CSO

HIP, To Be Fair — by Brant Taylor

During my years in high school and college, discussions of what is now referred to as historically informed performance (HIP) could generally be summed up like this: a player belonged either to the “modern/romantic” camp or to the “authentic baroque-y” camp. Highly impressionable students forming fledgling opinions tend to view such things through an unnecessarily black-and-white lens. But something’s also changed in the larger musical community’s awareness and acceptance of what “historically informed” means. While a certain tribalism existed during the early decades of the HIP movement, today we are in a more enlightened and accepting place where, for example, wonderful and highly varied performances of Bach’s Cello Suites are noticed first for their musical merit rather than for whether the player uses gut strings or an endpin. In teaching [...]

The Holy Sextet (Part 2) — by Brant Taylor

Part 1 began an exploration of three bow variables that—in addition to the three well-known concepts of weight, speed, and contact point—make up a sextet of basics that should be known and practiced to maximize your control over the string with the bow.  We discussed the first and most important, bow angle, in Part 1. The remaining two variables may seem relatively minor, but they are by no means unimportant. If practicing means attempting to find solutions to the challenges of successful instrumental control, you should attempt to understand every potential reason for success or failure with the bow. FLATNESS OF HAIR, or how much of the hair makes contact with the string. Many cellists hold the bow with the stick tilted up (toward the fingerboard) to some degree. This means that [...]

When the Music Stops — by Brant Taylor

For those of us for whom a musicians’ work stoppage in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was something we’d read about in histories of the orchestra but had never experienced in real life, the e-mail message we received last Saturday was a bit of a shock: we were on strike. Much of the "what" and "how" has already been disclosed elsewhere by both sides, so I won't go over that here. Fortunately, the work stoppage was short-lived—about 48 hours—and the musicians have now ratified a new contract that will allow our season to proceed without further disruption. Any orchestral musician who has been through tough negotiations will agree that they’re strange times.  An orchestral organization is tiny compared to the global business corporations in the for-profit world that deal with large [...]

Myth Busters — by Brant Taylor

Instrumentalists often prepare for an orchestra audition by seeking feedback on their preparation from a teacher or colleague.  Perhaps because my career includes both orchestral playing and teaching, I am frequently asked to coach players who are preparing solo work(s) and orchestral excerpts for a given audition.  Some players I hear are very new to the audition game, while others are already seasoned professionals looking to step up to another ensemble or for a promotion in their current group.  After years of talking with these musicians about auditions in general and about the specifics of their preparation, I've noticed several assumptions that players sometimes make about auditions.  While some of these assumptions are true, and made with good reason, many others are best described as myths. Some of these are half-truths, and [...]

Taking it on the Road — by Brant Taylor

One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of life in a major orchestra is the touring. After "What difference does the conductor really make?" and "How did the orchestra like _____?" (conductor or soloist), the questions I'm asked most frequently by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's devoted audience are almost always about touring. Organizing an extended trip for a large orchestra, especially abroad, is an immense undertaking. The initial planning begins years before the event itself, and all of the logistics that must be in place for things to run smoothly take the full-time attention of dedicated members of the orchestra's administration.  There are a couple of travel companies in the U. S. who specialize in taking orchestras on tour, and the CSO uses one of these companies [...]

Two Minutes of Your Time — by Brant Taylor

Early in 2011, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will hold auditions hoping to fill two vacancies in our cello section.  In my twelve years of hearing auditions as a member of this ensemble, hundreds of cellists have presented themselves on our stage. Some have done so several times. Their audience is a committee of nine members of the orchestra who sit behind a screen in our otherwise-empty hall.  Some of us take notes during the performances, but the only thing that matters to the process is the simple "yes" or "no" each committee member marks on a blank index card after every player has finished. If a candidate receives at least six "yes" votes in a preliminary audition, he or she advances to the final round.  To those unfamiliar with the [...]