Concertgoers who have been watching the evolution of the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Jung-Ho Pak, its artistic director and conductor since 2007, should be conscious of this season's ongoing auditions for another position, that of concertmaster.
Mr. Pak and the orchestra are looking for a replacement for Penny Wayne-Shapiro, who held that role for the 12 seasons prior to this one.
The concertmaster heads the first violin section of the orchestra and, in some specific ways, helps lead the orchestra as a whole. Three finalists have been chosen for the position and will be, in turn, each joining the orchestra for two concerts as part of the decision process.
Asked last week to talk about how a new concertmaster could impact the evolving orchestra, Mr. Pak said, "In a way, concertmaster can be as serious a position as that of conductor." The choice of who holds that role can have as much impact on the orchestra, and its ability to change and move forward as, perhaps, the conductor, he said, albeit in a different way.
From the audience's viewpoint, the conductor gets up on the podium and waves, said Mr. Pak, who has been known to jump up or almost dance in his enthusiasm.
A concertmaster plays a very similar role but in a way the conductor cannot, Mr. Pak said. The concertmaster, who sits to the left of the conductor (from the audience's perspective), is the orchestra's first violinist. Holding an instrument, which makes sound, while the conductor does not, Mr. Pak said, gives that position a serious advantage.
Added to that, he said, the violin is one of the most visible of instruments. Eyes are drawn to it. Further, the conductor has his back to the audience much of the time, while the audience can see the concertmaster's face. The face, he said, is a window into the soul of a musician.
From the moment the concertmaster comes in and leads the orchestra in tuning, the audience learns much from watching the holder of that position. So does the orchestra. The musicians, like the audience, can pick up many cues from the manner in which a concertmaster plays.
"In a way, concertmaster can be as serious a position as that of conductor." The choice of who holds that role can have as much impact on the orchestra, and its ability to change and move forward as, perhaps, the conductor, he said, albeit in a different way.
The concertmaster, Mr. Pak said, must possess the "physical, emotional, and instructive" capabilities needed for the position.
Meet The Candidates
The three candidates the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra is now considering are all different, Mr. Pak said, and have "very, very unique perspectives."
Jae Young Cosmos Lee has already played with the orchestra. He filled the concertmaster's position at the end of September for the symphony's Gallery of Greats, two "visionary and visual" performances that linked light and art with sound.
Mr. Pak described him as being highly respected in the Boston region and as, among other roles, the founder of A Far Cry, a self-conducted, nationally known chamber orchestra. A Far Cry was founded in 2007 by a tightly-knit group of 17 young, professional musicians, and is now attracting people who are among the "crème de la crème of instrumentalists." Leading a conductorless group, Mr. Pak said, has given Mr. Lee very valuable experience. He has the ability to lead an ensemble with just his body, and can express, without words, what needs to be communicated to the musicians, and the audience.
"Many others cannot do that, not with the subtlety of the messages he can send," Mr. Pak said.
Although the CCSO is three times the size of A Far Cry, Mr. Lee has had experience with a larger orchestra, having served as the assistant concertmaster of the Boston Philharmonic. What he can communicate, although subtle, Mr. Pak said, can be perceived by a larger group. Leading a finely tuned ensemble with talent, and the great personalities that go along with it, has given him the experience to manage different temperaments.
The second candidate "couldn't be more different," Mr. Pak said. He described Leonid Sigal as a huge Russian man, a "Russian of the Old School," a violinist who plays with "discipline and has a big, juicy sound," he said.
A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Mr. Sigal has lived in the United States since 1995 and is currently the concertmaster of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
Given his extensive background and career trajectory, Mr. Pak said he felt honored that Mr. Sigal is interested in joining the CCSO.
Mr. Sigal will join the orchestra for its Passport to Italy concert, offered during two performances set for November 3 and 4.
Third, and youngest of the three candidates, is Christina McGann. She is from New York, Mr. Pak said, adding that, her youth aside, she has the requisite experience.
He said she was able to study at The Juilliard School and while, unlike the other two, her career is just beginning, her playing is "extraordinarily mature." Being concertmaster for the CCSO would be a wonderful opportunity for her.
She gained concertmaster experience at Juilliard, arguably the music school where the most gifted musicians want to study, and a place where one has to be strong to rise above an already lofty, strong, and talented crowd.
"She is 100 percent sure of what she wants to do and leads with authority," Mr. Pak said.
Ms. McCann, whom Mr. Pak described as being very exciting to hear and watch, "full of power and youthful energy," will be the CCSO's guest concertmaster in January.
Feedback To Be Sought
After all of the candidates have each played twice with the orchestra, the musicians will express their opinion, providing Mr. Pak with feedback on their skills.
Mr. Pak will have final say.
He is, in essence, choosing his onstage "alter ego." As conductor, he sets the direction; the concertmaster expresses the music, turning the conductor's vision into sound. As the orchestra watches Mr. Pak, they are looking at the concertmaster, too.
It takes a certain personality to be concertmaster, who needs to be ready to step into the breach in the conductor's absence. Concertmasters should know all of the music, not just what is required of their own instrument, and yet they "very, very rarely actually replace the conductor and get up on the podium." They take on some violin solos, but often need to step back when a guest soloist takes the stage for a concerto.
When the illusion is complete, and the entire orchestra plays as one, that's when the magic happens.
A concertmaster is a musician. Musicians might each want a different emphasis or tempo, or hear the music differently in their mind's ear, Mr. Pak said, but they need to subsume their vision to that of the conductor.
Probably, on some level, a musician in an orchestra gives up their sense of autonomy, he said. It's part of the job. They have to communicate the point of view of the conductor. They also have to turn it into something that is not only the conductor's idea.
Mr. Pak called it "an illusion" when one perceives that an entire orchestra wants to play the music exactly the way it is being played. However, he said "when the illusion is complete, and the entire orchestra plays as one, that's when the magic happens."
"All discordance is gone," he said. Success, he said, comes when "passion is on both sides. The audience sees that."
It is the ability to share and communicate vision and passion that he looks for in the candidates, not just technical expertise.
Some 15 years ago, Mr. Pak said, he saw a job satisfaction survey in a major newspaper. It listed 100 jobs, from the most to least satisfying. Number 99 was "prison guard," something he thought understandable.
The last, and least satisfying out of that list of 100, was "orchestra musician."
The Life Of An Orchestra Musician
From age 8 or 9, or even younger, that musician starts practicing. He or she envisions playing in a concert hall, becoming a soloist. That person then goes to a music conservatory, but rarely can find a paying job upon graduation. One of the brass rings, the prize held just a stretch away out of reach, is an orchestra job.
To earn such a prize, the musician goes to auditions, where the steep competition requires perfection—playing that is perfectly in tempo and without mistakes.
"That alone—that the goal is perfection, not emotion—is disheartening," Mr. Pak said. And when the musician wins, the job is "not what it's cracked up to be; your opinion doesn't count," he said.
"My job—my calling in life—is to reawaken that drop of individual fire," Mr. Pak said.
My job—my calling in life—is to reawaken that drop of individual fire.
One of the opportunities he has to do this comes when he has to make the big decisions. He always talks to members of his orchestra as the colleagues that they are. He continually asks questions such as, "Does this tempo feel comfortable?" He asks them if this or that is helping them express what they feel as an artist.
The payback from that type of communication is personal commitment and passion from orchestra members that "come across on stage," he said. "This orchestra can give them more clearly than others," he added.
The bottom line is, Mr. Pak said, the more emotional and committed the concertmaster, the more risk the orchestra will take. Without those qualities in a concertmaster, the orchestra cannot play with the "joie de vivre," not to mention rhythm and technical precision that is required.
He has set no official time frame for the naming of the new concertmaster. He hopes to have a decision made before the end of this season. That would put the new concertmaster on board as the orchestra prepares for next season.
Former concertmaster and first violinist Penny Wayne-Shapiro will be focusing on her position as director of the Wayland School of Music, which she founded in 1997 as the "Wayland Violin School," as well as performing as a soloist.
Ms. Wayne-Shapiro is also in the process of forming a music school faculty piano trio, along with cellist Zarina Irkaeva, and Sayuri Miyamoto on piano. The trio will be performing on the main stage of Wayland High School next January 25.