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Osmo Vänskä /// Music Director

Common Chords: Grand Rapids

A “Suite” Experience

Courtney Lewis arrived in Grand Rapids Thursday afternoon to lead the 38-member Itasca Youth Chamber Orchestra in a side-by-side rehearsal with Minnesota Orchestra musicians focusing on Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite.

Fourteen-year-old Maggie Anderson, a ninth-grade cellist and resident of Bigfork, MN, is our guest blogger this week, writing about her experiences and interactions with the Orchestra over the course of the Common Chords project.

The IOSP Youth Orchestra workshop with conductor Courtney Lewis was fantastic! With his help, we seemed to go from missed accidentals and underplayed dynamics to pieces that felt nearly performance-ready. We worked on St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst and Haydn’s Surprise Symphony. In both pieces, Courtney gave us tips on how to play together and listen to each other as an orchestra.

In St. Paul’s Suite, we were told to imagine the peasants working in the countryside. Courtney said that this kind of music seemed to narrate how they went about their daily lives. He also made sure that the whole orchestra breathed together on the upbeat before starting so that we would all come in at the same time.  He told us about a recording he conducted with a professional orchestra where they had to edit out the starting “sniff” as they began!  In addition to our conductor’s instruction, we had a Minnesota Orchestra member helping us out in each section. They gave us great suggestions and pointers on bowing, finger positions, and notes. Lucky for us, they just kept smiling even though things weren’t totally perfect.

After St. Paul’s Suite, we worked on the Surprise Symphony until the clock ran out. That piece really made us have to breathe together. Courtney also took it a little faster than usual to our great relief. The first section of the piece has a very slow and quiet tempo followed by a single quarter note marked fortissimo. Courtney explained that Haydn dearly loved to add those little “jokes” to his pieces.  In fact, he had recently conducted a piece by Haydn where there were a few “false endings”.  The audience would burst into applause and then quickly stop, a little embarrassed. Courtney said, “It’s the oldest musical joke that still works,” and I must agree that it made us laugh, too.

-Maggie Anderson

View more photos from our residency in Grand Rapids on our Facebook page.