We’re back — my wife Anne Midgette and I have finished our whirlwind three-day residency at the College of Music at Florida State University. Anne, as of course I’ve said here many times, is the chief classical music critic at the Washington Post. We had a terrific time. And then, as soon as I got back, I conferred intently with people from a notable music school, and then had a performance of my music. But more on those things later.
What Anne and I (and in a couple of cases one of us separately) did at FSU:
• spoke to composition students
• spoke to students in the opera workshop
• spoke to a music history class, studying 20th century American music
• spoke to an arts management class
• spoke to conducting students
• spoke to student string players
• spoke at a panel discussion on the future of classical music
• gave informal career counseling to two students
• helped a faculty chamber ensemble plan an upcoming New York concert
• had dinner with a professor of contemporary media, or in other words “commercial music” (as it’s often called at universities), a program not found at places like Juilliard
• met with the extraordinary piano technology program (more on that in another post)
• heard a really fine concert by the main student orchestra
And, of course, we also had more dinners, and lunches, with a variety of people from the FSU faculty and administration. To say we had a good time would be a gigantic understatement. The FSU College of Music seems to be a very warm, very constructive, and musically very serious place. It’s not like the big Eastern music schools I’ve variously gone to, taught at, or worked with in some capacity. It’s bigger, has countless students studying music education, and doesn’t have the prestige of — oh, you know the places I’d mention here. Which doesn’t mean it’s not in some ways their equal.
I’ll outline a few things about our visit in a later post or two, but for now let me heap praise on the student orchestra, and its conductor, who also teaches conducting, Alexander Jiménez. Alex is one of a number of conductors at schools of music — another is James Ross, at the University of Maryland — who could perfectly well have careers in the professional world. On the program were the Barber First Essay for Orchestra, Ravel’s Tombeau du Couperin, and the Brahms Violin Concerto, with an authoritative faculty soloist, Corinne Stillwell.
The Barber was led, again with authority, by Christopher Ocasek, a graduate student. Then Alex took over, and one thing that struck me — delighted me, too — was the first movement of the Ravel, taken at a good, fast pace, with all the string figuration easily flowing, not rushed, not hesitant, not at all fussy, perfectly in time (and in tune), and wonderfully musical. With a young student orchestra. That’s an achievement, and a credit to Alex.
(And no, I’m not doing what critics sometimes do, overpraise a student orchestra and a university conductor, because I want to be nice, and not tell the truth about how they fell short. Of course this wasn’t a professional group, and of course I could hear that. But what I’m saying about the Ravel is nothing more or less than the truth.
(I’ve had the good luck to hear two good student orchestras in the past few months, this one and the orchestra of the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland, with James Ross conducting. Both orchestras didn’t quite get the size or strength or complex flow of Brahms, though at FSU the players started to pick up the right sound from Corinne. But both concerts were really good to hear, the standout in Maryland being a pungent performance of the Shostakovich First Symphony.
(I should note, by the way, that I’m speaking for myself here, and not necessarily reflecting what Anne might think. I’m not hinting that she’d disagree with anything I said, but of course we each have our own professional lives, and in anything we say in public, unless otherwise stated, we’re each speaking for ourselves.)