I was invited to present Body Mapping classes at SUNY, Stony Brook and Manhattan School of Music. Then, I teamed up with my friend Carol Wincenc to present a full day of master classes in Greenwich, CT, followed by a recital. It was our inaugural Carol Wincenc and Rena Urso-Trapani Flute and Body Mapping Symposium. OK, we may need to work on the title a little but, seriously, it was our first ever collaboration and it rocked! We had a ball, tag team teaching a dozen or so wonderful musicians, and playing beautiful chamber music with our friend and fabulous pianist Peter Stern. Chamber music performed in the setting of a house concert might well be one of my favorite things to do. It’s ideal in every way; intimate, cozy, personal, and exactly how that music ought to be performed.
The Manhattan School of Music experience was extra special for me because of my father Santo Urso’s history with that school. Back in 1928, he attended Juilliard as a 14 year old violin prodigy. At that time, Juilliard was located at what is now Manhattan School of Music at 122nd & Broadway, before moving down to Lincoln Center in 1969. But, back in 1928, when young Santo was a student, 122nd & Broadway were his stomping grounds. As a young boy, my father walked through those same hallways I walked through to teach my class last Wednesday.While I was there, I could imagine him climbing the same set of stairs, on the way to his violin lessons with Louis Persinger.
Riverside Church, which was right outside my teaching room window, would have likely also been a place he would have visited. Santo always had a love affair with NYC. Always. We planned to visit NYC together. He told me about his favorite spots, and we talked about going to Carnegie Deli and eating cheesecake until our stomachs waved a white flag of surrender. But it never was to be. After he passed away in 1991, I took my first trip there with my dear friend Rachel. I immediately fell in love with it and for the past 23 years, I return whenever I can to get my fix. What a great city.
Greenwich was lovely in every way. Carol and I had an absolute blast with the masterclass participants. Teaching and playing with Carol is like falling off a log; So. Easy. Like we’ve done it a thousand times. It was a picture perfect, crisp, fall day in a picture perfect, beautiful town. I’ll keep my fingers and toes crossed that we can return again and pick up where we left off with more extraordinary music making.
The entire week was fabulous. There were so many memorable moments, I’m not sure I can list them all here, but here are a few:
On my first full day in NYC, it rained like crazy. In fact at times, sideways. After Carol, Peter, and I rehearsed at Juilliard for our Saturday recital, Carol and I went to hear the Juilliard Chamber Orchestra. I knew it was going to be a great concert, I mean, it’s Juilliard after all. From the first note they played, I was blown away. This student led ensemble, performing without conductor, was better than many professional groups I’ve heard. Their energy and enthusiasm was incredible – some of the musicians, at times, were nearly jumping out of their seats as they played, and not in a manufactured or rehearsed sort of way. It was genuine. Every note of it.
Another thing that was notable about the group was their seating rotation. The first stand players on the first piece, moved the last stand for the second. The concertmaster for one piece became a section player in the 1st or 2nd violins for the other pieces, and then someone from the back of the section became concertmaster. All of the string sections rotated. Each musician is a section leader as well as a section player. This practice of rotation especially resonated with me because I am forever preaching to students that it’s not all about playing first. All chairs have their very distinct roles and responsibilities. Some players, unfortunately, equate playing second to some kind of demotion. Every note in every part is important.
Beethoven didn’t just write the first parts, or the big solo lines, he wrote the whole symphony. Every single part. He didn’t farm out the task of writing the second and third parts to some student in Hamburg. He wrote each and every note with the hope that players would take great care in placing it in exactly the right place at the right time with the right sound, inflection, and color.
These students did just that. It was truly remarkable.
Later in the week, I attended the chamber music concert entitled “Winds, Harps & Guitars.” It was a concert of small chamber ensembles made up of, you guessed it, winds, harps, and guitars … and a few strings. Again, amazing. What struck me at this concert, aside from the really fine playing, was the support and respect the students showed to one another. They sat in the hall as audience members before and after their performances. Afterwards, they were backstage snapping photos together, some of whom didn’t even play on the concert but were just there to hear it and support their colleagues. This kind of enthusiasm and support for one another was great to witness. I am forever preaching to my students to attend concerts, especially those of their peers. Of course, it’s a given that they should also be attending concerts by their professors, professional orchestras, chamber concerts, etc. This is the time in a music student’s life to soak up as much of this as possible. Go. Hear. Live Music. Support one another. Make it a priority to go and hear great orchestras. All of us here in the Los Angeles area are fortunate to be surrounded by many great orchestras, all within a short drive … well, OK, it’s LA, so maybe not a short drive, but you get the point. It’s not like you have to travel hours and hours just to hear a professional orchestra. Students, you should attend concerts of your peers to hear something new, expand your horizons, support your friends, and get your creative wheels turning which may very well spark your interests to peruse other chamber ensemble possibilities for your instruments. And, for that matter, we as professional musicians ought to lead by example and do the same. End rant.
Getting to meet Itzahk Perlman was another pretty awesome moment in my week. I’m not easily star struck, but I was last Thursday night. There I was, peering through the glass display case of original manuscripts at the Juilliard library, looking with great awe at Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Stravinsky’s Petrushka … when suddenly I heard someone zoom by behind me in their electric powered wheelchair. Carol, who was standing next to me, looked up and said “OH, Hi Itzhak!” It stopped me in my tracks and I whispered to Carol, “Ohmygodohmygod, introduce me, introduce me!” We had a nice, albeit brief chat, I got a chance to tell him who my Dad was, and that at the final concert my Dad played with the Detroit Symphony before his retirement, he (Perlman) was the soloist … almost exactly 30 years ago.
Spending time with family and friends in NYC is always a major highlight. There was far less time for that on this trip than there usually is. Still, I had the time for a few very special visits with my nieces and nephews, and a few friends…
Already looking forward to my return next fall!