Meet the Musicians: Nicolette Oppelt, flute

Sept. 25, 2016

by Sandy Brotman

Nicolette Oppelt has been principal flutist for the past 8 of her 16 years with the Amadeus Orchestra.

Born in the Netherlands to a father who was an oboist and conductor and to a mother who was an opera singer and voice teacher, Nicolette wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps on the oboe. Dad said that at age 11 her lungs needed 3 more years of development. But, serendipity stepped in, as it so often does: She heard the Mozart Concerto for flute and harp, and was hooked.

The family moved to the United States, where her father became music director of the Charlotte Symphony and Nicolette studied at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She loves the beautiful, shimmering quality and the timbre of the flute. Additionally the depth that it adds to the overall sound.

Among her favorite pieces where the flute gets to shine: Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, and Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun, which opens with a gorgeous flute solo.

In addition to her performing with Amadeus, Nicolette is principal flute with the Washington Concert Opera, The National Gallery Orchestra, and the Virginia Chamber Orchestra. She is also a regular with the National Philharmonic (tenured) and is a frequent substitute with the National Symphony and the Maryland Symphony.

She is passionate about her hobbies: biking, cooking, and reading novels. Where and how she finds the time could be the subject of another interview.

Meet the Musicians: Edwin Thayer, horn

May 22, 2016

by Sandy Brotman

Ted Thayer, our principal horn, came to us from 31 years with the National Symphony Orchestra, 28 of them as principal. He worked under the baton of maestros Antal Dorati, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Leonard Slatkin.

Always when I ask an Amadeus musician why a particular instrument was their choice, I am certain I will get the answer that it was an epiphany accompanied by a shaft of bright sun. Instead, Ted’s response was a variation on all of the others: “My high school band and orchestra director said he needed some horn players.” So ends my over-rich fantasy, but for Ted it was the birth of a love for horn playing and the start to a wonderful career.

He went on to study at the University of Illinois; studied at Tanglewood, where he received coaching from Boston Symphony Orchestra performers; played in the Army Band at Ft. Myer; then on to the Richmond Symphony for 12 years before coming to the NSO in 1972.

Ted says that today’s compositions give a good deal of attention to the horn. As an example, I would suggest you key in on the great “Swan Hymn” in the final movement of the Sibelius Fifth Symphony.

Meet the Musicians: Mary Dausch, viola

Nov. 9, 2015

by Sandy Brotman

After telling me she has 4 children (twins aged 9, plus a 5- and a 3-year old), I asked Mary what her hobbies are. There was a pregnant pause followed by a polite chuckle. I moved on.

She was born and raised in DC, earned her Bachelors from the University of San Francisco and her Masters from Rice.

In addition to playing with Amadeus for more than 5 years, Mary has played with the Arlington Philharmonic, Fairfax Symphony, and the Virginia Chamber Orchestra, among others. She also teaches violin and viola at Landon School.

When asked about the viola, she commented that it had a darker, more subtle tone than the violin. And while she enjoys playing the “inner lines” in a larger orchestra, she also enjoys the equality of the voices in chamber music. I asked Mary for examples of where the viola shines: Brahms symphonies and serenades, Faure’s Requiem, and Beethoven’s chamber music.

Regarding today’s performance, she says that the Mendelssohn Octet is joyous, challenging, and filled with great part writing. And oh, Mary finally remembered, “I enjoy camping, hiking, traveling, and non-fiction reading.” I wanted to shout, “When!” But I, too, wanted to be polite.

Meet the Musicians: Anne Ament, clarinet

September 27, 2015

When I asked Annie what the most memorable moment was in her 30 years with Amadeus Concerts, she said that on September 17, 2006, just before she was to be the soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, K. 626 (the last piece he completed), she stood and dedicated the performance to her recently deceased brother and to her grieving mother who was in the audience.

Annie was born and raised in DC, earned her Bachelors in Music from Curtis and her Masters from Juilliard in clarinet performance.

In addition to Amadeus, she has played with the National Symphony, Washington Ballet, and Baltimore Opera.  Also at Wolf Trap, Arena Stage, and Washington Shakespeare Theatre.

I asked Annie how she chose the clarinet, and she said that she took recorder in the 3rd grade and later felt that the clarinet was the closest orchestral instrument to it.

She says that the clarinet is a versatile instrument that blends well with the orchestra (“the glue that holds the woodwinds together”), and that it can also be a featured instrument.

She named some compositions that showcase the clarinet well: Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto.  “I am itching to play that,” she said.

Annie has 2 grown daughters who are following satisfying career paths, but not in music.

She loves gardening, both at home and professionally.  Next time you visit the National Cathedral and its lovely surroundings, be sure to give a nod to Annie’s work.

As with all busy people, enough is not enough: She is on the executive board of the local musicians union.

Meet the Musicians: Alexandra Mikhlin, violin

by Sandy Brotman

_DSC0593Alexandra (Sasha) Mikhlin has been our concertmaster since 2013. She is tasked foremost with a deep understanding of the musical score, leading the violin section to sound as one instrument by way of subtle body movements and breathing, and with being the major link between our conductor, Scott Wood, and the orchestra (specifically, the string sections).

Note: You, dear audience member, are always invited to our rehearsals, where you will see Sasha marking up her score with “articulations” and “bowings” to reflect how Scott wants the musical phrases to be played, and then conveying that to the other string members. Our concertmaster will demonstrate bowing techniques in rehearsal and tune the orchestra in rehearsals and performances. Additionally, she may collaborate with the conductor to work out a problem or an approach to the music, figuring out the mechanics of a piece.

Sasha was born in Vladivostok, Russia. Her family moved to Novosibirsk when she was 12 to further her musical studies with a highly regarded violin teacher. Sasha was inspired—musically as well as personally—by her father Mikhail Solomon, who was also a violinist and a conductor. The family immigrated to Cleveland in 1991, where she studied at the Cleveland Institute. She completed her graduate studies in violin performance at Yale University.

Sasha teaches at the esteemed Levine School of Music, where two of her students recently won 1st prizes in the highly regarded Marlin-Engel competition. In addition, she serves as an adjunct professor of Russian at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Sasha regularly plays with the National Philharmonic, substitutes with the Baltimore Symphony and the Washington National Opera (most recently in Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman”) and last month won a permanent position with Annapolis Symphony.

She and her husband Marcus have three young children –Katya, Misha, and Nadya – and live in Annapolis, Maryland. She is especially looking forward to the performance of Brahms’s symphony, as she thinks his music is filled with passion, rich textures, and warm sound. She says, “Brahms’s score is a wonderful canvas for an artist to work with.”

Meet the Musicians: Wes Nichols, oboe

by Sandy Brotman

Principal oboist Wesley Nichols is one of the longest-performing artists with Amadeus Concerts.

When asked about his choice of instrument, Wes said, “I am not sure whether I chose the oboe or it chose me,” implying that it was meant to be and not an option for him to play any other. Further, he feels there is some kind of connection between the instruments and the personality types of those who play them.

The oboe is best known for its ability to sing because it has wonderful vocal characteristics. While it is often called upon to play the melody due to its timbre and intensity, an equal part of the challenge of orchestral playing is to blend with other instruments.

There are some showpieces for the oboe, such as Le Tombeau de Couperin (Ravel), and La Scala de Seta (Rossini), both of which Amadeus has performed. In fact, the lively and colorful overture to La Scala was part of our September concert.

As glittering as those moments are, Wes says that often the most rewarding ones are quiet, with the movements created by a skilled composer using the instrument for what it does best: haunting solos, brilliant accents, pungent blends.

Personal note: Even when the oboe is being used for its color, supporting other instruments, I enjoy keying in on it. You might try it. There are some achingly beautiful phrases to be found there.

For the past twenty years, Wes has run a real estate business for commercial clientele. He feels that he has crafted his life to allow space for his primary loves: his son, his marriage of thirty years, his oboe, and then his job.

2015 Benefit & Auction: Rhapsody in Spring

Tickets on sale now. View Auction Catalog – over 40 fabulous items!
Purchase via Eventbrite or send a check for $65 per person to Amadeus Concerts, PO Box 543, Great Falls, VA 22066.

Rhapsody in Bloom

Celebrate Amadeus, fine music, friends

Appetizers, sweets & libations
Silent & Live Auctions
Jessica Stecklein, Soprano
The Chamasyan Sisters, Piano Trio
$65 per person (of which $30 is tax deductible)

Proceeds support our side-by-side programs in schools 

Saturday, March 28, 2015
4:00 – 6:30 pm
St. Francis Episcopal Church
9220 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls, VA 22066

Josef Špaček: Young Man on the Rise

Seth Arenstein profiled Czech Philharmonic Concertmaster and international soloist Josef Špaček in advance of Špaček’s appearance with Amadeus during the 2014-2015 Season.

November 4, 2014

Europeans have figured it out. Americans have some of the longest working hours in the industrialized world, coupled with the shortest paid vacations. Contrast that with European work totals, which are dwarfed by ours. Vacations? How many American companies grant workers 4-6 weeks paid vacations routinely?

At this point you might be asking, ‘What has this to do with Josef Špaček, who will be soloing with Amadeus Orchestra’s strings November 15?’ Quite a bit, actually.

Spacek 2Špaček’s career decisions are guided in large part by Europe’s sensible philosophy that a more manageable workload and ample vacations are important ingredients for keeping workers motivated. In fact, research shows that overworking and eschewing vacations actually can harm health and hurt family life.

But back to Špaček, the lanky, handsome 28-year-old whose day job is Concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic. How he manages a full-time job and still has enough time and energy to carve out a career as an international soloist is rooted in the concept of sensible work arrangements.

Upon graduation from Julliard “I didn’t want to apply for a U.S. orchestra position,” the Czech-born Špaček says in excellent English, honed by seven years of college and grad school in the U.S. “Orchestras in Europe pay a lot less money, but have one amazing perk – a lot of free time. Most European orchestras have 2 or more concertmasters, which usually means that they split the work equally. This means that we work about half the workload. My position with the Czech Philharmonic gives me a lot of spare time to focus on other activities, such as solo playing.” As we said above, leave it to the Europeans.

When it came to choosing a line of work, Špaček went quickly into the family business. “I chose violin at age 3,” he says, “and started taking regular lessons at 6. I come from a musical family so the career choice came pretty early.” As a child Špaček attended numerous musical events, including Czech Philharmonic concerts, tagging along with his father, Josef Špaček Sr, a cellist in the orchestra.

A modest person, he’s loathe to say he dreamed of joining the Philharmonic or of one day becoming its Concertmaster. “As a child I didn’t know whether I would want to become Concertmaster of this wonderful orchestra or have a career in the U.S.” A better dream—having a job before you graduate. That became reality for Špaček. “During my last year at Juilliard, the position of Concertmaster became vacant and I won the audition. Here I am now enjoying my 4th season with the orchestra.”

A Familiar Face to Amadeus

Špaček should be familiar to veteran Amadeus patrons. A keen assessor of young talent, Amadeus Music Director Scott Wood heard Špaček and his brother Petr play a chamber concert in Virginia about five years ago. Upon Maestro Wood’s urging, Amadeus named the Špaček brothers winners of its Emerging Artist Award. As part of the Award, the duo was featured in an Amadeus concert. They performed the Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello, Opus 102, during a 2010 concert. Špaček was named Concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic shortly thereafter.

“With [the Czech Philharmonic] touring the U.S. this month, it seemed like a good time to have Josef back with us,” Wood says of the concert, which has become a homecoming and a ‘local boy makes good,’ well, sort of. “After studying and living in the U.S. for 7 years, it really became my second home. And I met my wife in the U.S. as well.” A bonus— Špaček’s gorgeous spouse, Isabel Collyns Špaček, is from the D.C. area. “I’ve been to D.C. many times,” he says.

As for comparing his teachers at Curtis and Julliard, where he did his undergraduate and graduate work, respectively, Špaček is diplomatic. “I learned so many things just by living in the U.S.,” he says. “On the musical side, of course, having such amazing teachers was part of the whole experience. I enjoyed working with each of them tremendously.” His teachers included Jaime Laredo and Ida Kavafian at Curtis and Itzhak Perlman at Julliard. Comparing the schools, Špaček is clear. “I loved my time at Curtis the most. It was a lovely small school with the most inspiring students and teachers I have ever met.”

Was there a style of violin playing or an aspect of musical education that attracted him to study in the U.S. as opposed to Europe, we ask him. “I think the U.S. and Europe have a lot to offer in music education. The schools in the U.S., where students receive a whole package of subjects to study, are probably unparalleled. On the other hand, Europe offers great teachers pretty much everywhere you go. Students in Europe choose their schools more depending on the teacher they want to study with.”

Laurels and Recordings

His decision to study in the U.S.,  plus a lot of talent and practicing, seems to be working out well. As a newly minted master’s graduate of Julliard, Špaček’s solo playing was reviewed favorably by The NY Times during a 2011 commencement concert at Alice Tully Hall. Writing in The Times on May 20, Zachary Woolfe noted Špaček “played with a sweet tone, deliberate phrasing and vigor in the rollicking Hungarian-style third movement” of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D, opus 77.

After graduating from Julliard, Špaček was a finalist at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 2012. Earlier, he became a laureate of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition (New Zealand, 2009) and the Carl Nielsen International Music Competition (Denmark, 2008).

His recording debut came in 2006, while still a student, with a disc of Eugène Ysaÿe‘s sonatas. In 2010 a disc on the Naxos label had Špaček performing works of Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, a 19th century Czech violinist and composer who some considered to be the Paganini of his day. Last year Špaček made his first recording on the Czech label Suprahon, playing compositions by Prokofiev, Smetana and Janáček.

Špaček’s credits include engagements with The Philadelphia Orchestra as well as numerous solo appearances with orchestras and ensembles in his native Czech Republic, Australia and New Zealand. Conductors he’s worked with include Jirí Belohlávek, Manfred Honeck, James DePreist, Roy Goodman, Eliahu Inbal and Christoph Eschenbach, Music Director of D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra. His chamber music work has taken him to performances and festivals throughout the world. He’s also nearly a rock star in the Czech Republic, where he’s constantly appearing on television and popping up in magazine and newspaper interviews.

With all that, he still finds time to pursue hobbies like water sports and travel. “I love traveling, meeting new people, learning about different cultures and cuisines,” he says. And when he has a moment to put down his bow and listen to music, he makes a beeline for recordings by the late Russian violinist David Oistrakh. “He’s my all-time favorite. I love all his recordings.”

Soloist vs Section Player

During this two-week, bi-coastal tour of the U.S., Špaček will have little down time, however. He’ll be leading the violin section of the Philharmonic one night, soloing in front of the orchestra on another and rushing off to play solo engagements, such as he’s doing with Amadeus. Fortunately, Špaček feels he’s found the key to thriving in this peripatetic musical lifestyle. “Switching between soloing and orchestral playing is a very natural thing. Music is about listening. If you listen well, you will have no problem adapting to all kinds of different settings,” he insists.

Of course Špaček’s view is conditioned by his musical approach. “Being a soloist should always be fun,” he says. “Having an entire orchestra behind you, supporting you in your concerto, is an incredible feeling. There’s so much wonderful repertoire for the solo violin, it’s always exciting.” It can also be stress inducing. “One might think that playing a solo concerto with an orchestra can be a stressful experience, and that’s true. Partially.” Consider this, Špaček will have just one rehearsal with Amadeus before playing the concert; though Maestro Wood says he and Špaček will “be keeping in touch about interpretational details.” Wood adds, “It’s not as hard to bring things together as it might seem, though I would always like another rehearsal.”

Interestingly, soloing in front of an orchestra is less stressful than another musical scenario, according to Špaček. “Trust me, playing a solo as a concertmaster in a symphony is a lot worse than playing a concerto. You have just a few bars to shine and you get no warm up before it. All of a sudden, there you are, alone and playing the most nerve-wracking few bars. All that in front of your colleagues, who watch you very closely.”

We’re glad to report that Špaček will get plenty of time to warm-up before his performance with Amadeus. And members of the Amadeus strings have promised not to watch him too closely. Seriously, though, Špaček loves the piece he’ll be playing with Amadeus: Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Written by the Argentine in the mid- and late-1960s and 1970, the four tangos comprise a work “that’s probably the most fun piece for solo violin and string orchestra,” Špaček says. “It’s beautifully written and incredibly well arranged for the violin.” The work is technically challenging, “beautiful and wild, which is typical of Piazzolla’s music.” We’re sure Špaček is up to the task.

###

Brass and Britten

For its next program on December 7 and 8, 2013, at National City Christian Church, Amadeus Concerts will present brass quintets for the season performed by members of the Amadeus Orchestra brass section and the Children’s Chorus of Washington, Joan Gregoryk, Artistic Director and Conductor, paying tribute to the holidays and the composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) with “A Ceremony of Carols.” Susan Robinson, principal harpist of the Washington National Opera, will be harp soloist in the Britten.

As background for our audience members, we asked Maestro Scott Wood of Amadeus Concerts & Orchestra why brass ensembles and brass music seem secondary to string quartets and quintets. Turning to the vocal part of the program, we asked Children’s Chorus of Washington Artistic Director, Conductor and Founder Joan Gregoryk to discuss how she prepared the Chorus to sing Britten’s Carols.   
 
Question: We see string quartets and quintets performing frequently on concert stages but it’s rare to find a brass quartet or quintet. In addition, the standard repertoire is full of music for strings by the major composers but brass ensembles seem to lack the same volume of works from well-known composers. Is this a function of the limitations that brass instruments had until keys, pistons and later valves were added to them in the 1800s?
Maestro Scott Wood: Yes. During the Baroque period [roughly the time of J.S. Bach, 1685-1750], only the highest trumpet parts [and most skilled players] were capable of anything except outlining the chords. Even that specialized skill [of high-note trumpet playing] was basically a lost art through the Classical period [1750-1820, the era of late Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven]. It isn’t until the Romantic era [think Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Brahms and others] that brass instruments got valves and became fully-functioning instruments, capable of all the chromatic notes.
Question: And what about brass ensembles? Are there other reasons that they seem to lag behind the string quartet and quintet in terms of musical output and popularity?
Wood: During the Civil War, brass ensembles were used for military purposes. The instruments were well suited for the outdoors because they were sturdy and capable of being heard far away. But the brass quintet only emerged as the standard “chamber music group” in the last half-century or so as brass instrument manufacturing and playing standards both rose dramatically. And though there’s been a lot of great music written for brass, it will take many more years before the brass ensemble repertoire can catch up to the great music written for strings.
Question: Now let’s talk with Ms. Gregoryk. It is a joy to be able to hear Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” this weekend. How did you choose this piece?
Artistic Director and Conductor Joan Gregoryk: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to join Amadeus Concerts. Since this is the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, I was eager to have the choristers learn one of the most famous works for children’s chorus.
Question: How did you prepare the children to sing this piece? Did they study the text extensively?
Gregoryk: Yes, we needed to study the text of the carols because many of the words are in old English, such as “wight” for “white.”
Question: Take us behind the scenes with the Chorus. How long did it take the children to learn this piece? What was the most difficult part of the piece for the chorus to learn? Had any of the children sung Ceremony of Carols previously?
Gregoryk: We were working on Britten’s “War Requiem” at the same time as we were learning the “Ceremony of Carols,” so it was necessary to learn the Carols with very few rehearsals. The most difficult piece to learn was “As Dew in Aprille,” because the entrances all begin on a very high pitch, so the singers needed to be prepared with their inhalation to sing those pitches with an open and un-pinched sound. None of the students in this group had previously sung Ceremony of Carols.