For these musicians, a fateful first listen

Classical artists talk about the pieces that inspired them

August 15, 2014|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Music's communicative power — "such sweet compulsion," Milton called it — has been known to change lives. Hearing the right piece at the right time can make a person start to think and feel differently, maybe start down a new path.

In a thoroughly unscientific sampling, members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and other classical musicians who perform regularly in the area were asked to talk about the first works that caught their ears and hearts and have continued to inspire them.

Some surprises turned up in the responses, along with compositions that have long been very popular. The common thread in these recollections is the sense of being deeply connected and affected to the music, experiencing a process George Gershwin described this way:

"Music sets up a certain vibration [that] unquestionably results in a physical reaction," the composer of "Rhapsody in Blue" said. "Eventually, the proper vibration for every person will be found and utilized."

Here are the stories of how some local musicians discovered those proper vibrations.

Jane Marvine

"My parents used to play classical music in our house," says Jane Marvine, the BSO's principal English horn player. One work in particular made a deep impression on her growing up.

"[Stravinsky's] 'Rite of Spring' was it for me," Marvine says. "I remember sitting and listening to that record as a kid and getting all these mental images of what was happening in that music. It was so spooky and visceral."

Another piece caused an even more visceral reaction later.

"I was in my middle school orchestra and we were playing an arrangement of the last movement of Brahms' Symphony No. 1," Marvine says. "[In the coda] I got the strangest feeling, a feeling I had never had before. I was getting such a chill it kind of scared me. Every time we played it, I would get this emotional reaction during the coda. It was almost like taking a drug."

The Chicago-born Marvine, who gives her age as "the new 40s," says Brahms' First still strikes a chord. "I can't help but be moved," she says.

Bryan Young

A native of Washington, D.C. who lives in Baltimore, Bryan Young is principal bassoonist of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and member of the Poulenc Trio. He started on violin around the age of 6, but "bassoon classes were right next door, and that seemed much cooler," he says.

"I had two cassette tapes that my parents happened to have lying around the house — Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 and Mozart's Greatest Hits," Young, 40, says. "They absolutely captivated me as a kid."

When he was a sophomore in high school, the bassoonist got a deeper experience with the Shostakovich Tenth as a member of the D.C. Youth Orchestra.

"What pushed me over the edge into music was when the youth orchestra did a tour of Russia right before the fall of the Soviet Union and I got to play that symphony there," Young says. "Anytime I hear it today brings it all back. It really does."

James Wyman

BSO principal timpanist James Wyman had his first drum set before the age of 10 in his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio. In his teens, he began to feel a serious pull toward classical music.

"I got my first car in high school, a $900 Ford with a crappy cassette player," Wyman, 30, says. "The only cassette I had was Beethoven's Fifth [Symphony]. I played it until the tape broke. When I hear that symphony now, the same scene comes to mind — it's late at night, and I'm getting goose bumps when the horns come in [during] the third movement."

After he entered college to continue percussion studies, Wyman had a second major musical encounter.

"The first score I got was [Rimsky-Korsakov's] 'Scheherazade.' That kick-started the whole thing," he says. "Every time I hear 'Scheherazade,' I'm back in the dorm room, freshman year, listening along with the score, the music rushing through me the whole time."

Ah Young Hong

Soprano Ah Young Hong, who has been a soloist with many musical organizations in Baltimore and beyond, was first drawn to the piano growing up in Seoul, South Korea. Her mother was a classical pianist.

"I was really tickled when she played [Weber's] 'Invitation to the Dance.' I loved the slow introduction and the way it burst into dance," Hong, 42, says. "I would imagine a whole scene, with dancers taking bows at the end."

Hong started piano lessons at 3, but stopped at 17 ("My hands are insanely small, and I couldn't get enough sound") and went to the University of Virginia to study medicine. There, she saw an audition notice posted by a student chorus.

"Getting into the choir was what changed my perception," Hong says. "My first solo was the 'Pie Jesu' in Faure's Requiem. I remember thinking how incredible it was that, instead of a piano, my instrument was inside me. It is a beautiful memory."

Gabrielle Finck

South Dakota-born Gabrielle Finck, associate principal horn in the BSO, heard her share of young people-friendly classical music as a child, but wasn't impressed.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.