This weekend, Kansas City Symphony concertmaster Noah Geller performs his first solo performance in the Symphony's classical series with a beloved work by Beethoven, his Violin Concerto.
A graduate of Juilliard, Geller joined the Kansas City Symphony in September 2012. Previously, he was a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra where he served as acting assistant concertmaster. As concertmaster with the Symphony, Geller’s role is that of a facilitator between the conductor and musicians in reaching an ideal sound.
Opening up the rehearsal process
Nearly 400 people, mostly middle and high school students, are seated in Helzberg Hall for the Kansas City Symphony's open rehearsal; some kids are texting or quietly talking.
"This is what you’re supposed to do," says music director Michael Stern as he welcomes the students. "Have fun. Enjoy the music."
They cheer as he reads the names of their schools in Liberty, Mo., Lawrence, Olathe, and Spring Hill, Kan.
The first work on tap is Bach’s Air on a G String. It's an addition to the program in memory and honor of R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. who died on January 2, at the age of 86. Stern says it demonstrates "how directly and simply music can sound like a prayer."
A moment in the sun
After some enthusiastic applause, the Symphony runs through the more minimalist Fantasia on an Ostinato. This work by contemporary composer John Corigliano was inspired by a movement in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
Stern follows up with detailed feedback and reviews sections. "We need a little more rhythmic definition. Let’s start at 'bump de bump de'," he says, singing the notes. He holds up his baton for the orchestra to begin again, "At 15, and 1, 2, 3."
A short break, then concertmaster Noah Geller walks on stage, in a dark gray suit and collared shirt. At 6’ 4’’, Geller – with glasses and short, tightly curled hair– resembles a taller and slimmer version of actor and comedian Seth Rogen.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Noah Geller!" announces Stern.
The orchestra starts to play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Geller sways a bit, from side to side to the music, then casually tucks his violin under his chin. He bows lightly, with expression, along with the other violinists, as he stands just to the left of Stern.
Geller has a muscular style with lots of movement, bending his knees. Stern looks over at Geller from time to time; he punctuates the air with his baton, as Geller steps forward on the stage, playing alone, reaching impossibly high notes.
The final note fades, and Geller’s colleagues, holding their instruments, stomp their approval with their feet. Some clap with their hands, or with bows tapping against violins.
"Wasn’t he great?" Stern asks the students who respond with vigorous applause.
Questions and answers
During the question and answer time, Stern calls the Violin Concerto "deceptively simple." And Geller asks the audience, "Did it seem simple?" to laughter. They continue with lively patter and camaraderie.
"Michael Stern. He’ll be here all day," jokes Geller.
Stern says when he and Geller started to talk about a solo, he asked Geller what he'd like to play. "And he said, 'Beethoven.'"
"It’s one of my favorite concertos," says Geller, who's played the violin since the age of 5. He adds that he’s spent the last three to four months "obsessing over the piece."
"It’s obviously very long," he says, when describing the challenges. "It takes a lot of stamina.
"I think for this piece, you have to have your own voice. There’s no way to fake it. If you don’t understand the structure, the essence of the music, it’s not going to come off well."
Kansas City Symphony presents John Corigliano's Fantasia on an Ostinato, Beethoven's Violin Concerto, with Noah Geller on violin, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, January 10 - 12, 2014, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo.
Bach's Air on a G String will also be performed in memorial and honor of R. Crosby Kemper, Jr.