Are Orchestra Musicians Interesting Folks?

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Are Orchestra Musicians Interesting Folks?

Post by Ralph » Tue Jul 26, 2005 9:33 pm

Beyond music
By Kyle MacMillan
Denver Post Fine Arts Critic

To get to Vail by Thursday evening on his Honda motorcycle, Alan Baer left New York City at 11 p.m. last Tuesday to avoid the traffic, finally settling in for the night in Clearfield, Pa.

Starting at 9 the next morning, he rode more than 1,000 miles to Lincoln, Neb., then finished the rest of the trip on Thursday, arriving an hour or so after his colleagues who came by bus from Denver International Airport.

Among endurance cyclists, at least, there is nothing particularly unusual about his trip - until you learn that Baer is principal tubist of the New York Philharmonic, which continues its eight-day Vail residency through Friday.

Just like many of us were stunned as children to see our elementary school teachers buying groceries or mowing their lawn it can surprise people that classical musicians actually doff their tuxedos and pursue other, often unexpected activities outside the concert hall.

"There's not a lot of things that make me truly happy," said Baer, 39, who joined the orchestra last year, "and sitting in the orchestra, blowing in the section, that's one of my favorite things to do. But if I just concentrate on my music, I go nuts."

Their rarefied vocations notwithstanding, orchestra players are as normal as most other people. But somehow a stereotype grew up around classical musicians long ago, and it endures to this day.

The performers are quite aware of the image.

"Yeah, that they're knock-kneed," said violist Judith Nelson, 51, who joined the orchestra in 1983, "and can't hit a baseball and wear thick glasses and faint at the sight of blood."

And there are a few members of the orchestra who do fit the stereotype. Nelson was even willing to name names.

"The perfect example in our orchestra is Vladimir Tsypin, the Russian violinist," she said. "He's very little. He's like my size. He always wears a top coat and his hat and carries the violin case. And he's just adorable.

"He's the perfect image of the Eastern European classical musician. Even if he didn't have the violin case, you would say he must be a musician or a mathematics professor."

But Tsypin is hardly the rule. The more than 100 members of the philharmonic are an incredibly varied lot, with interests ranging from bridge to birding and biking to browsing shops.

And the musicians pursue almost all of them and enjoy each other's company while the orchestra is in Vail for its annual residency as part of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. It's a rare opportunity to get out of New York and actually have free time on the road.

"For once, we're in a place for 10 days and can actually plan something," said Carter Brey, 50, the orchestra's principal cellist since 1996. "You can't really do that if you're on a whirlwind tour of southeast Asia. All you're doing is napping off jet lag, rehearsing and playing."

Like members of any large organization, the orchestra's musicians tend to split into small groups to pursue sports or simply have dinner after a concert.

Baer immediately took a liking to The Dusty Boot Steakhouse and Saloon in Beaver Creek. Other members of the orchestra have gravitated toward Vail's Sweet Basil and Up the Creek, where cellist Evangeline Benedetti and a colleague went after Friday's concert, running into two other musicians.

"That's very individual," said Benedetti, 64, who has been with the orchestra since 1967. "Within 106 people, you naturally gravitate toward some and not necessarily toward others. You find your friends and you do social things like that when we're here."

As Nelson strode along a path 50 feet above a cascading stream Sunday morning, clad in shorts and a tank top, the violist looked like a typical hiker and anything but a stiff-necked philharmonic musician.

The only clue to her profession were bits of discussion about composers John Adams and Elliott Carter intermingled with her efforts to identify what kind of fritillary butterfly had landed on a nearby plant.

Nelson grew up hiking with her parents in the Pacific Northwest, and her ski-bum boyfriend introduced her to backpacking when she was 19 or 20 and a student at the Aspen Music Festival. It has been a passion ever since.

"We were over the aptly named Lightning Pass at Sheep Lake, I think it's called, at 11,500 feet or something, way above tree line," she said. "I had never slept out under the stars, I don't think.

"And at high elevations, the air is very clear and very thin, and it's very dark. I took my glasses off because they were frozen over, and I couldn't see anything, and the stars were like these huge fuzzy cabbages, and it was just mind-


Last year in Vail, Benedetti and two of her colleagues, English horn player Thomas Stacy and trombonist James Markey, decided to give fly-fishing a try.

"None of us had done any fly-

fishing," she said. "The guide was a very good teacher, and we went out, and I caught a huge, about 7-inch fish. We had a wonderful time. That was sort of the highlight of Vail that time."

Brey is so passionate about his two favorite sports - sailing and running - that he has been featured in magazines devoted to each, including a long Q&A in a recent issue of Runner's World.

"People who know me primarily as a sailor or a runner, when they find out what I do and what my title is, they find that extremely interesting," he said. "It suddenly invests my involvement in their world with some sort of interest."

As much as the activities of Nelson, Benedetti and Brey raise eyebrows, no one defies the stereotype of a classical musician more than Baer.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 270 pounds, the close-cropped Baer could easily be taken for a wrestling coach or logger. Even after 20 guesses, virtually no one would divine that he was a member of the New York Philharmonic.

Not only does Baer like to ride motorcycles, he enjoys working on them, doing all the repairs and maintenance on his two bikes and the family cars. Learning his profession has startled plenty of parts suppliers.

"That's really hits them weird," Baer said. "You're a musician, and you're going to do your brake job?"

From brake jobs to Beethoven, that's the diverse New York Philharmonic.

Fine arts critic Kyle MacMillan can be reached at 303-820-1675 or
New York Philharmonic

BRAVO! VAIL VALLEY MUSIC FESTIVAL|Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail; 6 p.m. Wednesday, Bramwell Tovey, conductor, James Ehnes, violin; 6 p.m. Thursday, Xian Zhang, conductor, Lang Lang, piano (limited seating available); 6 p.m. Friday, Tovey, conductor, Lang Lang, piano|(limited seating available)|$21-$79|877-812-5700 and

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