Sound of Charlotte Blog
Pianist Garrick Ohlsson has established himself worldwide as a musician of magisterial interpretive and technical prowess. Although long regarded as one of the world's leading exponents of the music of Chopin, Mr. Ohlsson commands an enormous repertoire ranging over the entire piano literature and he has come to be noted for his masterly performances of the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, as well as the Romantic repertoire.
A native of White Plains, N.Y., Garrick Ohlsson began his piano studies at the age of 8, at the Westchester Conservatory of Music; at 13 he entered The Juilliard School, in New York City. He has been awarded first prizes in the Busoni and Montreal Piano competitions, the Gold Medal at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw (1970), the Avery Fisher Prize (1994), the University Musical Society Distinguished Artist Award in Ann Arbor, MI (1998), and the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance from the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music (2014).
|1. At age 7, Michael's parents bought their first piano and he began to play. Encouraged by family and friends, he formed his first band at age 10.
2. In 2001 at a performance in Las Vegas, Billy Joel discovered Michael's vast talents and joined him on stage. Afterward, he invited Michael to join him in creating the Broadway musical Movin' Out.
3. Michael was nominated for Tony and Grammy Awards for his work on Movin' Out.
4. After Movin' Out closed in 2005, Michael began touring and quickly became one of the hottest artists in the private events market. He continues to perform worldwide for company and charity events, and at sporting events like the Super Bowl and the Indy 500.
5. In 2008, Michael debuted his first performance with symphony orchestras, The Songs of Billy Joel and More. He soon followed that up with the debut of The Music of Elton John and More in 2010.
Approaching a newly commissioned piece, I start by listening. I want the know everything: What's the occasion, and what's the purpose behind it? What are the goals for the piece? What I'm doing by asking these questions is defining basic parameters: length and instrumentations the specific instruments you want to use.
But I'm also gathering background information that helps me to create a piece that works for the community. The more descriptive, the better. It helps me understand what's important, which helps sets up my mindset as I'm conceptualizing the piece.
With Charlotte Mecklenburg, my new piece for the Charlotte Symphony, a special request in this case was that all the music was to have been inspired by a residency, which meant that I wouldn't write a note or start thinking about concepts until I'd gotten acquainted with the city.
During my four-day residency, I did just that. Enjoying great cuisine, visiting different neighborhoods, guided tours of exhibits at the Levine Museum of the New South, catching a panoramic view of the city through from way up in the Bank of America building. Meanwhile, the Symphony had arranged for me to meet and interview 12 people, from Hugh McColl to Dae-Lee, all of whom impacted the city in differing ways, and all provided answers to five questions that I'd created with the new piece in mind. The visit ended, with a live outdoor performance of the Charlotte Symphony.
After getting back, it was time to engage in two of my favorite activities, for starting new compositions brainstorming ideas and organizing them into digital scrapbooks. I compiled answers to my questionnaire and conversation notes and made a general plan of the composition based on the parameters and visit. A piece like this involved some research. By exploring Charlotte's history, cultures, and current events, I was establishing an expansive knowledge bank of ideas.
Contributed by Nkeiru Okoye, composer.
|First of all, we've heard that you lose weight every time you perform?
Yes! I'm quite physical when I play, so it's quite good exercise. I probably lose at least a couple of pounds after a two-hour performance. It almost makes up for the fact that I tend to celebrate afterwards with a huge meal! Almost.
That sounds like a good workout plan. Do you exercise off-stage, too?
Well, not as much as I used to, but I still love to play tennis and basketball, and I always seem to be running through airports to catch my plane!
You also have children you must run after quite a bit?
Yes, three. Three young boys, 8-year-old twins, and an 11 year-old. I'm trying to teach them tennis, so hopefully they will help me stay in shape.
We also hear you're a foodie.
Yes! I love food. It's one of the great joys of traveling. I love tasting foods from different regions of the world. Recent highlights were eating at Noma in Copenhagen, The French Laundry in Napa, Au Cheval in Chicago wow, what a burger! I also just got back from Asia, including Thailand, which has some of my favorite food in the world.
So what's the greatest parallel between an athlete in competition and a violinist on stage?
There are so many similarities. To excel in either, it always helps to have started young, and both require excessive training. Whether it's playing basketball or playing the violin, one must have extreme focus, and must have confidence which comes from great preparation and also from learning how to conquer ones fears and doubts under pressure - always trying to get "in the zone."
Also, as a soloist with an orchestra, you're part of a "team" effort in the presenting of music.
Absolutely. As with sports, making music is almost always a team effort. One must react to others, and know how and when to lead and when to follow. An orchestra is a lot like a football team, all with separate tasks but working toward a common goal, and the soloists job, I suppose, is to be part quarterback and part coach! (OK, maybe I've taken the analogy too far!)...It is no coincidence that I happen to love football season, and I always try my best to keep my Sundays free to watch as many games as possible! Go Panthers!
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