Rambling About Tanglewood: Lesson for trustees

Friday August 10, 2012


If given a chance to address the Boston Symphony Orchestra's trustees and overseers, what would you say?

"I had to start talking about my experience with Alla and the Pittsfield public schools and our morning orchestra rehearsals at Pittsfield High at 7:20 a.m.," recalls Kathryn Andersen, who skipped over her studies at Harvard and Juilliard.

A 2003 Pittsfield High graduate, the 25-year-old violinist is in her third year as a Tanglewood Music Center student. Asked to speak to the BSO governing bodies, she credited her experience in the PHS Chamber Orchestra, under director Alla Zernitskaya, with starting her on the road to Tanglewood.

"She instilled in me the importance of chamber music," Andersen remembers saying. That's also the emphasis at Tanglewood, she said, "and I think it absolutely impacts our ability to play together in the orchestra."

Andersen is a classic example of how music in the schools, often victimized in budget cutting, pays off. Lithe and enthusiastic, she is one of only four of the 155 TMC students accepted for a third year, the maximum. She qualified for the honor on the basis of her 2009 and 2010 seasons, plus her playing and teaching experience since.

At the music center's request, Andersen delivered her pitch at the trustees' and overseers' annual Tanglewood conclave last month. Specifically, she was there to talk about how the school's opening-week immersion in string quartet playing improves playing in general and prepares students for the rigorous season of TMC Orchestra concerts ahead.

She spoke from direct experience. Immediately after the quartet week, she served as one of the student orchestra's two concertmasters for its opening concert July 8. She led her fellow violinists in the world premiere of Gunther Schuller's commissioned "Dreamscape" and Prokofiev's complete "Romeo and Juliet" ballet music. Schuller coached and conducted the performance of his new work.

She'll be back as concertmaster Monday night for all of the orchestra's climactic concert in the Festival of Contemporary Music. A reprise of the Schuller work is one of five pieces on the program.

"I always like learning new pieces, especially when the composer is there and working with us," she says.

One of Andersen's PHS violinist-classmates also went on to three TMC summers. He is Yevgeny Kutik, Zernitskaya's son, who is now pursuing a solo career in the United States and abroad. Many other

graduates of the PHS program have gone on to college, university or conservatory studies in music, mostly leading to careers in other fields, according to Zernitskaya.

Zernitskaya had Andersen as a violin student in Grades 3 through 12. Despite changing times and demographics, the teacher says, the PHS orchestra is still going strong, rehearsing before morning classes and giving concerts in the community.

"It's gotten harder and harder but we are still here," says Zernitskaya, who will begin her 20th season with the group this fall.

Like her fellow TMC students, Andersen hopes to pursue a professional career. Like them, she faces a weak job market as budgets shrink and attendance at classical concerts falters.

Her goal is a job in a symphony orchestra - specifically, the BSO, whose ranks already include 36 TMC graduates, or more than a third of the total. As many as a hundred musicians, including some with lengthy experience, will apply for a single opening in an orchestra of the BSO's caliber.

Andersen auditioned for a BSO spot last February. She chalks it up as a "learning experience."

"I have some work to do but I would love to end up there," she says, laughing at her ambitiousness. But she quickly adds, "As soon as possible, I'd like to be in the Boston Symphony!"

Included in the audition repertoire were a Bach solo, excerpts from the Mozart and Brahms violin concertos and movements from symphonies, which she had to play unaccompanied. Undaunted, she's just starting down the audition road, she says.

For now, Andersen is living in New York City, freelancing with such orchestras as the Albany and Westchester symphonies and teaching privately at St. David's School, a K-8 boys school. She has other students ranging in age up to 30.

She has had the satisfaction of seeing some of her beginning students grow in ability over the years. To broaden the training, she's planning to form duos and other small ensembles like those she played in under Zernitskaya.

"I think some chamber music is definitely on the horizon for them," she says.

Before heading back to New York for the winter, Andersen has a role to play in the 80th birthday celebration for John Williams on Aug. 18. She'll perform his Duo concertante for violin and viola in a Prelude concert before the evening gala.

Free time amid all this, she says, mostly consists of getting together with fellow students and reading pieces to get better acquainted with them.

"Last night," she confesses, "I went bowling and played mini-golf. Just took a break from all of the practicing and extra rehearsals that we add."

The BSO would be a hole in one.


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