Monday, September 18, 2023

Parker van Ostrand in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On September 23, I will have the pleasure of conducting Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the wonderful young pianist Parker van Ostrand. This will be in Sacramento (California) with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, in a program that will also feature Brahms' Second Symphony, as well as Midnight Stirring by Nancy Galbraith. Below is an interview with Parker.
Christian Baldini: Dear Parker, it is a pleasure to welcome you again in your native Sacramento to feature you as our soloist in Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra. Tell us, how does it feel to come back home and be featured as our soloist?

Parker van Ostrand: I’m really excited. Playing with orchestra is one of my favorite things as a musician, and getting to do it with a great orchestra and conductor makes it even better. And this will be the first time I play Prokofiev 3 with orchestra. It's also nostalgic since I’m performing again at my old high school. The first rehearsal was the first time I went back there since graduating more than two years ago!

CB: The first (and last) time we featured you as our soloist it was within our Rising Stars series, and you played Beethoven's 2nd Piano Concerto. This was four years ago, and you have amassed a number of successes since then, including winning prizes at major international competitions, performing together with Yuja Wang in San Francisco, being named a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. How do you feel? What has changed for you?

PvO: I feel really grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in the last couple years. Playing with Yuja was definitely a highlight because I’ve looked up to her more than almost any other pianist ever since I was a kid. One thing that’s changed with all this experience is I feel more open to being spontaneous on stage. I’m more confident in my musical decisions and style of playing, so I’m able to take more risks and see what ideas I can come up with on the spot. When you let loose and don’t worry so much about being perfect or how other people might judge your playing, performing becomes a lot more fun.

CB: Tell us about Prokofiev, and his Third Piano Concerto. What are some of the things you like the most about this piece, and what should people listen for when you perform it?

PvO: Prokofiev 3 is one of my favorite concertos to play- it’s naughty, sarcastic, even grotesque at times. I love playing this piece because it’s really fun to go all out with making the piece as “rude” and brash as possible. The writing is very virtuosic and even acrobatic at times, so it’s pretty cool to watch from the audience standpoint. Prokofiev himself was rebellious and cocky during his time at conservatory, and this piece perfectly encapsulates that. There’s a lot of conflict between the piano and orchestra parts, and it’s pretty cool to be one person fighting against 100 other people on stage. There’s also moments in the concerto that are nostalgic, smoky, elegant, beautiful–and the fact that these moments are so rare make them even more memorable. Part of the second movement is a variation that has the sounds of a dark, icy Siberian winter. It will give one chills.

CB: When I interviewed you back in 2019, we talked a lot about your practice routine, the meaning of music to you, and also about your goals in life. Have your goals changed? Do you see anything very differently?

PvO: Because so much has happened in the last couple years I could never have expected or planned (musically related), I actually haven’t been one to set specific goals recently. With a career path in music, so much is out of your control except your ability as a musician. So my goal these days is just to be as good as I can be at the piano, and see what happens from there.

CB: Tell us about your education and your main mentors since you finished high school.

PvO: I’ve been at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since January of 2022, and I’m now working with Garrick Ohlsson and Yoshikazu Nagai. I’ve studied with Garrick since I was 16, and just recently started studying with Yoshikazu Nagai. Knowing Garrick for this long, he’s had a huge impact on me and just been an amazing teacher, mentor, and someone I look up to. I can also say the same about my previous teacher here at the conservatory, Jon Nakamatsu, who I studied with during my first three semesters at SFCM.

CB: Lastly: what are some of the things (anything) that interest you the most outside music?

PvO: I like going to the gym a lot. It’s fun to keep pushing yourself and setting new goals all the time. When I have more time, I love adrenaline activities like riding rollercoasters or jetskis, and also doing challenging hikes. Nowadays, I am also pretty into watching movies, thrillers in particular.

CB: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to sharing your wonderful artistry with our audience members.

PvO: Thank you! Looking forward.

Parker Van Ostrand currently studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Garrick Ohlsson and Yoshikazu Nagai.

He recently won the 2023 PianoTexas Academy Concerto Competition and performed with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra this past June. In 2022, he won the Gold Medal in the 71st Wideman International Piano Competition and in November, collaborated with Yuja Wang for a two-piano performance at the SFCM Gala. Last summer, he was selected to play in the inaugural G. Henle Verlag Murray Perahia Masterclass in Munich. He also toured with the California Youth Symphony to Eastern Europe last summer with Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety.” In 2020, Parker won Third Prize and the Best Sonata Award in the 10th National Chopin Piano Competition, and was one of 20 high school students nationwide named a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

This season, Parker will be performing with the Camellia Symphony, Symphony Parnassus, the South Arkansas Symphony, the Shreveport Symphony, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music orchestra as winner of their 2023 Concerto Competition. He will also give recitals at the Tutunov Series in Ashland, the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, the Washington International Piano Festival, and Gretna Music with violinist Amaryn Olmeda.

Parker is from Sacramento, CA, and previously studied with Linda Nakagawa, Natsuki Fukasawa, Sarah Chan, and Jon Nakamatsu. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Composer Profile: Nancy Galbraith in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On September 23, I will have the pleasure of conducting the symphonic work "Midnight Stirring" by composer Nancy Galbraith. This will be in Sacramento with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in a program that also includes Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto and Brahms' 2nd Symphony. Below is a Q&A with the composer:


Christian Baldini: Nancy, it is a pleasure to welcome you and to conduct your music in Sacramento. Tell us, what are some of your priorities and main interests as a composer?


Nancy Galbraith: I am naturally compelled to continuously expand and grow and explore new pathways of expression. Fortunately for me, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is home to a wealth of talented musicians who are always happy to perform outside of their classical music comfort zones. One prominent example is my colleague at Carnegie Mellon, Stephan Schultz, who is a world class Baroque flutist who truly enjoys all the electroacoustic challenges I send his way. He is one of many among the soloists, instrumental ensembles and conductors from this area, who are eager and delighted to perform music on the cutting edge.


I am also deeply immersed in the world of choral music. Much of that is sacred music, which is born out of my lifelong involvement as a church organist and music director. And again, the Pittsburgh area has an ample pool of talented conductors and ensembles who welcome the kind of new music I have to offer.


As you might surmise, I love writing for specific artists and ensembles, both instrumental and choral.


CB: You are also a renowned educator, as Professor and Chair of Composition at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University School of Music in Pittsburgh. What are some of the values and life-long lessons that you try to instill in your students during your lessons?


NG: First I should mention that I especially enjoy teaching undergrads, as they are mostly very open to learning and growing. They each arrive with their own special musical interests, and I let them know I’m happy to honor and nurture those throughout their time with me, but only if they trust me to help them explore a full array of other musical avenues. As first-year students, I provide them with an extensive listening list of mostly current composers from a wide range of genres, along with selected works from earlier composers. I encourage—insist, I should say—that they continuously listen to what is happening in the present, and thus my list is dynamic and ever changing. Most importantly, I steer them toward the goal of finding their own true artistic voices, no matter what they may be. Their senior year concludes in a public concert of their own symphonic works performed by the superb Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra. The energy, artistry and eclecticism of those programs are prominent annual highlights of the music scene in Pittsburgh. My graduated students from the past four decades operate in an extremely wide spectrum of musical fields.


CB: Let’s talk about your own mentors. Who were some of the most influential and important ones to you, and why?


NG: Many of my chief mentors have been dead composers (lol), including J. S. Bach, Stravinsky, and Copland, to name a few. I have mostly learned from studying scores and performing their works; and I should mention that John Adams was a strong early influence as well. In my childhood, teen and college years, I studied piano and clarinet; and during those years, I was fortunate to perform a wide ranging repertoire of classical and contemporary music.


CB: How did you start composing “Midnight Stirring”? What came to you first? How was the process?


NG: This work was originally composed for flutes. In 2009, I was commissioned to write a work for flute choir for the 37th Annual National Flute Convention. This was one of the few musical genres I hadn’t yet visited, and all of a sudden, I was initiated into the flute world! The music director of the distinguished Columbia Flute Choir, the late Sharyn Byer, commissioned me to write “Midnight Stirring” for the 43rd annual convention. Then, at the request of a conductor friend, I adapted it as a light, easy-to-program work for chamber orchestras. It is scored senza percussion, which is a rarity for me.


CB: What is the relevance of music in today’s life? Why is it important?


NG: Music is no more relevant today than it has been in any time in human history. It is an esoteric and universal language that reaches one’s inner being in ways that words cannot.


CB: Lastly, what would be your advice for young composers, starting out in this profession?


NG: Without any cues from me, most of my students follow their own hearts and instincts, and they somehow find pathways to many and various careers in music. Some of them dwell in a state of uncertainty for a while, and I advise them to consider music education or arts management to carry them through that period of their lives. But many of them just hit the ground running. I’m always sceptical when, once in a while, one says to me, “I’m moving to New York!”—but quite a few of those have actually succeeded tremendously! I am shocked at how they make important connections so quickly, in ways that have always escaped me. So I’ve learned to simply encourage them to pursue their dreams.


CB: Thank you very much for your time, I look forward to conducting your beautiful music and sharing it with our audiences!


NG: Thank you, and best of luck with your performance.

Nancy Galbraith (b.1951) resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, where she is Chair of Composition at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, and holds the Vira I Heinz Professorship of Music endowed chair at the College of Fine Arts.

In a career that spans four decades, her music has earned praise for its rich harmonic texture, rhythmic vitality, emotional and spiritual depth, and wide range of expression. Her works have been directed by some of the world's finest conductors, including Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Mariss Jansons, Keith Lockhart, Donald Runnicles and Robert Page. Her compositions are featured on numerous recordings, including nine anthologies.

With major contributions to the repertoires of symphony orchestras, concert choirs, wind ensembles, chamber ensembles, electroacoustic ensembles, and soloists, Galbraith plays a leading role in defining the sound of contemporary classical music.