From ECO Concertmaster Maureen Conlon
As a kid and teen, I’d envision myself in front of a big orchestra in these gorgeous halls playing all over the word to much acclaim….and then I grew up and I stopped dreaming. I guess it’s one of those things that happens as we get older; realism sets in and we stop aiming for the stars or the impossible. However, something happened to me last year that has made me aspire to more even though it may look differently from my childhood dreams.
I was actually in a hotel room in Erie about to head to an Erie Philharmonic rehearsal last winter when I got a call from a weird international number. I decided to answer and it was the conductor of one of Mexico’s leading orchestras. He asked if I was free in Nov of 2014 and of course I’m thinking (I’ll make myself available! But wait, I can’t seem to eager…) I replied that I would check my schedule but didn’t think it would be a problem and he then proceeds to invite me to be their soloist for their upcoming Italian tour and would like for me to play the Barber Violin Concerto. I was beside myself! I held it together for the remainder of the call and when I hung up I pinched myself to make sure that had just happened.
Well, November quickly approached and I wasflown to Mexico to rehearse with the orchestra and perform one concert there. We flew a day later to Rome where our first concert in Italy would take place. Now, I don’t sleep on flights so the jet lag is painful upon arrival. I had half a day to practice, recover and see a very small portion of the city; then, concert time! The venue was in this magnanimous marble building that was part of one of Rome’s main universities. The mural behind us on stage was stunning. We did a quick sound check and then off I went to get ready. When I walk out on stage to perform, the audience welcomed me with a warm applause and I felt at ease after that.
Though the Barber Concerto now holds a very rightful spot among the great violin concertos, it didn’t always used to be the case. It’s third movement was considered by the commissioning violinist to be unplayable! It is however, quite a feat for any violinist with it’s motto perpetuo line in ever changing rhythmic meters. It’s one of the toughest couple of minutes I’ve ever had to memorize and the interplay between soloist and orchestra is tricky and exhilarating all at the same time. The first two movements have gorgeous, soaring melodic lines that interchange with more jagged, chromatic passages. This is a piece that I’m told is rarely played in Italy so was pleased to see that the Italian audiences appreciated it as they called me out to play an encore after several returns to the stage! The orchestra and I played a piece, Melodia by Mexican composer, Gustavo Campa that embodies Mexican romantic song.
After the performance, I was interviewed by the Vatican Radio among others and one very enthusiastic fan came running at me as my driver quickly stepped in front of me before the man could jump me! I now had a very small taste of celebrity lifestyle!!
The next day we drove to Florence. I had an hour to see all that I could of that stunning city (still completely jet-lagged and sleepy) and then head to the famous a Teatro Verdi for my sound check rehearsal with the orchestra. As I stepped out on stage, I was filled with so much awe. The beauty of this hall is hard to properly describe, but it brings back a sense of another time with it’s opulence and elegance. It was surprisingly difficult to play on that stage but I was told that the acoustics in the hall were perfect. The number of famous musicians that have stood on that stage is staggering. As I stepped out that night to perform, I was deeply humbled by that thought. That night I played two encores for a very enthusiastic crowd.
The next day we travelled to Mantova and the hall there was reminiscent of the Michelangelo days with white marble columns and sculptures adorning the facade of the building. The acoustics on stage were great in this hall and by this fourth performance of the Barber Concerto I was starting to feel like a real veteran with the piece! (And I was beginning to feel like a real human being again post jet-lag!) Only one encore this night 🙂