Musing on Music... Part 2

Late night thoughts after a great concert –

Privileges given and received . . .

Photo by Jim Calarese

Photo by Jim Calarese

So now it’s Tuesday evening, I’m back from teaching in Providence since noon time, and the Family Symphony Matinee concert with the “Side by Side” performance of the CHSO and CHYS is already way back in the rear view mirror.   As my teacher always said, “on to the next . . .”

Sunday was another great event, good sized crowd, Milford Town Hall “buzzing” with activity all afternoon, between CHSO members coming in at 12 Noon to do our one rehearsal for the 3 PM performance, joined by the youth orchestra students around 1:30 to sit in with their mentors and run through their selections together.   This annual concert event always turns out GREAT, and is inspiring, but the “prequel” leading up to it makes herding cats look like a walk in the park on a sunny day!  So many “moving parts,” so many people to organize and bring together – professional musicians, students, families, the instrument petting zoo folks from Music & Arts – all of whom have to pay attention to the information being emailed them, and show up with military precision – with everything required and prepared at the listed time.   (My next endeavor in the next life will be to organize a moon landing and concert).

Photo by Jim Calarese

Photo by Jim Calarese

Although exhausting, it was euphoric in the end – the students ALWAYS come thru and do their very best when faced with no other option, and the CHSO pros are always so supportive and admiring of the cute little kids suddenly sitting next to them in the orchestra.   (There are actually 3 or 4 pros in the CHSO who were once IN the CHYS!!).   Like I said last week, we always see something of ourselves mirrored in the images of the next generation and just maybe, it makes us feel good about prospects for the future.

And now on to the next, which is – just like the recent jazz concert at the Caffe Sorrento, another opportunity for me to sit back in the audience, and get to watch fellow musician/colleague/dear friends make amazing music for the night. 

I’m speaking of the Season Finale of the CHSO Apple Tree Arts Chamber Music Series in Grafton – this coming Saturday night, April 13, 2019 at 7:30 PM in the Great Hall of the beautifully renovated home of Apple Tree Arts at One Grafton Common, featuring the Valchinov family – all of whom have been key players in the CHSO panorama for the last decade!

Richard Duckett of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette wrote a wonderful feature article on this event which ran on Sunday morning, April 7th, and he really captured the back story behind this concert.

Photo by Dana Wilson

Photo by Dana Wilson

CHSO Concertmaster Angel Valchinov – a Bulgarian native – has been a member of the CHSO since around 2006 or 2007.   He came into the orchestra while doing graduate studies in Violin Performance at Boston University.  Someone recommended him to me as a good possible addition to the CHSO violin section and he seemed to do just fine in the section.  He was kind, considerate to his colleagues, well prepared and appreciative of the opportunity to work and also of the unique personality of the orchestra he found when he came to Milford. 

At the time we had another Bulgarian, Nicola Takov, who was our Concertmaster.  Nicola was a phenomenal player, and he brought along both his then girlfriend Viktoria – a fine violinist – and his childhood friend, Violist Dimitar Petkov, who to this day still serves as CHSO Principal Violist.  It was a nice package deal!  They brought a few other Bulgarian emigres into the orchestra as subs along the way too, and they all seemed to live in the same house in Melrose, or at any rate, I used to mail 5 or 6 packages of music to that address for each concert.  I used to imagine a large sprawling “three decker” with a fleet of beat up, used Toyotas parked on the lawn and music pouring out of the windows on a warm day.   Sometimes they’d show up at Town Hall for a rehearsal, and I’d pull in next their car – one of them would roll down a window, and billows of Marlboro smoke would pour out.   One of them would say, “Hi Boss, we’ll be in in a minute!!”

After about 5 years as Concertmaster, Nicola suddenly received an opportunity to take a full time job as First Violinist in the Simphonia Navarro in Spain, which was a very fine orchestra, and a great gig to get.  He left and I needed to fill the Concertmaster vacancy, preferably with someone in the orchestra – someone who had become familiar with our “corporate” culture, and our concept of making music accessible, understanding and inviting to our growing audience – many of whom had never gone to symphony orchestra concerts before coming to the CHSO.

Angel Valchinov, violin soloist, with The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, November 10, 2018

Angel Valchinov, violin soloist, with The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, November 10, 2018

For me, Angel was the obvious choice to promote to Concertmaster.   As a member of the first violin section, he was obviously of a caliber of excellence as a player personally, plus he had demonstrated a true interest in what CHSO was striving to become.   He commented frequently on the innovative programming and the relationship between the orchestra and its community and offered suggestions on how we could improve the orchestra – even while a member of the section, asking about the opportunity to do a concerto with the orchestra, which is something not usually done – featuring a “section” player over the Concertmaster or section leader!   At first I might have thought he was a little “pushy” but then in retrospect, maybe I recognized something of myself in Angel – after all, what’s more pushy than someone starting a symphony orchestra in the middle of the suburbs and insisting that there could be an audience for it?!!!   (Build it, and they will come!!).

In his second or third season as Concertmaster, I invited him to do the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the orchestra, and that performance was an evening that truly made obvious to both the orchestra and our audience that we had an amazing Concertmaster – one to be admired, respected and valued.  

As Concertmaster, he was very “pro-active” in his job – standing up in rehearsals to offer advice and suggestions to the string section on how to play and work together as a team to bring to life the “style” of performance I was seeking to get out of the orchestra.   After all, I’m a wind player, and try to refrain from telling string players how to do their jobs – but coming from a fellow string player who is obviously such a virtuoso, and when offered as Angel does – in a wonderfully kind and nurturing manner – everyone would nod in agreement and work to change their idea of how to play a passage.

Angel would suggest new possible members of the orchestra string section who he had met on other gigs, most of whom became perfect “fits” for our orchestra and many of whom are regular members today.   The “string sound” of the CHSO has become simply gorgeous during his tenure as Concertmaster and is a quality of the orchestra that many have commented upon over the last ten years – a beautiful and lustrous string sound that matches the power and energy of our virtuoso wind section.

As I got to know Angel better, he told me of his sister Deyana, who had come to America to study piano, and then his parents emigrated here also – following their children to the New World, and seeking musical performance opportunities in their new home.

Angel’s parents – Iliya and Margaritka – had been members of one of the premiere orchestras in Bulgaria, but after the collapse of the communist state, the arts had fallen on hard times in their homeland.   Margaritka was an extremely accomplished violinist and I invited her into the CHSO violin section at the first opportunity that we had an opening.   Iliya is a bassoonist, and frequently performs with the orchestra when one of our other regular bassoon section members is unavailable.

“Mama” Valchinova, as I call her, is obviously very proud of her children, and like Angel, very much appreciative of the uniqueness of CHSO.   She is a very strong player, and when our longtime Principal Second Violinist decided to leave the orchestra last season to have more time for teaching and family, I asked her to become Principal Second.   It’s been an excellent fit, and together with the leadership of her son, and in concert with the other string principals, I never have to worry about how our string section will play!

Mama never fails to send me an email after each concert, thanking me for the opportunity to perform, and commenting on how great the performance of the orchestra was, and how we truly reached and touched our audience. 

This season, Angel was the featuring soloist again with his orchestra, performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto – one of the hardest Violin concertos ever written.  (Story is, Sibelius was an unsuccessful violinist, and decided to take it out on the rest of them by writing something considered almost impossible to play!).   It didn’t sound difficult in Angel’s hands that night!

His sister Deyana had recently completed her Doctoral studies and was now living in the Boston area with her new husband and baby, and I had promised them a concerto with her – her choice, and one of my favorites was the Prokofiev Third Concerto – again one of the hardest works of the genre.   Witness yet another memorable night at CHSO this past February 2nd.

Last summer, I was planning the second season of our new CHSO Apple Tree Arts Chamber Series, and I wanted to involve Angel in it – he hadn’t done anything with us on the Inaugural Season, although he had performed frequently on the series when it was in Whitinsville in previous years.   Knowing that both he and his sister would be major features of the CHSO Symphony Season this year, I thought it would be a great idea to complete the chamber series with them as a family performing unit – “you heard them as star soloists, now hear them in a more intimate, personal  setting, displaying their artistry together. “ 

It works and it a major part of the CHSO “culture” – we’ve always had a number of “family units” performing together in the orchestra, and sometimes even some divorced couples who still play together in the orchestra!  And of course, as Founder, I’ve taken the advantage of nepotism from time to time to invite my own siblings to perform as featured artists with us.  Music IS family and community in the end – playing together makes a family out of people who didn’t know each other beforehand.

Family Affair flyer.1.jpg

So there it is – this coming Saturday, I’ll get to sit in the audience again and be privileged to hear the world-class artistry of colleagues whom I’ve come to regard as dear friends and even extended family.  It IS a privilege for us all – that musicians like the Valchinovs have decided to make Claflin Hill their home and principal performance venue and career – instead of chasing all over hell’s half acre in search of fleeting co called “fame” and glory!

Angel came to a realization somewhere along the way as a member of CHSO that perhaps it is more important to find a place where you can create music and art at the highest level you strive for, for people who are truly your neighbors and friends, and in doing so, you make your little corner of the world a little better than when you arrived.   I use to worry that someday we’d lose Angel to a bigger orchestra far from Milford, but I know now that he values CHSO above all other gigs, and although he does perform frequently throughout the region with many other ensembles who might be more “famous” CHSO is HIS orchestra.

It’s pretty much the motivation I had for starting CHSO after all – together with my wife Susan we were starting a family in our new home in Milford, and I was growing tired of driving all over New England and New York for playing jobs – better to stay home and play for my neighbors and kids, and I was meeting a lot of other world class players who needed the same opportunity!

It’s a joy and a privilege to see them perform, and one that I hope our audience and growing CHSO Family will value and take advantage of this Saturday – the gift of music and community – given to us by new Americans who have come here to fulfill the age-old “American Dream” and who in doing so have become an integral part of this new shining, cultural city on the hill – Claflin Hill.

See you Saturday night in Grafton!

Paul Surapine