LIVE VIDEO STREAM: A Far Cry at 5pm PT / 8pm ET tonight

Second Inversion is pleased to announce a new media partnership with Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry! For the remainder of the 2016-17 season, Second Inversion will host a live stream of each of A Far Cry’s Jordan Hall performances at New England Conservatory.

The first stream is tonight, Friday, November 11 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET as A Far Cry and cellist Lluís Claret celebrate the legacy of Pablo Casals with music by Bach, Schumann, Casals, and Ginastera.

This program weaves together the many strands of Casals’s rich legacy in the company of Lluís Claret, Casals’s godson, who A Far Cry is happy to be welcoming to Boston as a new faculty member of the New England Conservatory.

Bach: Brandenburg No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046
Trad: Cant dels Ocells (Song of the Birds)  feat. Lluis Claret
Schumann: Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 (version for strings)  feat. Lluis Claret
Casals: Sant Marti del Canigo
Ginastera: Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals, Op. 46  feat. Lluis Claret

Click here to read an introduction to the program.

Click here to follow along with the program notes.

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To learn more about upcoming live-streaming video broadcasts of A Far Cry, visit secondinversion.org/afarcry

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20150929 -- A Far Cry, photographed in South Boston, MA, USA on Tuesday, September 29, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun)

A Far Cry. Photo by Yoon S. Byun.

The Importance of Run Throughs

by Joshua Roman

“It’s the same balance beam.”

The analogy my dad favored when it came to preparing for a performance was that of a gymnast at the Olympics. The beam is the same whether there are judges or not. The cello is the same, and the music the same, whether there is an audience or not. It’s something I’ve reminded myself of many times over the years, particularly when I used to do competitions as a student.

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Working out the kinks of my song cycle with Jessica Rivera, Mae Lin, Richard Belcher, Todd Palmer, Andrew Rehrig, and Conor Hanick in a casual studio run through.

And on one hand, it’s true. If you can tune everything out and magnify your focus on the details of the task at hand, you can do a much better job of repeating the process you’ve honed in the practice room. Execution becomes a habit, and distractions fall by the wayside once you get into that zone you’ve cultivated over and over again.

On the other hand, music is about communication. One of the exciting things about an audience is that they bring energy, and that energy is borne of a desire to experience a shared moment. A moment that is your responsibility as the performer to guide and shape with sensitivity to the dynamics of the relationship between the music, the audience, the other performers, and yourself. To achieve this means rather than tuning the audience out, opening up to their particular energy and incorporating that into your own experience.

But that can be a scary thing! Most, if not all of us, have felt the strange sensation of playing a piece in front of a live person for the first time and discovering that some of the technical or musical aspects that never quite clicked in the practice room are suddenly natural and fluid. Vice versa, some moments or passages are more challenging when all eyes are on us for the first time. So, while a mantra like “It’s the same balance beam” can help calm the mind or nerves and bring us back to the familiar, how do we practice feeling and using the elevated sensations and energy of a performance with a live audience to enhance the experience?

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LACO’s premiere of Mason Bates’ Cello Concerto. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

My answer: run throughs. While I was in school at the Cleveland Institute of Music, I was immersed in a friendly culture of shared enthusiasm for the learning process, and happily acclimated to the environment around me. My classmates and I were always pulling each other into the practice room to play through something, just to get that sense of what might change when a piece became performative (and, helpful comments afterwards – it’s always good to learn how what you are doing is perceived by someone who can’t read your mind). Over the years since I’ve left school I’ve continued this practice to some degree, but I always notice a huge difference when I don’t manage to make the time.

I recently performed a piece for the first time, and unfortunately I didn’t get organized early enough to do a run through with a pianist ahead of time. I spent many extra hours with the score to make up for it, so at the first rehearsal, while I didn’t have the tactile memory of making micro adjustments that are necessary whenever sharing the interpretive process, at least I caught up quickly. Still, when I compare that feeling to the numerous times I’ve run through a new concerto with a pianist before the first rehearsal, there’s a huge difference. A few years ago, I was incredibly lucky to have concertos written for me by my friends Aaron Jay Kernis and then Mason Bates. In each case, we went through the piece with a pianist (Aaron on his, and Carlos Avila with Mason’s) multiple times. The point was twofold; 1) make sure the pieces were working the way we wanted, and all tempo markings etc., were in line with the composers’ wishes, and 2) be ready to show up at the first rehearsal with orchestra as prepared as I would be if these were pieces of standard repertoire I’d been playing since I was 12.

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I’m happily present while Jonah Kernis and his dad Aaron run the Haydn C Major Cello Concerto for a small gathering before an upcoming performance.

Who knows if I actually achieved the latter to the degree I wanted (being something of a perfectionist, I always find myself falling short). But I can certainly say I knew the music backwards and forwards and felt ready and excited to take it to the next level from the moment we began rehearsals. In both cases, this was no fewer than 3 “performances” in front of friends and colleagues, as few as one or two on the couch in the living room or as many as 15 in a rented space. The number of people is not nearly as important as the number of times running through. Learning how to take risks means actually taking risks, and being okay with people seeing you fail. Along the way, you figure out that even within a particular style or piece, there’s plenty of room for variations on success in a performance. There’s no true reproduction of what happened in the practice room or the last run through, but the confidence of knowing how to ride the wave of the moment comes through experience.

These were new works that no one had ever heard before. I say, however, that the same rule applies to Haydn or Elgar, which I’ve played many times. It always goes better if you show up with experience under your belt. So grab a friend, pull them into your practice room, and find out what you actually need to work on when you get back to your practice routine.

May your mind be clear and focused, your emotions flow freely and powerfully through the music, and may your fingers find their mark.

2015: Expansion and Anxiety

by Joshua Roman

What a year! As I write this (a little late) looking back on 2015, I can’t help but be glad it’s over. It was, to be sure, a big year. Artistically, professionally, and personally. The ups and downs of previous years seemed somehow magnified as I stretched myself to create and participate in endeavors beyond my previous experience. Along with the pressure that I felt to be excellent (both from outside forces and, naturally, myself) in all of these undertakings, I also felt a pervading sense of anxiety around me as our world seemed to unravel in the headlines and at home.

On the artistic side, I wrote a !@#$ing cello concerto.

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Flying high on the way to premiere my first cello concerto!

That’s big for me! Never having taken on something of that magnitude, there were many pitfalls and logistical nuisances I hadn’t expected. Coupled with my ignorance of the process, this made every little decision seem that much more dire and potentially confusing. The lessons I’d learned from writing three other, smaller pieces were little help when it came to writing a large form piece, and then I had to orchestrate it. It wasn’t a bad process, just an intimidating project that I am super happy to have in the past. Now, I can take on the next project with more understanding of what it will be like. And, boy oh boy, the good feeling associated with this creativity is definitely worth it!

In terms of collaborations, I was lucky enough to work with many artists in new settings or formats for me:

Third Coast Percussion
Vosges Haut Chocolate
Saskia Fernando Art Gallery in Sri Lanka
Bill T. Jones and Somi at TED
You – my online friends who voted for the Bach Suites I ended up performing at Town Hall Seattle
Seattle Youth Symphony and Mentors
Enso String Quartet filling in for their wonderful cellist Richard Belcher
Lisa Bielawa and the cast/crew of her Video Opera “Vireo”
Vijay Gupta and the Street Symphony
Daniel Bernard Roumain and Rafael Bejarano at Summit
Abigail Washburn, Andrew Mendelson, Andrew Nemr, Bora Yoon, Somi, and Non-Musicians Composing For The First Time at the TED Fellows Retreat

Then, of course, there were the many wonderful classical musicians, orchestras, and composers that I worked with in more traditional settings. Playing the new Mason Bates Concerto multiple times, and also tackling the inimitable Dvorak Concerto more than usual, were great experiences! I love the mix of familiar and new as I travel around the United States playing awesome cello music with our large classical music family.

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With Mason Bates and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla after the premiere of his exciting new cello concerto in Seattle.

Professionally, I joined this lovely organization, Second Inversion as Artistic Advisor Which means I started blogging again! I also joined the Advisory Board for Street Symphony, and became a TED Senior Fellow. Early in 2016, I’ll be announcing another small but exciting series for the summer in a stunning area of the country. And last and maybe actually also least, I opened an Instagram account.

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Testing the microphones at KING FM/Second Inversion – first day on the job!

Personally, sheesh. I went from literally living on the road with no home address to a temporary rental in Cliffside Park, New Jersey – a great room and roommate but too far from my daily life activities – to renting a small one bedroom with a fireplace (!) in the neighborhood of Chelsea, back in NYC on the small island of Manhattan. I went from fairly sedentary to working out with weights every day, to just running and doing push-ups, to swimming, to yoga… quite a cornucopia. And dating? Rough. I divorced a couple of years ago, and this year was fraught with wild tension from beginning to end. 2015 began with the end of a short but intense relationship, and later became dominated by an undefined and ultimately ill-fated relationship with a formerly close friend.

On top of all of this, I read the news every day. Enough said.

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My father rockin’ a sweet Fender Mustang electric bass on Christmas Eve.

Again, though, I won’t say it was a bad year. I know a lot more about myself now, and the people around me. There have been some beautiful things to come out of the chaos. And music has become even more personal and important to me, especially as I learn how to connect and engage on a creative level. The last performance of 2015 was Christmas Eve with my mom, my dad, and one of my brothers (photos above and below). The first performance of 2016 will be at my grandmother’s funeral, and I’ll be playing string quartets with my two brothers and my sister. I was able to start confronting pent-up feelings through writing music, and both receive and give comfort through sound at various times.

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My brother and mother waiting for the next Christmas tune.

Does this post seem a bit rambly? A bit distracted, disorganized, unfocused? Ambitious in breadth, but scattered at the same time? That’s me, in 2015. Riding the edge, and shooting from the hip. I’ve not yet catalyzed my goals for 2016, but at the center is refocusing. I will continue to do all of the things I began this year, but I will not be seeking out any new kinds of projects. If 2015 was the year of expansion and anxiety, 2016 will be the year of focus and care.

I’ve been asking a lot of friends about their year, and most of my circle is ready for this one to end. I’m always ready to take an excuse, in this case a random day we decided long ago is the First Day of the New Year, and rethink in a more positive way how we can go about things. I think we could all use some of that, and if your 2015 was nothing but up, up, up, please do share and inspire the rest of us!

Today’s playlist will be nothing but the Beatles, in honor of finally being able to stream one of the greatest musical acts of the 20th Century.

Playlist:
The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night
The Beatles: The Beatles (White Album)
The Beatles: Revolver

Homecoming

by Joshua Roman

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The holiday season is in full force, and that means trips to visit the family, gifts to purchase, and holiday jingles to exorcise from the ear with vigor. This year I am lucky to have already received a gift that will be hard to top: my professional debut with my hometown orchestra, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. There’s nothing quite like being able to invite your family and friends to come see you at work, and this was made all the more sweet by bringing the totally on fleek new concerto by Mason Bates. To top it off, the concert was the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I was able to spend a few extra days with my family out on the farm and catch up while eating the freshest food there is.

I’ve mentioned the Bates in a couple of posts before this one, and I’m really glad to have multiple performances of it this season. Hopefully we’ll have a recording out before too long, but in the meantime there are random opportunities to hear it. One such opportunity is tonight at 8pm CT, when the OKC Phil performance with Joel Levine conducting is broadcast on KUCO. Tune in to hear beautiful spun lines, swingin’ grooves and some “Phat” beats (one of my new favorite markings), and the damn sexy second movement. It’s a fun way to celebrate Beethoven’s (and my) birthday 😉

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But back to being home: The last time I performed with the OKC Phil was more than 15 years ago. As a result of winning a local competition I performed the first movement of the Lalo Concerto. Thinking back to my perception of music and projections of where I would be in my career at this point, I don’t think I would have guessed things would turn out the way they have. It’s been a fun and wild ride, and along the way I’ve been lucky enough to be in situations that have constantly stretched me. Here I am, writing a blog, for example. And, among many other happy developments, my relationships with composers have grown incredibly important to me.

I feel incredibly supported by the family and friends who came out to see my return, and by the boost from the city. I’ve always wanted to have something to say when I came back, and there is nothing better than reinforcing the idea that classical music is alive. It is a tradition of creativity and innovation, and a piece like Mason’s really drives that home in a fresh and exciting way.  My homecoming, in many ways, benefitted from happening this far along on my path, when I could truly bring something that did not exist before.  I am proud to represent the broader classical musical community to my first community and to those I love at home.

Side note – it was amazing to hear the orchestra again after so long. I’m proud of the Phil and how they are playing, and hope to find ways to encourage the musical development that’s already happening in the area with an influx of good players and teachers.

Now the big question: what’s next? Balance it out, or tip the scales? We’ll see — either way I’m very happy to be reconnected with musicians I’ve looked up to and known since my youth. It feels in a way like coming full circle – bringing something new to those I’ve known the longest.

In what ways are you evolving artistically? What have to you done to reconnect and share with those who were there at the beginning? Please share in the comments below, or on my Facebook page.

Joshua performs Mason Bates’ Cello Concerto next with the Fort Worth Symphony (January 8-10) and with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (April 16, 17, and 21). Be sure to check his schedule of all upcoming performances to see if he’s coming to a city near you!

Playlist:
Gieseking: Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin
Feuermann and Heifetz: Brahms Double Concerto
Billie Holiday: Lady Sings the Blues

If you’ve missed Joshua’s previous posts, particularly his thoughts on Gratitude and the holiday season, you can read them all here.

Gratitude

by Joshua Roman

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I write this as I sit in a very comfortable business/first seat on a flight from Asia back home to New York City, reflecting on my visit to Seoul. One of my close friends had his wedding there, and I was fortunate enough to be free and able to be with him and his new wife for this important occasion. We spent some amazing time together in the city, and I got to play at his wedding, on a cello made by his father. The flight upgrade is happily a result of my frequent flier status, which makes a big difference on such trips.
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Music has a powerful effect in the world. It’s all around us every day, whether we choose it or not. We use music during gatherings of all kinds to create a unified spirit or deepen bonds, music pervades the other forms of entertainment to enhance desired emotional effects, and we have special occasions (concerts) where music is the centerpiece. Music is not only about community, these days most people have their own  collection of music that they can tap into depending on their mood or activity. You can take this even further through music therapy, and other forms of healing both mental and emotional. It’s also used to influence us to purchase certain products, to attract us to a location or entice us to stay longer – even sometimes to drive us away.

I listen to a lot of music. Often, I listen in a kind of work capacity – finding new artists and composers, researching styles and genres, programming concerts, checking out recommendations, etc. Of course, it doesn’t usually feel like work, I love listening to music. I also use music as a way to relax, focus, become energized, and have a kind of spiritual experience. There have been occasions when the power of music has transcended anything I could have said or done, often when I’m listening, and sometimes as a performer as well. I get to work through thoughts and feelings in a way that feels even more direct than words. Most recently I was able to do this on a large scale through the writing of my cello concerto. In the past there have been instances where I’ve turned to music when alone to help me face dark thoughts, and find a safe release valve.

How does this relate to gratitude? The role of music in our lives is undeniably present, and can manifest in any number of ways. I’m so incredibly grateful that my life is very connected to music every day. There are so many wonderful people in my life who I know through music making. Obviously this includes my musician friends, but it goes far beyond that – people who support what we do, audience members who have become close friends, and connections through communities like TED that have come about because of the cello. The breadth of connections in my life that stem from music is overwhelming, and in some instances I believe the depth goes beyond what is possible without this abstract yet binding force. Because I make my living through music, I’m also grateful for being able to eat (that’s a big one), to live in New York, and to travel throughout the world (I’ve played on six continents so far).

The list of reasons to be grateful for music in my life could go on and on, and very quickly I begin to feel responsibility to give back. Strictly artistically speaking, I take this very seriously. It’s one of the reasons I’ve become so passionate about new music, and dedicated to encouraging unique musical voices. Music can be so powerful, so relevant, so meaningful, but I don’t think it is ever more so than when a musician is able to reach deep within and bring something personal to the table. Hopefully I can share this passion through the quality of my performances, the content of my programming, the musicians and other artists with whom I share the stage, the music that I write, and other platforms including this blog. I can also strive to give back on a personal level to those around me, and use the resources that have come my way through music to do things like fly to Korea to be there for my friend on his wedding day.

It’s been a big few years, I’ve added a lot of artistic endeavors to my plate. At times it’s been confusing, but I’m beginning to gain clarity and focus. Now is the time for me to show my gratitude by honing in on the path in front of me and committing to developing a kind of rhythm and consistency with the projects I take on.

How are you grateful for music in your life? How are you inspired to give back? Please share your stories in the comment section below, whether they’re specific moments or general practices.

Currently listening to…
Seattle Symphony: Become Ocean
Ayub Ogada: En Mana Kuoyo
Cleveland Orchestra/Boulez: Rite of Spring

Due Date: Awakening

by Joshua Roman

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#TFW you’re about to hear your first orchestral composition for the first time…

It’s alive! My first cello concerto, has come into the world – kicking and screaming – but alive. What a crazy experience. I’ve never done anything quite like this, and while it was a project that stretched me almost to the limit, it’s been worth it. I feel more in touch with my artistic sensibility than ever, and more motivated to continue the creative process than I have been in a long time.

I’ll save details of the piece for the day when I’m able to share a recording. In the meantime, there were plenty of lessons in the process.

Lesson 1: Everything Takes Longer Than You Think!
Lesson 2: Everything Takes Longer Than You Think, Even After Allowing For Lesson 1.

The other lessons were more fun, and didn’t require all-nighters. (which leads to apologies to my copyist, George Katehis, who should be sponsored by Red Bull.)

I learned that I am not so good at revision – I already kind of knew this, in relation to writing this blog (among other things). I think it might have something to do with my training as a performer, spending years developing the skill of memorizing quickly. Perhaps those neural pathways need to chill a bit, and not wear those grooves in so deeply on first hearing. Luckily, I’ve been getting better at it by necessity. The blog helps, but the concerto really was a breakthrough in that sense. The pressure of an impending performance where I’m presenting my own art led to much more scrutiny than I realized I was capable of.

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As usual, Mom and Dad got the first preview via Skype.

I also learned that it takes a bit longer than the warm-up time between dress rehearsal and the concert to switch from the composing mindset to the performing one. It didn’t help that the damn composer (me) didn’t give the cellist (me) the music until very late in the game. As I rehearsed, my focus was very much on the orchestra bringing my imaginary sounds to life. Listening to hear if what I had notated was being played, and if so, was it working the way I expected? In this state of mind it’s hard to do much more than play the notes. During my break, I had time with the cello alone, and quickly realized that I needed to breathe and bring myself back into that special focus that I need to perform. It worked, somewhat, but as with everything else that week it would have been easier had the details of orchestration and rehearsal been more prepared by yours truly when we showed up for the endgame. I’ve kept careful track of these lessons, and am now super excited to apply them next time around.

In fact, I have the opportunity to do much of that as I finish my revisions before the next performance with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus in January. I’m making changes now so there’s time to sit with them and continue modifying until it seems right. And then, I’ll walk away from it and just enjoy the continuing process as the interpretation can evolve rather than the notes themselves.

There’s not much to do: a couple of sections need an extra measure or two to develop the way I meant. And balance! I was sure, as a cellist who has played many concertos, that I would get the balance right the first time around. Lo and behold, I was overambitious and could tell immediately that adjustments were needed. Some of it was a matter of adjusting dynamics in rehearsals, but we didn’t get quite all the way to balance perfection. No way am I going to practice some of the ridiculous passagework if it can’t even be heard! Those are relatively easy fixes though. The more I hear others play my music, the more I realize the importance of detailed markings. They can convey a shape and a character that bring them out even if a dynamic is soft, or simply serve to hold a players’ attention in a way that attracts the ear of a listener.

I’m very grateful to all who made this project possible. To have created something that speaks of personal emotions is a great feeling, and the fact that I’m able to share it on such a platform and with the support of others is incredibly inspiring and uplifting. This is only part two – eventually there will be music to play for you, and I look forward to that moment. In the meantime, go create something!!

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Backstage after the premiere. That was intense! It was great to have David Danzmayr conduct.

My current playlist:
Ingram Marshall: Gradual Requiem
David Byrne and St. Vincent: Love This Giant
Barber: Essay No.2 for Orchestra

Joshua Roman’s cello concerto “Awakening” was premiered on October 17, 2015 with Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor David Danzmayr, commissioned by Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, The Lied Center of Kansas, and The Corral Family. For more about “Awakening,” check out the Chicago Tribune preview and its first review in Chicago Classical Review.

Revisiting Bates

by Joshua Roman

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Mason Bates, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, and Joshua Roman backstage at Benaroya Hall

That old familiar friend – a piece that already has a life inside of you and is ready to be teased back into the external world. For a cellist, these are usually pieces of very old music: Bach Cello Suites, Concertos by Dvorak or Haydn, Sonatas and Quartets from days of yore.

This time, I get to reignite the flame with a rather new concerto: that special work by my friend Mason Bates. I am so lucky to count wonderful composers among my friends, and to work with them regularly. Last year, Mason wrote his first Cello Concerto for me, and we gave the premiere with the Seattle Symphony. Even by the time of the world premiere, I had given the piece several test runs with pianist Carlos Avila, for small audiences with discerning ears. Now I’ve decided this is a must! I had a similar preparatory experience with “Dreamsongs”, the concerto Aaron Jay Kernis wrote for me the previous year, and on the day of a premiere it makes all the difference to have more comfort, confidence, and a deeper connection with the music.

So pulling the score back out, I had a decision to make. Listen to archival recordings from the performances with Seattle and Columbus? Or rely on memory of what worked and what didn’t? Usually, with a piece that’s already entered the standard repertory, I have a self-imposed rule that listening to other recordings is strictly verboten within a month of a performance. It may be 80% superstition, but I want to be conscious of what makes its way into my interpretation. However, is it any different when the only recordings in existence are my own? If I listen at all, I generally listen to archival recordings fairly soon after the performance to get a sense of whether my intentions come across or not, and try to take notes for later.

An experiment began to take shape: I started by looking at the score as if it was the first time, and began to practice before listening to any recordings. This way, at least I could leave room for any accidental discoveries, which are always fun! Of course, there were a few – opportunities for color changes or subtleties I missed the first time around. Or did I?

Going back, listening to the recordings, it was fun to see what recollections were spot on, and what memories had taken on the subjective hue of emotions surrounding certain moments or performances. Listening to oneself can be a painful process, but the illuminating effect it has is well worth it. There were plenty of sighs of relief on my part, as well as the usual grimacing. Definitely something that I prefer to do alone in the privacy of my own room!

The fact that I had some insight into my own previous interpretations (hued or not) helped me get past my concern about the unseen influence recordings can otherwise have. If anything, it has helped even more as I discover what gestures, colors, and emotions come across in the sound and what is only internal. From now through the time of the last performance of the season, I’ll be listening back to run-throughs, rehearsals, and performances, chipping away at the edges of this particular work of art.

You’ll see in the list below that I’ve chosen to listen to other works by Mason. While I do have certain hesitations regarding listening to a specific piece I’m playing, if I can find other pieces by the same composer, or works that I know have influenced, I find it a good way to absorb more of their style and voice. And of course, being in constant communication with Mason to get ever closer to the heart of his musical soul.

The best part of being with such a new “old friend”, is that I get to introduce so many people to these new sounds for the first time. Long live new music!

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Eric Jacobsen and Joshua Roman getting ready for Mason Bates at Greater Bridgeport Symphony.

Joshua performs the Bates Concerto throughout the 15-16 season, beginning Saturday, September 19 with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony under the baton of Eric Jacobsen – check Joshua’s calendar for a city near you!

LISTENING TO: Mason Bates
Stereo is King (whole album)
Violin Concerto with Anne Akiko Meyers, violin