It’s been a busy season for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and there are many exciting performances coming our way in 2019. In the spirit of a new year beginning, we wanted to introduce our readers to some of the orchestra’s newest members, who have joined the BPO within the past year. Buffalo Rising did a little Q&A with them to learn more about their musical backgrounds, their roles in the orchestra, and their experiences performing with the BPO.
Assistant Conductor, Community Engagement
Well, I am originally from Chicago, IL. I started my journey with violin lessons when I was 8 years old. I wanted to conduct from that age too; my attention being grabbed by film music. When I was in sixth grade, I began study at the Merit School of Music, which was the formative level of my music education until college. Merit introduced me to a much broader musical world than I had known previously. I participated in choir at my high school my last two years, and I began playing viola my senior year. In college I studied voice, because I love to conduct choral orchestral masterworks, and in grad school I finished with an orchestral conducting degree. I have had many influential teachers in my life, and they have stood out because they trained me, but they also believed in me, which is not something every musician I have come across has done.
My previous life was as a professional trumpet player. I played principal trumpet in the Sarasota Orchestra for 12 years before I decided to branch out into conducting. I began with projects in Sarasota, did a number of masterclasses in the U.S. and abroad and eventually decided to go back to school at the University of Michigan and the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Also during this time, I co-founded a contemporary music ensemble in Orlando and conducted community and youth orchestras in Michigan, Indiana and Virginia. I was finishing an Artist Diploma at Peabody last year when I was invited to audition here in Buffalo for this position. Obviously it worked out and I’m thrilled to be working with such an amazing orchestra and organization. Timing could not have been better!
I am from a tiny town in Maine called Harpswell, so I suppose it must have been fate that I would be a professional harpist! I started studying the harp when I was five years old, and went on receive my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music, as a student of the incredible harpist Yolanda Kondonassis. Also along the way, I have been fortunate enough to receive top prizes at the Munich ARD International Solo Competition, American Harp Society Solo Competition among others; and perform at festivals such as Tanglewood, Aspen, Spoleto, Pacific Music Festival in Japan, BRAVO Vail, and Strings Festival in Steamboat Springs. My first orchestral position was Principal Harp with the Sarasota Orchestra, where I was honored to work for eight years. I met my future husband, cellist Abraham Feder, on our first day of work!
When Abe joined the Dallas Symphony and prior to joining the BPO, I spent two exciting years freelancing, performing and touring extensively with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as Lyric Opera as Chicago, and the Dallas Symphony. My audition for BPO was last spring, and I officially joined our incredible orchestra in the fall of 2018.
I was born in Bloomington, IN, where I grew up playing the violin, and studied in the pre-college program at Indiana University. After a little soul searching at Vanderbilt University where I double majored in music and pre-med, I transferred to Indiana University where I completed my bachelor of music with Atar Arad. While at the University, I won the concerto competition and performed Hindemith Der Schwanendreher as a soloist with the Indiana University chamber orchestra. I was asked to represent the school at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., performing in the “Conservatory Project” concert series. For my master’s, I attended The Juilliard School where I studied with Samuel Rhodes and Rodger Tapping. I had an exciting career in New York, with one of my most thrilling experiences being to work with former BPO music director Michael Tilson Thomas as a member of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra in Sydney, After completing my degrees, I moved to Miami Beach to join the New World Symphony until recently winning the principal viola position with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. And yes, the change in weather has been quite a shock!
I moved from Seoul to Germany with my family when I was 9, and then to the Netherlands two years later. When I was 15, I was admitted to the Preparatory Course at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam to study with Alexander Kerr, who was the concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at that time (he is currently the concertmaster of Dallas Symphony Orchestra and professor of violin at Indiana University). Two years later, he decided to return to the US, and I followed him to study at Indiana University for my bachelor’s degree. Through my teacher and the amazing orchestra program at IU (the school has six major orchestras), I developed my interest in orchestral playing. For my master’s degree, I went to Eastman School of Music to study with Oleh Krysa (prominent student of David Oistrakh). Upon graduating, I was awarded the Performer’s Certificate—an honor for demonstrating outstanding performing ability, and an Orchestral Studies Diploma through the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. I continued to study with Prof. Krysa for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree, which I completed last year. I was teaching assistant for Prof. Krysa for three years.
I grew up in Austin, Texas and started playing the clarinet when I entered middle school, and I haven’t stopped since! I studied clarinet performance at the New England Conservatory in Boston for my undergrad and Temple University in Philadelphia for my master’s. I met my wife, bassoonist Rose Vrbsky, at the New England Conservatory, and then I followed her to Philadelphia, where we both finished school, and then lived for a few years after while freelancing in the area. Then, I got a job in the Rochester Philharmonic and we lived there for 5 years before eventually arriving here in Buffalo. At NEC, I studied with Tom Martin, who is the associate principal clarinetist of the Boston Symphony, and at Temple I studied with Ricardo Morales, who is the principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Actually, the first time I heard the BPO was when Ricardo was playing the Mozart Concerto here a few years ago and I drove over from Rochester to hear it. Small world! I spent two summers as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, and also participated as a fellow at the Pacific Music Festival (Japan), Aspen Music Festival, and the New York String Orchestra Seminar, among others. Also, I’ve been a member of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra since 2016, and have performed as a substitute with a number of orchestras across the country, including as guest principal clarinet with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Oregon Symphony.
BRO: Can you tell us how you came to perform with the BPO? What has the experience been like so far, both with the BPO and the City of Buffalo?
Todd: My wife and I moved to the Allentown district at the end of July last year and we have been enormously impressed by the city: The vitality of the downtown area, Elmwood village, the restaurant scene, great coffee houses, etc.
My first experience performing with the BPO was at the Hispanic Heritage concert in September and it was absolutely thrilling! Since then, I have conducted a number of education and family concerts, and it has been so great to see the number of kids that fill Kleinhans Music Hall and get to experience the orchestra, many of them for the first time. It’s a wonderful thing to feel that you are a part of that positive impact on kids.
Caroline: The New World Symphony, where I was before the BPO, is sort of like a training orchestra for musicians after they’ve graduated from undergrad/grad school. It’s only for 3 years, but it gives you the time, training, and space to practice and prepare for auditions. For any orchestra job, musicians have to apply for an audition. Qualified candidates are invited to audition in person. Since orchestra positions are usually tenure track, jobs don’t open up very often so the competition is intense. Some years, there may only be 5-10 viola job openings in the entire country. The orchestra then provides everyone with a list of what they could ask you to play, so you must prepare all of it, and during the 3 round audition process, the hiring committee will choose excerpts from this list. When I auditioned for the BPO, it was for the position of principal viola, a leadership position, so I also had to play extra solo excerpts and play a trial week with the orchestra. I remember being so nervous to just jump in and play with a group of musicians I didn’t even know, but everyone was so welcoming! I’ve come to see that the orchestra really reflects the city of Buffalo itself. The people are what make this city so special. My first winter here (especially after moving from Miami Beach), I was nervous and honestly not looking forward to all the snow and freezing temperatures, but then I saw people on Allen Street running out of the bars to help stuck drivers get home. Whether it’s the weather, sports, amazing food/beer, or music, the people of Buffalo are some of the best I’ve found. Still getting used to the weather though!
BRO: What are some of the challenges being a professional musician/conductor? What are some of the benefits?
Jaman: One of the foremost challenges as a conductor is the rehearsal process. Instrumental and vocal musicians have the benefit of having their instruments with them, whereas the “instrument” of a conductor is the ensemble he/she conducts. As such, there is a lot of isolated preparation that takes place. By isolated, I mean not having access to the instrument to figure out what works or doesn’t; until you are in the context of a rehearsal when the margin for error is smaller than it would be in a practice room.
One of great benefits is being able to meet different people from all walks of life. As a conductor, you are more visible than the musicians in the orchestra. I take this in stride and try to make connections with as many people as I can regardless of age, because I am all about presenting the conductor as a real person that connects with real people.
Hee: The biggest challenge of being a professional musician, like many other professions, is keeping myself disciplined and using my time effectively. We, the BPO, often perform three different programs in a week, and we have to make sure that we stay in top shape for our performances. Many of my non-musician friends were surprised to hear that we rehearse for a concert from one to four days only. We have to dedicate ourselves to many practice hours before and during those rehearsals, and stay really focused when in concert on the stage. When I first started playing with the BPO, keeping up my stamina was another challenge for me. I remember that I used to take naps after every single rehearsal because my brain and body were so tired. However, all these challenges are forgotten when we go on stage and create the most beautiful, unified sound. It is like putting a puzzle together—musicians with different personalities and playing styles come together to create a great masterpiece. It is an amazing feeling to be part of it, and I feel so awarded when I hear the audience applaud.
BRO: Any favorite places or experiences in the City of Buffalo?
Cheryl: I have enjoyed some delicious food in Buffalo, haha! I’m vegetarian, and have loved going to the Lexington Co-op, Breadhive (the tofu scramble breakfast bagel!), and Perks Café. This will sound crazy, but I have also loved experiencing the seasons change, even winter! I spent ten years in Florida and Texas, and really missed fall, snow, cozy fires, all that. Ask me again in March, and I might have changed my mind though!
Caroline: I love to go hiking, so I’ve loved living in a city that allows me to be so close to nature. I also joined a curling league last year, and that was pretty incredible. (I have to mention the Buffalo Curling Club!) Honestly, I feel like I still have so much to discover. I’ve loved living in the Elmwood area so close to so many great spots.
William: My wife and have lived in the Elmwood Village since moving here, and we absolutely love walking and running to Delaware Park and Hoyt Lake, where we initially enjoyed going with our dog, and more recently, with our daughter Penelope, who was born last July. Having a Buffalo baby has definitely been my most memorable experience here! Favorite spot in town is probably Tipico Coffee, even when I don’t have to be at Kleinhans for work. Also, I think I go to Lexington Co-op at least 6 times a week… it’s a problem!
BRO: Are there any upcoming BPO performances in particular that you are excited about?
Jaman: On February 15th and 16th, the BPO is performing Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, and Holst’s The Plants. These are huge powerhouse pieces of the repertoire, and it will be my first time hearing either of these live, and I am really excited for it.
Todd: I’m really excited to conduct a few movements of Mahler’s 1st symphony at the end of this month. I get to work with both the players in the orchestra and the students from the Greater Buffalo Youth Symphony in a side-by-side concert. It is some of my favorite music, and I also love working with kids.
Hee: This season is filled with so many exciting programs. I am looking forward to playing the Planets by Gustav Holst, and Harry Potter at the Shea’s in February. In March, I am excited about Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and the Wonderful Music of Oz concert. Finally, I am super excited about playing Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony in May. The “Eroica” is the first full symphony I have ever played when I went to college, so I am very attached to that piece.
BRO: Is there a favorite piece of music that you would like to perform during your tenure with the BPO?
William: I would love to play Stravinsky’s Fairy’s Kiss here! I’ve only played it once before, and it is really fantastic. It doesn’t get heard as much as his big three of: Rite of Spring, Firebird, and Petrushka, but it’s totally worth it! As a bonus, how about Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7? Haven’t played that in a while and I’d like to see it soon!
Todd: I would really love to conduct some works of Aaron Copland, one of my favorite composers. I’m looking forward to conducting one of my very favorite pieces in the repertoire next season with the BPO: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.
Caroline: I would love to perform Mahler Symphony No. 2 with the BPO. It was the piece that made me want to play in an orchestra someday. I had never really thought about being a musician professionally before but something about that performance was magical. It was in this colosseum-like performance venue in Granada, Spain, and we had to start at 10PM because it was too hot earlier in the day. It was the only piece on the program, but then again it is about 90 minutes long. The piece is known as the Resurrection symphony. It deals with redemption and the afterlife. It has such an epic beginning, and instead of a typical 4 movement symphony, [Mahler] adds a movement and a surprise—a soprano, alto, and chorus. This symphony, especially the 4th movement, is in my opinion some of the most beautiful music ever written. For me, it would be so cool to come full circle and play it with the BPO now that I’ve realized my dream of becoming a professional musician.
This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.