BGSU Concerto Competition winners have the world on edge as they take center stage with BG Philharmonia – BG Independent News
By David Dupont
BG Independent News
Three accomplished musicians will have their first experiences in the spotlight in front of a full orchestra this weekend when the Bowling Green Philharmonia presents its annual concert featuring the winners of the BGSU College of Musical Arts music performance competitions.
Featured in the concert, which will take place on Saturday, February 12 at 8 p.m. at Kobacker Hall, will be:
- Sophomore Elizabeth Mumford, saxophone, playing the first movement of Henri Tomasi’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra
- Junior Maggie Brown, piano, performing Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
- First-year master’s student, James O’Donnell, playing the two movements of Tomasi’s concerto.
(The other graduate division award-winning saxophonist, Carl Ng, will perform later this spring with the university’s Wind Symphony Orchestra. The micro-opera Visionary, composition award-winning Steven Naylor, will be presented at the New Music Festival next October.)
O’Donnell has been willing to perform Tomasi’s concerto for several years. As an undergrad, he won the concerto competition at Youngstown State with the piece. COVID-19 derailed the performance. As a consolation, the school orchestra performed Darius Milhaud’s “The Creation of the World” with O’Donnell playing the prominent saxophone role.
This was his only experience playing with strings.
Now he is ahead. “It was an explosion,” he said. The orchestra is “fantastic”.
While preparing the piece, he listened to the recordings to familiarize himself with the orchestral part. “But you know each band is going to play things differently, with different styles, different entries and speed.” He worked with conductor Chloe Calvino to fit his concept. But he must also adapt to the orchestra. “It’s kind of a give and take game. I can’t get everything I want.
“It’s very grand and very showy in a way that I hadn’t anticipated,” Mumford said of Tomasi’s performance of the concerto. “When you get up there, everything melts away, you’re completely in the moment and you experience the music. You are truly surrounded by sound.
Coming from a jazz background, this is the first time she has played with stings.
The same goes for Brown. The pianist recalled what attracted her to the work of the Finnish composer. She had played another piece which someone said sounded like Rautavaara. His teacher Solungga Liu suggested that he discover his piano concerto.
“When I first watched a recording and the pianist was slapping his arm on the piano, it looked like fun,” Brown said. “Tonally it has a dark sound, and it’s really powerful. It attracted me. »
Playing with the orchestra is “very different. I’m used to playing alone,” Brown said. “I love the idea of thinking about making music as something that I share with other people while I’m creating,” she said. “The things you create take on a deeper meaning when shared with people. To be able to create this sound body with so many people and invite them into this space is very personal. As a performer, it’s very special. … It’s very powerful to play with so many people, especially given the nature of this piece.
Brown began playing the piano as a child. Both of her grandmothers had electric keyboards, and when she visited, she used the accompaniment function and selected music by ear.
“They kept pestering my mom to give me piano lessons,” she said. “Yeah, it’s thanks to my grandmothers.”
At first, she experienced the usual ups and downs as she learned to read music and coordinate it with her fingers. “But once it was all figured out, I was able to start putting more expression into the music,” Brown said. “The more I happened to be able to be creative and to be able to engage in music as a form of expression that was really important to me growing up.”
She joined the school band playing the flute, but she found it boring to play one note at a time.
She was drawn to education. “There is nothing more rewarding than being able to invest in others by teaching them and sharing my knowledge with them and fostering growth. I was able to take that and add music and combine them into a career.
Growing up near Cincinnati, she was drawn to BGSU’s music education program.
She met Liu during a campus visit. “From the moment she met me, I could tell she saw potential in me, and I think I was drawn to her. She’s a very lively personality and she’s always been my greatest source of encouragement, supporting me in everything I do.
Brown plans to pursue general music training when she graduates. “I enjoy engaging with music and the musical curriculum in a creative way, especially building the musical foundation for children when they are very young or just learning an instrument for the first time.”
Brown will continue to play. “What I learned on stage taught me how to express myself through music. I will always carry this with me throughout my life. »
Mumford, originally from Palo Alto, California, grew up in a family of musicians. Her grandfather is an amateur jazz saxophonist and her mother was a concert violinist for many years.
Around the age of 9, she began taking saxophone and piano lessons. Although she played in her high school wind band, her focus was on jazz.
Her first real exposure to classical saxophone came during her freshman year when she was a member of an honor band. She was selected to be part of a saxophone quartet.
“I really loved this experience and I started to look into the classical repertoire. … Not only did I like it, but it felt more natural to me than jazz. There was something magnetic about it,” she said.
“I decided to major in music because it became the biggest part of my life towards the end of high school.”
His group manager suggested he consider BGSU.
Mumford was drawn to the College of Musical Arts’ emphasis on contemporary music, and was intrigued by saxophone teacher John Sampen’s explorations of interweaving electronics with the saxophone.
Through the studio, she continued to explore small ensemble acting. She is part of a saxophone duo and quartet, as well as a quintet of alto saxophone, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and bass clarinet.
This ensemble is preparing to participate in the Wayland Chamber Music Competition later this semester as well as a new competition in Toledo.
Before coming to campus, she did not participate in any music competitions. The BGSU concerto event is his first.
O’Donnell said he was inspired to take up the saxophone after hearing his mother play a Kenny G CD at home. “I want to do this,” he said.
“I loved it, all about it,” he said. “My favorite thing about the saxophone in general is the flexibility of the horn. It can adapt to many different playing styles, and it can also imitate a bunch of other instruments.
The saxophone “touches the whole spectrum of music,” he said. It helps when it comes to making a living. “Versatility is the name of the game.”
“Tomasi really wanted to bring out the beauty and intensity of the horn,” he said of the concerto. “There is just a bit of everything in this room. You have your moments of intense quick joints. You have these slower, darker andante sections that are really mysterious, and then the duality of cadence between these strong and soft moments. It’s really captivating for an audience and really fun to play for a musician.
O’Donnell said, “I knew I was going to be making music for the rest of my life when I started because I was so passionate about it.” But it wasn’t until he was a sophomore in high school that he decided to pursue his career.
“To be honest, I wanted to do it all the time, but I didn’t really know what my parents thought about majoring in music because ultimately it’s not the most stable job. Then one day, I was in the car with my dad and he was like ‘you know you could really do this if you wanted to’.
It gave O’Donnell the validation he needed.
He started out as a music education student, but although he enjoyed teaching saxophone, he disliked K-12 music education.
He moved into musical performance “because it was exactly where I was supposed to be”.