore majoring in Piano Performance. I am originally from Midland, Texas, but I completed my high school years at the Interlochen Arts Academy.

How did this opportunity come about? Could you talk a bit about the process of how you ended up with this opportunity?

Elizabeth: The opportunity to play this concerto has been awhile coming. There is a harp concerto competition every two years at Eastman, and I didn’t participate two years ago, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating this one. Anyone who wanted to participate was welcome to, and from there, a panel of faculty judges made the selection. My competitors were some of my best friends in the whole world, and just as completely deserving of playing this concerto as I am. What makes the harp studio here so uniquely special is that it’s truly made up of the best people imaginable, and I am acutely aware of how astoundingly lucky I am to be a part of that. None of that, of course, would be possible without the environment cultivated by Professor Bride. She’s a tour de force: an incredible musician, but an incredible teacher as well — and those two aren’t always mutually inclusive. She creates an environment of growth and success; demanding excellence while phrasing it as a question, and gives each and every one of us a home, an education, and an example. There are few people whom I admire as much as Ms. Bride — and it is because of who she is, that she’s created an environment of not just success, but respect, admiration, and friendship among her students.

Matthew: I had originally begun this Mozart concerto with the idea of preparing for the competition shortly before I arrived this school year. It was not my favorite Mozart concerto at the time, but I felt it would be a healthy piece for me to learn. Soon I became quite infatuated after delving into the piece more. The competition was divided into two rounds, a preliminary round with cuts and a final round where the concerto was performed in its entirety. Only three of the students who entered passed to the finals. I was quite happy with my performance in the final round; nevertheless, it still came as a huge surprise when I was chosen as the winner.

Can you tell us a bit about the piece you will be performing on this concert?

Elizabeth: The Morceau de Concert is an interesting piece — not as typically flashy or over romanticized as a lot of harp music tends to be, and in the sense it poses all the more of a challenge for the performer to make music — to show distinction in performance choice, personality, and color. The notes aren’t simply handed to the harpist, and it really takes study to make music out of it. Also, considering the resonant nature of the strings, and how the harp typically sounds, the emphasis on distinction in articulation and tone within the concerto adds a layer of depth typically not as emphasized in harp music and scoring. Saint-Saens was excellent at ensuring that the harp wouldn’t be covered by a wash of orchestral sound, underscoring lightly, if at all, allowing instead for the concerto to be more of a musical conversation and exchange.

Matthew: Mozart’s 27th Piano Concerto is a very special piece to me in many ways. It is the final piano concerto Mozart wrote, and is strikingly complex in its shifting moods. The first movement is unique in that even though it has an inherent brightness, it is as if you can hear Mozart’s approaching death. But when the music becomes its most serious, there is often a quite stupid joke that Mozart places to cheer himself up, to laugh it off in the true Mozartian style. The second movement is incredibly poignant: the first time I listened to this movement I was a soggy mess by the end. And the third movement features Mozart at his most childlike, as the theme skips around humorously and joyously throughout the movement.

What unique challenges are presented by playing as a soloist in front of an orchestra?

Elizabeth: Playing as a soloist is the ultimate balancing act. It loses the intimacy of chamber music, and in that, the personal relationships cultivated by making music so closely. However, it requires the same amount of study, dedication, and even more faith- faith in an entire team of people besides myself to make the music. I’ve always felt at home playing in an orchestra, but as a soloist it shifts the perspective from a piece of the puzzle, to perhaps the table that it rests on. It’s wonderful in that there is so much room for negotiation in musical choice, and the music making process is so much more involved, explained, and validated, but to assume that even after all this time it comes without nerves would be incorrect. When the time comes, it will be all about the exchange and offering of the music I have to give- in that I am confident. But it does come with its fair share of nerves. However, in the wise words of Dr. Scatterday [Mark Scatterday, conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble], “If you’re nervous, it’s because you care.”

Matthew: What is especially challenging about performing a Mozart concerto is the balance between being a soloist and being a chamber musician. One must not act as the Romantic Hero leading the orchestra in a Rachmaninoff concerto, but for the most part, seeing yourself as an equal with all members of the orchestra, truly collaborating.

Eastman Philharmonia
Wednesday, December 7, 2016 – 8:00 p.m.
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre