Carmen Set Rebuild

Carmen Set Rebuild
By Melonie
Set years are something like dog years, so although the Carmen set is 28 years old, it looked more like it was 80.  As my Grandma would say, going out in public without your makeup on and your hair done up is a disgrace, so this summer’s task is making the Carmen set look respectable again.
Originally built by San Diego Opera for Huston Grand Opera, the set was used by Huston Grand for several years before eventually being sold to San Diego Opera.  After they used it for a few years, Utah Opera Company purchased the set and now it is one of the most rented sets we own.  (It’s even been rented twice by San Diego Opera since they sold it to us.)
It’s getting split wood repaired, new paint here and there and general repairs as needed so that when it goes on stage in 2010, it’ll look like it took a sip from the fountain of youth.

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Set years are something like dog years, so although the Carmen set is 28 years old, it looked more like it was 80.  As my Grandma would say, going out in public without your makeup on and your hair done up is a disgrace, so this summer and fall’s task is making the Carmen set look respectable again.

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Originally built by San Diego Opera for Houston Grand Opera, the set was used by Houston Grand for several years before eventually being sold to San Diego Opera.  After they used it for a few years, Utah Opera Company purchased the set and now it is one of the most rented sets we own.  (It’s even been rented twice by San Diego Opera since they sold it to us.)

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It’s getting split wood repaired, new paint here and there and general repairs as needed so that when it goes on stage in 2010, it’ll look like it took a sip from the fountain of youth!

We’ve also created new soldier jackets for this performance, built by Milivoj Poletan. The script specifies that they be canary yellow:

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NOTE: Carmen is more than a month away, but tickets are already moving fast and opening night is nearly sold out! So if you’d like to see this production, purchase tickets soon. Click here for more info.

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Getting to Know Utah Symphony Cellist Kevin Shumway

Describe your education: I went to Olympus High School here in Holladay, Utah while studying cello with Stephen Emerson, former assistant principal cello here.  Then I attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance and a Master of Music Performance.  After that, for one year I went to the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Professional Studies Program.

At what age did you begin musical training? I had some piano at the age of 7, and for a while at age 12.  At age 9, I was introduced to the cello in the school orchestra program.  But it wasn’t until age 11 that I started private lessons on the cello.

What instrument(s) do you play / have you played? Only those two, in this life…

What originally interested you in your instrument? I remember quitting piano at age 9, and my mother telling me that I should try another instrument.  So when the orchestra instructor at my elementary school introduced the string instruments, I looked them over and decided that the cello looked like a good “boy’s” instrument.  That must have mattered a lot to me then; I see my two sons making similar decisions now.

How old is your personal instrument and who was its maker?
I own two cellos.  Until about nine years ago, I had only owned one instrument, all the way back to my 12th birthday.  That first cello is a Mittenwald, Germany shop instrument, made in 1968, that Peter Prier imported to his shop here in Salt Lake City.  My family calls it the “yellow cello,” because it has a honey gold varnish.  David Freed, a former principal cellist in the Utah Symphony, supposedly liked its sound and chose it for a student of his who was to become my second cello teacher.  She sold it to my parents when she was teaching me and looking for a new cello for herself.  It has a rather small, but pleasant sound, and I managed to play it well enough at my audition here to get the edge over other candidates with arguably much better instruments.  As it turns out, I later discovered that because of all of the recent traveling to auditions, the neck of that cello had come loose in its connection with the main body.  Not only was I auditioning on a student instrument, but it may not have been in good repair!  I guess I was on a roll that day!

My other cello has a story as well.  About eleven years ago, my wife and I were expecting our first son and bought a duplex.  We were becoming new parents, single income earners, mortgagers, and landlords all at once!  As if that wasn’t enough, I also needed a second cello.  It was a hassle for me to haul one in its case to work and back several times a week.  And the smallish sound of the “yellow cello” was so easily covered in louder orchestra passages.  At the time, it felt like buying a cello would be like taking away my son’s college education!  But I knew that enough was enough; I deserved a professional-level instrument.  My mother-in-law Jane Day, a cellist in the Portland, Oregon area, referred me to a friend of hers who was selling a cello.  I liked it and bought it.  It was made in 1988 by Christopher Dungey.  By rather amazing coincidence, it has another connection to Jane.  Chris Dungey learned to select trees for tone wood in the Medford, Oregon area from a local legend Victor Giardineri, who was a dear friend of Jane’s mother.  My cello is the first one Chris made with wood from a maple that he selected and cut with Victor’s help!  As if to signify his first use of his own wood, Chris gave the back of the cello an interesting, touchable “ripple” effect to the grain, which is done by dampening the wood at one point.  He says that it’s the only one of his cellos he has ever done that way.

How many years have you performed with the Utah Symphony? 15

With what other orchestras have you performed or do perform? Students at the Cleveland Institute of Music would make some money playing in the orchestras of Akron and Canton, Ohio.  I was in both.  I played in numerous student and festival orchestras over the years.  And I was hired as a substitute for the Colorado Symphony when I lived in Denver for a while.

What has been the highlight of your career to date? I have little sublime moments here and there during the season, when I know my part well enough to open my attention to a beautiful musical passage.  At the moment, I’m remembering two events.  One is the Shostakovich Violin Concerto with Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg playing wildly and Roberto Minczuk conducting so well with her.  The other is when we finished a well played concert in Cologne, and were greeted by women with trays holding glasses of Kolsch, the local beer!

What has been your most embarrassing moment as a performer? The cellos and basses begin the second movement of Shostakovich’s famous Fifth Symphony with a forceful note followed by a short rest.  I played good and loud, but it was an e flat instead of an e natural; totally, totally off!  I almost dropped my instrument as if it had turned into a poisonous snake!

Where would you like to see the Utah Symphony in ten years? Times are getting  tougher.  Money is uncertain.  But I think about all of the fine orchestras in Europe, especially eastern Europe, that made it through wars and revolutions, communism and economic depression.  The people wanted to continue having their stories and lives expressed through this amazing sound of a full symphony orchestra, no matter the circumstances.  This kind of music is transfiguring and healing for me, and I believe it has the potential to be so for most of the Utah community.  I would love to see this orchestra on a stable financial footing, with enthusiastic leadership, attracting the best possible artistic talent and lifting the people’s spirits.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? Because I have roots in Utah, I believe that I will still be here at that time, making music and teaching it to others.

Do you perform regularly in any other local musical projects? For several summers now I have been honored to play in the Intermezzo Chamber Music series led by fellow musicians David Porter and his wife Vedrana Subotic.  My wife is often able to join me.  A couple of years ago we played the original sextet version of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nachte, which was a tremendous highlight for me.

Are you involved in any community groups, hobbies or activities? I try to grow a garden.  I’m rather proud of my potato patch between the sidewalk and street where all of those grass and weeds used to be.  I’ve commuted to work by bicycle from the beginning, and now I have a little cargo trailer so I can take care of other errands without a car.  I had a car converted to all electric power a couple of years ago, and I’m active in an electric vehicle group here.

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Lessons with Mr. Zukerman

When I arrived at Manhattan School of Music in the fall of 1995 to study with Pinchas Zukerman and Patinka Kopec, I knew the next few years would be defining ones in my life as a musician. However, those years were nothing like I’d ever anticipated.

My first lesson with Mr. Zukerman jolted me out of a lot of ideas I had about myself. I entered the studio wearing my most chic ensemble, a taupe double-breasted suit (from Penney’s, of course) with a floral tie and burgundy wing-tips. It was the 90s, I was in New York City, and I was destined to be the “next big thing” in the viola world. I put bow to string and began Bartok’s viola concerto, a piece that for the last year or more I’d destroyed the competition circuit all over Oklahoma and Kansas. I made it through the first eight bars when Mr. Zukerman, decked out in green sweatpants, stopped me. “When I close my eyes,” he said, “I hear nice things. But when I look at what you’re doing I have no idea how you’re making it work.” The viola went back into the case and the rest of that first lesson was spent with pencil in hand in place of bow. By the time I’d figured out how to hold the thing, raise it up and down using curling motions of my fingers, examined the way the right thumb completed a circle and itself curled and straightened, and made crisscrossing motions using my weak pinkie finger I was exhausted. And blissfully released until next week.

That first lesson should have been a clue. I wasn’t there to blast through repertoire, win competitions, or be a viola idol. I was to be rebuilt from basic fundamentals. It was difficult. I resisted and didn’t have enough maturity or humility to admit that this was exactly what I needed. There were tears. There was the frustration of doing well in the school orchestra auditions but falling miserably short at lessons. There was the frustration of enduring months of D-major scales and simple Kreutzer etudes. At least this is what I perceived. What was actually happening was that skill by skill, day by day, week by week I was building a vocabulary on my instrument. I was developing a concept of sound and a philosophy of efficiency.

By the time the first semester ended I was given a movement of Bach to learn. I took it home and planned my interpretation. Rubato here, color change here, senza vibrato here. Next lesson: the first measure of the heartbreaking d-minor Prelude reduced to half-bow (down), half-bow (up), whole bow (sustain!), return to frog (lightening pressure so as to not change tone quality), whole-bow to the tip. Again. Again. Every note, shift, bow change, and string crossing had a plan. FLAT HAIR! I had expected a deep and meaningful conversation about Bach, style, phrasing, love, life, and death. You know, “artistic” stuff. It wasn’t time for that yet.

I suppose all of that seems a bit dry. It certainly seemed tedious to me at the time. But when I look back, I never fail to be deeply touched and honored that an artist of Mr. Zukerman’s stature had the patience, time, and enormous energy to try to create from the bottom up a complete player out of me.

In one of my final lessons before graduating, Mr. Zukerman summed it up: “We don’t expect you to leave here and be done. What we’ve tried to do is give you a vocabulary to work with when you’re out in the world.” It took me a few more years to start putting it all together, but now, when confronted with a daunting new piece, I realize that performing every phrase is just a matter of going back to that vocabulary, stringing it together into sentences, and making music. Mr. Zukerman’s and Ms. Kopec’s attention to the long-term growth of their students has helped me become “the next biggest thing…onstage at Abravanel Hall (besides the piano)” where I get to play great music with amazing colleagues in a most beautiful part of the world. Thanks, Mr. Zukerman, and enjoy your time here in Utah.

Brant Bayless is the Principal Violist for Utah Symphony. Don’t miss Maestro Pinchas Zukerman conducting the Utah Symphony Nov. 6 – 7 on an all-Brahms program.

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