Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Concertmaster Profile: Chase Spruill in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Meet Chase Spruill: The New Concertmaster of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra

Christian Baldini: Chase, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Camellia Symphony Orchestra family as our new concertmaster. It was a real pleasure to work with you last season as one of our guest concertmasters, and based on the wonderful feedback we received, I know I speak for our orchestra members as well when I welcome you with open arms into your new position.

Chase Spruill: Thanks, Maestro-- it's really a joy to be joining you all this season.  It was a pretty special feeling stepping in as a guest last season.  There's always a little bit of nervousness for me when I'm doing something like that because you feel like you're walking into somebody else's home, but everybody was so warm and open during that time, and so committed to joyful music-making and doing their best...when you see something like that, it's hard to pass up the opportunity when you're given a reason to stay with that community longer!

CB: After having developed a fruitful career in the East Coast, you recently returned to the Sacramento region, and it's wonderful to have you with us sharing everything you bring into your position from your experience as a seasoned chamber musician and orchestral musician. What are some of the experiences you remember most fondly from your time working with folks like Philip Glass, Steve Mackey and the Kronos Quartet?

CS: Always the rehearsals.  Performances should stand out for me, but it's the rehearsals which stick out in my mind.  There's so much dialogue and conversation in the rehearsal, and the endeavor to draw something out of the music we were playing felt so shared, I don't think I knew when I first started working with those kinds of artists that it was okay to be human and spirited and inquisitive.  In my musical life, I grew up listening to and admiring those artists, and in my imagination, I thought playing with them would mean I had to walk some kind of ultra-prepared, uncompromising line, and that they would somehow like me more if I did things the way I assumed they were used to other musicians doing them, and I couldn't have been more wrong.  They knew I respected their work and wanted to be with them and learn from them, yet they never implied that I should be quiet.  I was always shocked at the amount of times questions would come my way about what I was hearing or thinking, or whether I could think of any new approaches.  Working with them really solidified in my own spirit the kind of human being I wanted to work to be in the music world.  

CB: Tell us Chase, how did you begin your musical path? Was there a person or a few people that were particularly influential and inspiring to you?

CS: Like a lot of young people, I started music in public schools when I was 10 years old.  I'd always been drawn to film music, so when the offering came around, I chose violin, and I was getting pretty serious about it.  Unfortunately, when I was 12, I suffered a pretty life-altering injury which left me bedridden, wheelchair-bound, and in-and-out of surgeries for the next two years, which also meant I had to come in-and-out of school.  I have a very close relationship with my parents, and they don't know the meaning of the word "Quit."  During that time, getting me back to health and while supporting my rehabilitation, they were the ones who tried to create as much normalcy for me as possible, and they saw that I was serious about violin and music, so they figured out a way to get the arms off my wheelchair, got me set up so I could play and practice, hired a private music teacher named Matthew Grasso whom I still learn from and play music with to this day, and the rest is history.  I've never stopped.  I'd have to say if there were people who were particularly influential and inspiring to me, it'd have to be my parents.  Musically, Matt continues to inspire me, my other longtime teacher and friend Anna Presler, the lot of people from the Philip Glass camp such as longtime director of the Philip Glass Ensemble Michael Riesman, and my good friend Richard Guerin.  I knew of them long before they knew of me, but I'm really happy we know about each other now.

CB: What are some of your musical dreams, ideals or plans?

CS: I've had a longtime, healthy obsession with British composer Michael Nyman.  I've wanted to play in the Michael Nyman Band for as long as I can remember--like the same way David Bowie knew he wanted to play sax with Little Richard's band.  The good news is that it seems closer as a possibility now than it ever has before.  I keep asking Nyman if I can pay my way to play just one show with them.  Just one!  I think he thinks I'm being flattering and borderline ridiculous, but occasionally when we talk, he hints that maybe that dream will get to come true for me soon.  I keep hoping!  And practicing.

CB: In your opinion, what could we change or add to the concert experience to make it more inclusive, more welcoming, and even more special than it currently is?

CS: That you and the Orchestra are even asking that question I think makes a world of difference to the community you're serving.  Discovering the best functions for what Camellia Symphony Orchestra does for the immediate and surrounding community is huge.  Keeping the transparency and presence of the orchestra in places where more people have access.  I'm blown away and love the idea that the orchestra occasionally plays concerts on a rooftop.  I love that schools and young people and their families have access to live performances.  Staying in that gear and doubling down on those efforts goes such a long way, and I'm looking forward to joining in those efforts while we're together.

CB: Thank you so much for sharing all this about yourself. We look forward to wonderful collaborations together with you and the Camellia Symphony Orchestra.

CS: Maestro, this is great, thank you.  I love what the orchestra's been doing.  I'm excited to get to work!

Violinist Chase Spruill is forging unique paths connecting contemporary chamber music, music education and public service. He was an artist-in-residence and founding violinist of Sacramento State University’s contemporary chamber music ensemble before accepting a residency at the Nationally celebrated not-for-profit organization Community MusicWorks in Providence, RI where he served as a core faculty member and resident musician from 2012-2017, and was appointed a visiting professor of violin at Wheaton College in Norton, MA from 2015-2017. He’s performed with and collaborated closely alongside notable artists in the field such as Kronos Quartet, Emmanuel Ax, Steven Mackey, Johnny Gandelsman of Brooklyn Rider and the Silk Road Project with Yo-Yo Ma, and currently tours as a duo alongside pianist and longtime director of the Philip Glass Ensemble Michael Riesman. Spruill’s Philip Glass recordings can be found on the composer’s label Orange Mountain Music, where he will be featured on Riesman’s forthcoming album Philip Glass Soundtracks, volume 2 available May 24, 2019.

In 2018, he joined the independent record label Supertrain Records alongside a roster of artists including William Bolcom, Dennis Russell Davies, and Zbigniew Preisner. His first release with the label celebrates the violinist’s ongoing collaboration with award-winning British composer Michael Nyman (notable composer of such films as The Piano, Gattaca, and The End of the Affair...) whom turned 75 in March of 2019. YAMAMOTO PERPETUO is a beautiful, fiery marathon of a score written for a fashion show in Paris during a collaboration with lauded designer Yohji Yamamoto. It is the first widely-available recording of the 12-movement virtuoso work in its intended form (it later became the entirety of the first violin part for String Quartet no.4, a basis for Strong on Oaks, Strong on the Causes of Oaks written for chamber orchestra, and his Violin Concerto no.2) and is the violinist’s solo debut album. Nyman raves that Spruill’s recording,” played with fierce dedication...” In the summer of 2019, Chase Spruill was appointed as the new Concertmaster of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento.

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