En route to her Carnegie Hall concert with the Chamber Orchestra of New York, violinist Irene Abrigo hails from Switzerland to the city. Before our collaboration at the Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, starting the GetClassical In School residency program, we meet for a rehearsal with the latest of the Juilliard talent pool and recent Naumburg Competition winner Albert Cano Smit; getting immediately into details of music scores. The new friendship begins to unfold, as both artists meet – on a freezing day – at school, were we are able to use the great stage of the auditorium, where kids can gather around the musicians on risers; a perfect set up!
The kids, that are not sure what to expect are modestly interested, as Irene with a charming Italian accent and gentle voice, leads them into a Q&A about one of the classical stars of her home town and the violin, Vivaldi. Did the kids ever heard his music? NO? But when she starts the first few bars of the famous four season’s theme, almost everyone has heard it, astonished about how easy this is to get into, as Irene tells the story line of her pieces and points out what to listen to. Some of the questions are intriguingly sophisticated and relate that some of the kids play an instrument themselves. Peer pressure to be cool only holds so and so long; this seems really interesting to the 14-15 years old and once the first hands are raising to answer to Irene’s gentle probing into musical territory and how it connects to their emotions, the ice is broken quickly. Irene believes in keeping the reins in her hands, while delivering her program on different Vivaldi sections. “I feel its important to follow your line and it has to be very clear, without too many open-ended questions, otherwise its easy to loose the momentum,” she says later. “But I also tried to encourage them to ask any question, and when asking them about their emotional reaction to point out, that there were no wrong answers. I was pleasantly surprised how detailed some of the questions were. Its a good feeling when you know what to listen for, that’s why I always like to explain a lot about a particular motif, rhythm or structure. Once prepared to listen for that detail, there is a purpose,” she explains, “and once you are in the music, they will follow you.”
That is perfectly true, and was wonderful to see. Albert delivered a perfect accompaniment, letting the violin star without taking over too much, while amply giving it the necessary orchestral support. But once he started to perform a solo piece, it was a fugue by Bach, his passion became truly tangible. Talking about their instruments, what they are capable of and about some of the challenges, the conversation took a turn for a big surprise, when Irene explained about her valuable antique violin, and about playing it on loan.
Ever wonder why musicians, even teenagers, are generally friendly and outgoing, while respectful of their peers and towards the older generation? They actually listen. Listen to each other – an implied condition of playing music well together – to their instructors, conductors, the other performers and – of course they listen to how they sound themselves.”
Often personal friendships form instantly, encouraged by their collaborative interaction and performances. While spending a lot of time in the practice room may make them aware of their own strength and weaknesses, they also travel to different cities, often foreign countries, to partake in festivals and seminars. So they have to adapt to foreign environments and overcome language barriers and different customs. Turns out that’s not a bad thing at all; from an early age on they are groomed into natural ambassadors for their art and culture. We were all thrilled with this presentation, and no one was rushing out into the next lesson!
Thanks Stuyvesant for the excellent stage set up, helping to organize the timing and inviting us. And thank you to all our generous artists, who take the time of their busy performance and practice schedule, sharing their talent and inspiring the next generation!