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This article was published 29/3/2017 (1060 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The term "prodigy" has been a prickly bone of contention for years. The question whether it’s "nature" or "nurture" that ultimately produces great artists is still one that’s hotly debated — with no clear resolution in sight.
The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (MCO) is putting all that aside tonight when it features two rising stars of note: New Zealand-born conductor Gemma New and American double bassist Sam Casseday. The eclectic Young Prodigies Concert, which features music by Alan Bell, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Josef Suk and another great prodigy, Mozart, will be held at Westminster United Church at 7:30 p.m.
"It’s going to be a very exciting program because we have lots of energy," the 30-year old maestra quips over the phone from St. Louis, where she serves as resident conductor for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, in addition to leading the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. "The overall mood will be happiness and light, which will be really wonderful to listen to and also to conduct."
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, New first discovered her passion for conducting while serving as concertmaster for her high-school youth orchestra. After being offered a golden opportunity to lead the ensemble through J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, the then-15-year old New became smitten with wielding a baton rather than her usual violin bow, knowing she had found her life’s work.
"I became fascinated with how the conductors who led our orchestra were able to bring the power of people together to play music in harmony," she recalls of that time. "When I first took the podium, I felt immediately, ‘Yes, this is it. This is how I can best express music.’ "
New, who calls all of St. Louis, Hamilton and Miami home, left New Zealand in 2009 to study with world-famous Swiss maestro Gustav Meier at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. She credits her own natural curiosity and innate love for "deep analysis of music" with becoming one of the most highly sought conductors in North America.
Tonight she teams up with the MCO and Casseday, who makes his professional solo debut to perform Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, in A Major — a.k.a. "The Turkish" transcribed for his big fiddle. The Jacksonville, Fla.-born artist is graduating from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music this spring and has already begun the rigorous audition process for an orchestra position either in the United States or Canada, in addition to building his career as a solo artist.
"Sam is a stunning, amazing player — both technically and musically. He played the first movement of the Mozart concerto he’ll play with us, and all the judges agreed he played it better than most violinists do," enthuses Manitoba Chamber Orchestra music director Anne Manson, who first heard the dynamo in action in California while adjudicating at Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West last summer.
"I can’t describe how difficult it is to play violin repertoire on the double bass, but believe me, it’s a bit like climbing Everest. He was by far the best musician in the competition... and that’s why I invited him to play with the MCO."
Playing the enormous instrument came as naturally to Casseday as breathing, who first began lessons on a half-sized cello at age five. His father plays bass and his mother is a cellist with the Jacksonville Orchestra. He performs on his father’s 300-year old Italian instrument, although will be playing a travel-friendly loaner this evening.
Performing an iconic work so closely tied to many of the world’s greatest violinists will invariably draw comparisons. Casseday, who studied with renowned bassist Edgar Meyer at the Curtis Institute, says his greatest challenge is not "merely" navigating the three-movement work’s thorny technical demands, but tackling listeners’ preconceived ideas of what the double-bass can actually do.
"I’m very much aware that it’s going to be a shocking thing to hear this piece on a bass," Casseday says from his home in Philadelphia. "Bass players have been trying to change the stigma that we’re just an orchestral-minded people, and so I encourage everyone to keep an open mind. I’m sure the orchestra is going to be awesome, and am just very, very excited to get up there and play one of the great masterworks for any instrument."
For tickets or further information, visit themco.ca.
The Winnipeg Boys’ Choir marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge with the world première of Fallen, by Andrew Balfour, during St. Luke’s Anglican Church’s regular morning service on April 9. The next day, the group heads to the Manitoba legislature to perform for an audience including Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, followed by a noon-hour observance of the centenary.
The ensemble will also jet to Ottawa to perform in a massed choir led by Lydia Adams on Canada Day, following the choir’s all-Canadian spring concert This is My Home to be held April 21 at 1 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. For more information, visit winnipegboyschoir.ca.