The Sarasota Orchestra's upcoming concert, "Mozart and Mendelssohn," features its first guest conductor and soloist since March 12, 2020!
Maestro Stephen Mulligan, violin soloist David Coucheron, concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the string section of the Sarasota Orchestra will present Mendelssohn's Sinfonia No. 9 and Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 live in Holley Hall April 15-18, with streaming viewing April 22-27.
Take a listen as Stephen and David tell us about their musical journeys (including 5-years at the Sarasota Music Festival!), their experiences during the Covid-19 shutdown, these two wonderful pieces of music, and so much more (how DOES one care for a violin made in 1725?????) on this episode of the Suncoast Culture Club podcast.
Come along and join the club!
• Sarasota Orchestra Website & Facebook & Instagram & Twitter & YouTube
• Conductor Stephen Mulligan Website
• The Pops Orchestra of Bradenton and Sarasota Website & Facebook & Instagram
• State College of Florida Music Program Website & Facebook & Instagram
Support the show (https://scf-foundation.org/suncoastcultureclub/)
Robyn Bell: My friends I have with me today, the surest sign that normalcy in the arts might be coming back as the Sarasota Orchestra has a guest conductor and a guest soloists for their upcoming concert called Mozart and Mendelssohn. And lo and behold, they are joining us on the Suncoast Culture Club podcast to take a deep dive with us into their lives, their careers, their experience with COVID the past year and this wonderful program they are doing with the string section of the Sarasota Orchestra. My first guest is conductor Stephen Mulligan. . He wrapped up his third season with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra prior to COVID where he was the associate conductor and was also the music director for the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. He has been a Dudamel conducting fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and has appeared as guest conductor for the St. Louis symphony, the Florida Orchestra in Tampa, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, my hometown orchestra of Amarillo. The Amarillo Symphony has won the Aspen Conducting Prize and then subsequently served as the assistant conductor of the Aspen Music Festival. That is just a very short list of all of his accomplishments, Maestro, Stephen Mulligan. Welcome to the club.
Stephen Mulligan: Thank you Robyn. Thanks for having me. Are you from Amarillo?
Robyn Bell: I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. I've got the boots to prove
Stephen Mulligan: No kidding.
Robyn Bell: Garth Brooks taught me how to play the violin.
Stephen Mulligan: All right.
Robyn Bell: no. I'm a trumpet player. So, and actually many don't know this Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood just bought a home on Anna Maria Island right here on the Bay.
Stephen Mulligan: Well, congratulations.
Robyn Bell: I, no, maybe we'll run into them at dinner sometime.
So, Stephen, let's take a second and go way back. You come from a musical family, so I'm sure that had something to do with it, but people don't just say, I want to be a conductor, you know, give us your backstory. What instrument did you start on? When did the music bug hit you and what steps in your career led you to taking a baton in your hand and start waving that stick for a living?
Stephen Mulligan: Hmm, that's a great question. I knew from early on that I wanted to be a conductor. But I didn't admit it. conductors. So, you know, I think it's somehow like, , to admit your ambition to the world, it takes some, conviction. And I grew up with a father who plays the violin very well. It plays in the Baltimore symphony and is tough on conductors. And you can imagine the secret dream. That a young boy, Harbor's hearing those kinds of conversations at the dinner table.
Robyn Bell: Yep. You can't let dad down, right? If you go that route and maybe, you get a chance to conduct your dad and her dad's like, I can't follow you at all. I mean, that'd be awful.
Stephen Mulligan: What is he doing up there? But , he started me on the violin. He started my brother on the violin as well. We, played violin together and I love the violin. I love playing violin, but I knew from observing his career that I didn't want to life as a professional violinist. So I tried to do all sorts of musical things. I love to sing in chorus, played a youth orchestra, playing a rock band, just whatever that could get my hands on in high school and college. Accumulating all of these different experiences and meeting all sorts of musical artists of all types, but , the inner longing was always to one day, make the shift to conducting
Robyn Bell: Right? Yeah. it didn't happen for me until the conducting class in college where it's very similar to sixth grade band or nobody could get a sound on the trumpet and mine went, you know, it's like, Nobody in conducting class knew anything, but it was very natural and it was obvious, so a little different route, but I understand once that, that happened, then you have to decide, is this how I'm going to make my music now from a box rather than with something in my hands, you know, blowing or bowing has I say?
Stephen Mulligan: Blowing or bowing that's right. beading. We can't forget the percussionists.
Robyn Bell: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Sometimes I often do. Thank you for that. So, you decide you're going to be a conductor. You'd go get some training. Where did you go to college?
Stephen Mulligan: I went to Yale University for my undergrad.
Right. Yep. That's small school in Connecticut. And, um, that was an interesting experience. People often ask me about, Oh, but Yale is not a music school. Right. Or oh but the music degree at Yale. It's not a performance degree. Right. And that's true. There's a music department in the undergrad, and then there's a separate conservatory of music, which is mainly for graduate students, but it was great because I was able to be exposed to the really high level of playing at the conservatory. And I was able to take violin lessons at the conservatory and play in some groups, like a small Baroque orchestra, for example, that would loan out their Baroque instruments that was on the conservatory. And then on the side of that, I had , a very rigorous, music theory, music, history, composition. That was the music major at Yale.
Robyn Bell: Right. Did you ever run into my buddy, Tom Duffy?
Stephen Mulligan: Yes, I did. Yes. I think I wound up, somehow irritating him about rehearsal schedules and using the rehearsal rooms , in the band.
Robyn Bell: Marching band.
Stephen Mulligan: yes. Oh, , I learned quickly. saw Tom Duffy. Do some Ives piece and he was conducting poly rhythms in his left. And right-hand, that's my lingering memory Maestro Duffy.
Robyn Bell: Yes, my Symphonic Band just performed a piece of his on this concert we just that the college and I had him on the podcast to talk to them about his piece. And it turns out his brother is the Lieutenant for the Manatee County fire and rescue right here in Bradenton and Sarasota. Well, he comes here all the time to visit his brother. I said, well, when you come down and you get bored with your brother, or give me a call and I'll show you the cultural side of the Suncoast, so,
Stephen Mulligan: Yeah. Cool. Very cool.
Robyn Bell: okay. So you finish at Yale, you get your, bachelor of music degree there,
Stephen Mulligan: Yes.
Robyn Bell: And then how do you get your toes wet on, being a conductor from there?
Stephen Mulligan: Well, I applied to a bunch of conducting graduate schools. This is a leap that's hard for some young conductors. Maybe you remember this too, that. There's not really a clear path on how to get into graduate school as a conductor. And simultaneously there are no undergraduate conducting programs,
Robyn Bell: That's right. It's only a master's.
Stephen Mulligan: Which is bizarre. And in Europe, it's not true at all. People can start conducting as undergrads. So, when I was at Yale, I was just conducting so poorly. I'm so sorry to , all of my fellow Yale students who works with undergrad, but you've got to start somewhere and you buy everybody pizza and beer and you, hit record on the video camera and , I would send my tapes to whatever professional conductor, whoever's attention I could grab. And they would tell me things like don't stab the orchestra. Your face looks really tense. You know, some very unhelpful little suggestions, but I was starting to get a feel for how, difficult the enterprise was. I did manage to get auditions at some of the top music schools, and then the path became a little bit more clear because at places like Curtis and Juilliard, for example, you have to do these very difficult ear training exercises, like taking dictations of four part chorales or, fugues, or you have to read scores. I don't know how many conductors you have on your podcast, but if your listeners aren't used to hearing about preparing score hurts, it's a very intense process and reading all the different clefs and, reading many musical lines at a time is a necessary part of the job. And when you learn that in America, at least you have to take it upon yourself at some point to develop those skills. Kind of without outside help.
Robyn Bell: Yes. That's very, very true the undergraduate curriculum does not prepare you for that.
Yeah. So you get into.
Stephen Mulligan: So I went to Peabody
Robyn Bell: Peabody. Oh, in Baltimore.
Stephen Mulligan: Yeah. Where I'm from. And that was amazing. I studied with the late great Gustav Maier who was such a generous soul and such a beautiful natural music maker. and I loved my time at Peabody. That's really wonderful.
Robyn Bell: And then you have to start looking for real jobs at some point.
Stephen Mulligan: That's right. So then I had a, sort of an in-between year. I had all of these gigs in Baltimore. I conducted a church chorus in Annapolis and I was teaching violin lessons and I was conducting the Johns Hopkins Chamber Orchestra. , I had started my own group called the Occasional Symphony. I'm sure. musicians in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, all over the country. , no. What? It's like to string it together and that's what I was doing.
Robyn Bell: I love that name, the Occasional Symphony.
Stephen Mulligan: Thanks.
Robyn Bell: And so how did you then end up in your latest job with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra?
Stephen Mulligan: I was really lucky to be accepted to the Aspen Conducting Program, which is high on the list of, places to study for young conductors. It's a summer festival. Of course, the Aspen Music Festival and School and they have a great training program for conductors. Generally people who have already been through graduate school, but aren't quite ready for a big job, or perhaps they just won a big job and they have sort of polishing off, making that transition from graduate school to being a professional.
Robyn Bell: And people in our world would automatically know that Robert Spano the conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is also the main guy at the Aspen Music Festival. And so here's where I start to see that connection of it's all about inner personal connections.
Stephen Mulligan: Right. So my first summer at Aspen, I didn't know Robert at all, and it took me a couple of months to figure out what his program was really about how to grow, within that very intense, and competitive environment. So my first summer was a real summer of, change and growth. And then I went back to my second summer, to have another summer of study. And in my second summer, Robert and I became closer, and he invited me then for the following summer to be his assistant in Aspen after which he gave me an audition in Atlanta
Robyn Bell: Very nice. And that worked out pretty well for you. I say.
Stephen Mulligan: Yep. Very lucky. Very grateful for everything that happens.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. Yeah. The Atlanta symphony orchestra is an amazing musical organization. And just being around those musicians and him as a mentor conducting teacher, I'm sure , you're just like a sponge there.
Stephen Mulligan: . Oh yeah. He changed my life. The ASO changed my life absolutely.
Robyn Bell: So as a conductor here comes Friday, March 13th, 2020. What was happening in your world when our industry shut down? And what have you been doing the past year? Stephen
Stephen Mulligan: Oh, I was buzzing around conducting here and there. Not expecting anything to change. You know, I think like a lot of my colleagues, I don't know if you felt this way, Robyn but at first I thought, okay, a second to catch my breath. Of course, I was concerned about the imminent public health disaster, but we couldn't really see the scope of it at that point. Right.
Robyn Bell: Right. And I agree. It was like, okay, one or two weeks, this will all pass. Yep.
Stephen Mulligan: It's always busy with the ASO, but , I have a memory that last March was particularly hectic. So took a few days to get my ducks in a row. and we were in meetings, the artistic team and the senior leadership meetings around the clock about trying to figure out what to delay, what to cancel, how to talk to patrons, how to talk to the youth orchestra students. And of course everything eventually was, canceled. I was especially sad not to say goodbye to everybody because everything with the ASO and with the AAS WYO, the youth orchestra was just, canceled and deferred. And I had been planning to move to Germany that summer. And so. The time came and I left without having said goodbye to anyone. Except of course, online, that was very difficult. And I haven't seen anybody since.
Robyn Bell: Well, thank goodness. So for social media, because we really can all stay connected, it's not the same, but at least there is that where, you know, 10, 20 years ago, it would've been very difficult. I can only imagine you said you were moving to Germany in the summer that, and that did happen. So that had to be hard in a pandemic move to Germany.
Stephen Mulligan: That was really difficult. And before I tell you how crazy that was, I'll also tell you how crazy I am and tell you that I, actually don't have social media.
Robyn Bell: Oh, okay. Well that, saves you a lot of time. I can tell you,
Stephen Mulligan: It does. but it also. You know, I miss some of these opportunities to, connect with people who use it primarily. And don't always think of the few weirdos like me who are not on social media anyway, moving to Germany during the pandemic was very difficult.
Robyn Bell: I can imagine before we started recording, you're telling me that, your partner, your girlfriend is over there, she's a violinist and she's got work. And so that is going to become home base for you. and so even though you're going to be here in Sarasota and you're here in America right now, you, possibly see yourself doing more on the European Do you speak German?
Stephen Mulligan: Now I do.
Robyn Bell: Now you do
Stephen Mulligan: Yeah, full immersion,
Robyn Bell: That's funny. It's another interesting skill to have, to be able to. Converse, you know, music is its own language, but then if you go to France and you need to be able to talk in French, and then you go to Spain, you need to be able to talk in Spanish. So good luck with that. Will this engagement coming up with the Sarasota Orchestra be your first time conducting a concert in over a year.
Stephen Mulligan: Yes, that's right. It will be the first time
Robyn Bell: Wow. Your batons are so lonely. You have to build those callouses back up on your hands.
Stephen Mulligan: Yeah. Right, right. Or not use a baton. We'll have to see because the size of the orchestra is on the smaller side and it's just strings. So I might not need one, but I'll bring it. Wait to see what the, space is like and how the sight lines are. , I think in COVID times the string players don't have stand partners and people are spread out on stage. So if there's any difficulty seeing, you know, third row back in the violins, for example, then I'll use it,
Robyn Bell: Okay. Interesting. People ask me all the time, do you ever conduct without a baton , and I don't, but you leave that option open for yourself. Yeah, very cool. Well, the Sarasota Orchestra working with Jeffrey Kahane has done a magnificent job planning a season with all strings and percussion in the concert hall while the brass and the woodwind players have been doing outside chamber music, concerts, and various parks around town. It's just been wonderful.
Stephen Mulligan: That's amazing. Congratulations to the Sarasota Orchestra. That's really a testament to importance of music and the community and hard work of the staff musicians. amazing.
Robyn Bell: Yeah. And finding a way to make it work, , we've all really applauded them. And, I've been talking with some of the string players in the orchestra that I know, and they've really enjoyed getting to play, you know, in some cases discover for the first time the string only literature I've always found the Mendelssohn sinfonias fascinating. And most people don't realize the historical background of those. So with the Sarasota Orchestra, you'll be conducting Mendelssohn's ninth Sinfonia of which there are 13. So share with our listeners, the significance of these 13 sinfonias and Felix Mendelssohn's total output. And what makes this ninth one interesting to you?
Stephen Mulligan: Sure. so Mendelssohn was regarded as sort of a second coming of Mozart. In his time he was born into a musical family and prodigious really talented was writing operas at 10. and, a, master piano player and also quite a fine painter from a young age. So this is a very special person. The sinfonias he wrote between the ages of. They were in some ways like, counterpoint exercises from his composition teacher. And not to say that we're performing a piece of homework, but that the reason that they came to exist, is that his, traditional German composition teacher said, it's, very important to master the art of counterpoint, which is the art of setting two or more melodies together at the same time and the way that you treat harmony and the way that you treat consonances. So beautiful intervals with dissonances. So the intervals that have a little bit more tension and Mendelssohn use this opportunity to create these sort of contrapuntal fireworks in these
Robyn Bell: That's a great description of that.
Stephen Mulligan: yeah. Thank you. He knew Mozart's music. He had done a piano arrangement of the Jupiter Symphony when he was very young. And so he was mastering this, intricate style of multiple simultaneous melodies already S as such a young boy. I mean, it's really just unbelievable and fantastic. And then on top of that, not only is the intricacy of these pieces spectacular, but there's such personality in the parts of the piece that don't work like that. The entire piece is not just contrapuntal fireworks. There are really exuberant melodies. There's a gorgeous, slow movement, a very dramatic introduction and the personality in each of these different sections. it's so convincing. I mean, you can't imagine that an 11 year old wrote it
Robyn Bell: It's mind boggling. I teach music appreciation at the State College of Florida and we'll get to Fannie and Felix Mendelssohn, Fannie being his sister, and we talk about their lives and support of their parents. And I tell the students, , there was a pretty wealthy family and they saw this talent in their kids and Felix would write one of these sinfonias and they would just hire a little orchestra to come to their house and Felix would practice with them and then put a little family concert on
Stephen Mulligan: Nice life. Right.
Started conducting career. Just hire your own orchestra every weekend.
Robyn Bell: I think we figured this out, Stephen Okay. Yeah. Super cool. Because just think of the education for the two of them, the brothers and sister that you write this piece of music and it makes sense to me, the sinfonias is him being so young because it's just the string section. So he hasn't yet got into that realm of writing for the flutes and oboes and bassoons, which has a whole nother added layer. Right. But yeah, I wrote this piece of music. Mom, can you bring in an orchestra so I can perform it? Oh, sure. Little Felix.
Stephen Mulligan: Right, right. Well, you can be sure that the parents had plans for them,
Robyn Bell: No. Well, congratulations, Stephen you are officially now part of the club. If our listeners have not purchased their ticket to see this performance live in Holley Hall on April 15th through the 18th or through the Sarasota Orchestra streaming service, April 22nd through 27th, you can go to the Sarasota orchestra's firstname.lastname@example.org, to get your chance to take this beautiful concert in now, Stephen, you already said that you do not have social media. I'm very proud of you for that, uh, that that is like a feat to be, have a conducting career without social media. let's say though, our listeners do want to follow you and see what's going on in your life. Do you have a website they can tune into.
Stephen Mulligan: I do have a website. And I would love to hear from people. I try to respond to every message that I get. And I, love when people reach out. So the website is, Stephen with a pH, a
Robyn Bell: Stephen, a mulligan.com. We will put a link to that in our show notes. So if listeners are listening on our website, they can just click right there to get to know a little bit more about you now, Stephen I know there's another piece of music on this program. The wonderful Mozart violin concerto, number three, that you will be conducting with guests, violin, soloist, David Coucheron and we are going to visit with him about that piece after the break. But I want to thank you for joining us today and sharing your story. Let's give a big cheer to the arts opening back up, and please try to enjoy your week in paradise. As you prepare with the orchestra on this fabulous program,
Stephen Mulligan: Thank you Robyn Thanks for having me in your club.
Robyn Bell: We'll be back with violin soloists, David Coucheron right after this break.
Robyn Bell: Welcome back to the Suncoast Culture Club. Where today we are talking about the Sarasota Orchestras, upcoming concert, Mozart and Mendelssohn, which will be performed live in Holley hall, April 15th through 18th and available for streaming viewing April 22nd through 27th, we just finished speaking with guest conductor, Stephen Mulligan about his life and career and about the Mendelssohn Sinfonia number nine. But now I am thrilled to introduce you to the violin soloist who will be performing Mozart's Violin Concerto. Number Three, Mr. David Coucheron David. Welcome to the club,
David Coucheron: Thank you so much for having me.
Robyn Bell: David, you are currently the concert master for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and have a unique sort of claim to fame with that position, right?
David Coucheron: Well when I started 10 years ago I was 24 turning into 25 years old and they made the decision to hire a very inexperienced concert master. So at that time I was the youngest concert master of any us orchestra.
Robyn Bell: You were 24 years old and the concert master of a major us orchestra.
David Coucheron: Yeah. I mean, I don't know what they were thinking either.
Robyn Bell: Where do you go from there? I guess you gotta become a conductor next. I don't know.
David Coucheron: Oh, Oh. I don't know about that. I wouldn't go that far. But what I had to do was just learn, I had to learn and learn and learn and learn and I think that's what I want to keep doing. Just always learn, never be finished learning.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, that's one of the great things about us being artists, either musical artists, or actors or visual artists, is that we just don't stop growing and learning or else we're sort of done so kudos to you. That is just so awesome. Well, take us back though, before you won that job, how, and when did you start playing the violin? Where did you get your training? That prepared you to take the concert master position of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra?
David Coucheron: I started playing violin when I was three years old. I'm from Norway, I'm still a Norwegian citizen. And my mom used to play the piano as an amateur, but she really enjoyed music. So she took a lot of lessons and for some reason at age three she saw an advertisement for a violin at the local supermarket, like a paper ad. She called and she bought me a violin. I don't remember this. We have some of it on videotape. It's kind of fun to watch. It's less terrible to watch. It's not a bad for awhile, but I picked it up kind of quick. And I really enjoyed it. It just became a natural thing, like kind of speaking. So when I was five, I got a permanent teacher in Oslo who was in Oslo, Philharmonic very experienced and seasoned player. And when I was 10, I was introduced to a teacher in Germany named Igor. Osen. And I started with him for five years privately. So I would fly from Norway either to Cologne in Germany or Baron in Switzerland where he was based. And have three hours to same day. I get there and then stay overnight, have three hours the next morning and then fly back. And I would do that with my parents until I was 12. And when I was 12, I started doing it myself. So I got a cell phone one of the first people to get a cell phone. So I could be in touch and that worked great. I videotaped all of my lessons. And I came back and I very meticulously looked at the video and notated everything that he had said on the music. So it was a very efficient way of learning. I mean, six hours of teaching every two weeks is a lot for violin, but I think it really helped cause you need a lot of follow up during that time. So when I was 15 he said you should audition for Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. So I don't know how, but I managed to get in there and spend my next five years there. And that was a life changing experience for me. And it was interesting. The first day of school, the Dean would how the orientation would all of the musicians. And he would say, , where you came from, you were. the, best player, but here at Curtis you're no longer that. So you have to learn to play, together. And we, did it as a fantastic school and I owe them lot.
Robyn Bell: So at 15, you came from Oslo, Norway by yourself to Philadelphia.
David Coucheron: No, I mean, my, mom would be with me and got me installed and she, in the first couple of years she lived with me and my sister would be there as well. But as I got older, she spent more time back in Norway and I would be in Philadelphia, but she, did call me a lot.
Robyn Bell: I did read that your sister is a pianist and the two of you do a lot of collaborative work together. So she was on this same sort of hyper musical path like you.
David Coucheron: Yeah. She started playing the piano when I was about seven and she was five and I think she will even admit to this who was jealous, that I could play an instrument and she couldn't. So we had a piano at home and she started practicing it so Yeah, it was really cool. And it became very quickly, like I couldn't touch the piano, but touch the piano. She would, scare me off. That was, her. So I couldn't come near the piano.
Robyn Bell: So you finished at Curtis when you were about 20 you're, still four years away from the ASO. I do believe you spent some time here in Sarasota at the Sarasota Music Festival. Is that correct?
David Coucheron: Yes. So when I was a student at Curtis I was encouraged to apply for Sarasota Music Festival and five summers. I spent at the Sarasota Music Festivals and I have, such fantastic memories from there with Joseph Silverstein and Paul Wolf Robert Levin and all those legendary teachers, Pamela Frank And having lots of chamber music coaching's lots of chamber music concerts and masterclasses. It was a kind of like an Eldorado of music for me, which , I learned. And I think I improved a lot.
Robyn Bell: You know, the Sarasota Music Festival for us is just such a gem. And we were all so saddened, , with COVID when it all had to be canceled, but it's totally awesome to see someone that had so much training here in our backyard, go off and get this major position at orchestra and then come back and solo with our group. I think that's a really heartwarming story. I love that angle of all of this. So. You finish a Curtis, what are you doing those four years before you land the position at the Atlanta Symphony?
David Coucheron: Well, I went on to Juilliard School of Music
Robyn Bell: Oh, I've heard of that.
David Coucheron: Yeah, it's a lesser known school on there, Curtis, but nevertheless, a good, one. So I took the highway to New York and I Got my masters there, which was very useful. And I learned a lot there too. after that I spent a year in London playing in the professional string quartet. So the quartet was already preformed. I think they had maybe three or four or five years of experience already and their first violin left. So they asked me to come with join some moved to London where my sister was studying at Royal Academy of music so that, we could be reunited there and play more together. And I also enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music for a master of musical performance program which is essentially something you wouldn't do a past the master's degree at get you prepared more for your professional life, which was great. So I just played a lot of chamber music in the quartet for a whole year, all over England.
Robyn Bell: There's not much more that develops your skill better than chamber music playing.
David Coucheron: Yeah, it's I come from that background and I think Sarasota helped shape that background as well. Chamber music wise, chamber orchestra wise so that helped shaped me a lot. And during that time I got a phone call from Atlanta Symphony asking if I was interested in auditioning for their concertmaster role. And it was kind of a surprise for me. I hadn't thought about going that route. It wasn't something that was on the horizon or the track for me to do a plan for it. But my teacher at Curtis, Aaron, Rosand really asked me like, you really should do this. And I always listened to him. So I auditioned and for some weird reason they liked me. And I ended up being their concert master for the last 10 years.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, it's such a wonderful orchestra. I used to live in Georgia and got there at least twice a year, often more than that, but I just think the world, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Robert Spano, and I know, the level of music making that you're able to do there. And then to bring that here to us for this concert is just awesome. Part of our story as musicians and actors, even entertainers this past year has been how we have all survived the pandemic as a violin performer. When our world shut down, what have you been doing to maintain your playing stamina? Did you some sort of pandemic project you tackled the past year?
David Coucheron: Well so very good question. In the beginning, I think we were all kind of Struck a little bit about what we were going to do. So for mid-March for a couple of months, we all were hoping things would get better and we didn't really canceled much far in advance and like some other orchestras, we wait to see if we could do some concerts. But we ended up obviously canceling everything at some point. And when that happened I flew back Norway and I spent a summer there with my parents and I haven't had an opportunity to do that for a long time. So it was, nice to reconnect with my home roots and help them out. They're retired. So it was a really good time to reconnect with them there. I, I wasn't practicing. A lot. I would say I was in maintenance mode. I haven't had the chance to be in low power mode, so to speak for a long time, it's been go, go, go for me. So it was a good time to reflect and step back a little bit and get an overview of my life a little bit.
Robyn Bell: I think this idea of recharging I embraced it because same as you, it was like nutso crazy. And at first, Oh, just one or two weeks, and then it was like, Okay. I can recharge. Oh, you mean it might be October. Oh, it might be next January. So I know that feeling, but what has the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra been doing to navigate performances this past year?
David Coucheron: So over the summer we don't have a summer season, so we wouldn't meet again until September. And I think by that time there was a consensus. We need to do something. We can't just sit and do nothing forever. We need to perform when to play in any shape or. One guy we can do. So we, start with the camera crew and launched a virtual concert series and the ASO website. So subscribers could log in and watch the concerts online rather than coming to the house. So we haven't had any audiences in the hall, but we have had quite a lot of concerts. We started that in September, October. And it took a little while to get comfortable with the idea. We sit just one person per stand and no more than 35 people on the stage. And we can't really hear each other that well, and you know, , it's not great.
Robyn Bell: You probably had not have had to turn right. Pages in many, many years.
David Coucheron: Yeah. I had to learn how to turn pages. It's really difficult. I didn't buy it iPads. Some people got like tablets and the pedal. I'm still scared of doing that. So I still turn to pages, but the way we were playing was kind of going against everything that we normally try to do, you know, sit closer Be alert for each other so that we are in vicinity and play chamber music together. And now we couldn't really do that. I've got to rely much more on a conductor
Robyn Bell: that's too bad.
David Coucheron: Yeah, we had to ignore what we're listening to in a way. And there are times where it feels terrible sitting on stage and then the audio engineers saying, Oh, it sounds great. And then there are other times we're thinking, Oh, that felt really good. And. We get the thumbs down from the audio engineer. So it's kind of like we're in a blind
Robyn Bell: Okay. And, you know, I conducted the college and we're the same way we haven't had any audiences. And the first concert we gave we'd streamed it on Facebook. But the first concert we gave you play that last great note. And there's no applause. It's like weird. Isn't it.
David Coucheron: That is awful, awful. And there's really nothing that prepares you for it. You come to be used to playing for real actual people in the hall and having that connection. I remember at Curtis, we had Rostropovich once come and conduct us and he said, you have to connect yourself with the audience. It has to be like a wire. From you to them. And I keep thinking about that particularly this year when we're kind of playing for imaginary audience. So really excited to come to Sarasota and I hear there will be a small audience in the hall.
Robyn Bell: You will have real live people there.
David Coucheron: I don't know how to prepare for that, but I am very, very excited.
Robyn Bell: That is one of the best things about what the Sarasota Orchestra has done when they decided we could have string players and percussion, the woodwinds and brass had been doing outdoor concerts in parks. But they said we can have people in the audience and it's been very, very rewarding. So you've talked about chamber music playing. You obviously play with large . Symphony orchestras. And then here you are in a solo situation. So sometimes musicians really sort of specialize in one or the other. You have managed to really balance all these things. So you've played solo recitals and Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy center. And of course, you're soloing now with the Sarasota Orchestra on this upcoming concert. So talk to us about the difference, David in preparing and playing as a concert master of a full orchestra versus a soloist on a stage.
David Coucheron: Good observation. And I'll start by saying, I think the specializing in one area as faded a little bit away over the last 50 years. As a soloist in the past, you would only do solo work. And if you're a chamber musician, you would only play chamber music and concert master would only play concert master. I think there is a more blending of those elements over the last 30, 40 years. And I try to live by The fact that everything has to be balanced. You can always do too much and too little of everything in life. And finding that balance is really important. And I try to do that in my playing as well. So when, I play a concert master I think for me, some of the most challenging parts is the solos. Because switching back and forth from being leader of the orchestra, playing a big part of the orchestra at the same time, leading the orchestra to suddenly playing solo part where you're not part of the group solo by definition is just one person. So, , suddenly the spotlight is on you and. Changing back and forth between those two things. For me, it's very challenging. It's a mindset like a switch out to switch on and off for me. So for me, that's more challenging than just playing a solo concert by myself because the roles are clear. I'm the soloist. I walk out on stage. I have the mindset , I'm in my head space. So if that makes sense out of all those three things, I think going back and forth like that, it's difficult. Yeah.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, it is in a concert master position. You get to do both on a daily basis when there's a big solo and a piece, but as just a solo artists, you don't really get that experience of playing in a large ensemble. So it totally makes sense. And that really brings us to the concerto. You're going to be performing with the Sarasota orchestra. Mozart's violin concerto, number three, which he wrote when he was only 19. And we talked earlier about Mendelson writing. The Symphonia is when he was like 12. So these two guys in their infancies. So young writing this music now, Mozart had a very large output of music during a short life, but he only wrote five violin concertos, have you played all five of them?
David Coucheron: I played one, three, four, five. I haven't played the second concerto.
Robyn Bell: Number two.
David Coucheron: Yeah. two is in play that much. And some people think for good reason. Um, but it's really, is that the first Mozart I ever played was the first one. So when I was a kid, that's kind of like kiddie concerto , in a sense, and three, four or five I mean, I can't believe he was 19 and not the same time, say it's a mature work of Mozart. But it's also interesting to compare Mozart at a young age with Mendelssohn, a young age, obviously they didn't overlap at any point, but Mendelssohn was extremely talented as a, young writer. , think of the, octet that he wrote. It's just unbelievable that a young writer can do that. It's interesting to think if you discard all, the writing that was done after the age of 18 you would, probably sit back and think Mendelssohn, the genius arguably. to me that's fascinating and inspiring also because it means to Mozart. Kept developing himself throughout his life. So the last works of Mozart are in their first are very, very different versus last work in early works are very similar. It's hard to tell the difference really the late quartets and the octet for instance, are somewhat similar. And it inspiration to me to think of that, like always develop yourself, never stay at the same place.
Robyn Bell: I see, there's a theme developing here with us on this. I love it
Well, as an audience member, like you're the soloist, you know, this music intimately inside and out. And me as an audience member as a trumpet player, I don't know it as well as you. So what would you encourage me as an audience member to really be listening for in this third violin concerto?
David Coucheron: I would say indulge yourself and enjoy the music. To me, at least in these times that are kind of uncertain politically and also pandemic wise, there's a lot of difficulty in a sense. I think it's important to have music like Mozart third Violin Concerto because it takes her mind off it and reminds us of all the beauty that's in the world, all the positive things that are in your world, easy to forget about that. And I think music communicates that to people in a way that no other art form
Robyn Bell: Totally.
David Coucheron: I could sit here and speak Norwegian to you. You wouldn't understand anything, but I could play the concerto to you and you totally would understand The way music transcends language, I think is extremely unique. And we just can't forget about that. And you have to keep that very important part of us.
Robyn Bell: Did Mozart write cadenzas for this? And if so, are you playing those or you're playing someone else's
David Coucheron: I have not been aware of Mozart writing cadenzas. And the first moment cadenza is By a Franco and I think it's more normal cadenza to play, but the, second and third movements, they're more what they're called iron gun, which is kind of just like an entrance. So it's not like a whole page of music and you're playing at Cadenza and then you play with the orchestra. They're just entrances and exits. So you kind of weave in and out. You play a couple of measures by yourself and then you're joined the orchestra again. And I was lucky enough to go through all my old papers from when I was a student with Germany. And there was a faxed copy. From Hong Kong where he had written a bunch of cadenzas for the third concerto. And I thought this is such a great idea. So I really loved the cadenzas for the second and third movement that he wrote. And that's what I'm going to be playing.
Robyn Bell: Really looking forward to the cadenzas. Always my favorite part as a conductor, it's easiest because they just stay in there. But as a listener, I just love to hear the improvisitory nature of the Cadenza. So always my favorite. Now the Sarasota orchestra has been very careful to only have strings and percussion performing inside the season, but the Mozart concerto number three does call for two flutes, two oboes and two horns in addition to the strings. I assume that they're going to be playing those parts. Do you know?
David Coucheron: They are not allowed to have any wind players on stage. So they'd have 11 musicians from the Sarasota Orchestra on stage, and the wind parts have been arranged. So the string players would play their parts. I am excited to see how that will work. But I'm, curious more than anything else
Robyn Bell: You'll miss maybe the colors of that harmony music, but first of all, it's the safest way to play it, which is great. And second, the parts will be covered there and all the chord tones will be present. So I'm sure it's going to be great.
David Coucheron: we'll be there. It's just going to be slightly different musicians playing them. And I think it's also due to the stage in Holley Hall not being big enough to allow for, , the 10 feet of space between the wind players that obviously can't wear masks.
Robyn Bell: Yeah, I think that's a wonderful solution to that problem. . I'm really glad to hear that now, David, I can't let you go today without you telling us about the violin you play on. Because as a trumpet player who got my horn in 1988, brand new off the shelf, I'm always completely fascinated and enamored with the historical significance of our string instruments. So tell us about this violin that you play.
David Coucheron: Well, I'm jealous of your instruments, , being so easily available. I wish that the violin was as easy to find as cheap to purchase
It's a big struggle I would tell you. So my violin is a Stradivarius from 1725 and I'm extremely lucky to be playing on it. And it's owned by a foundation in Norway called the fund that has a great collection of instruments, and they are kind enough to loan it to people that they're choosing. I've had it for about 10 years and it is an absolute gem to play on. And I wake up every morning feeling lucky to be able to be part of the journey of this violin. And we have to remember it's a 300 year violin and. We're just part of the journey for a very short amount of time.
Robyn Bell: do, you know, the historical journey who it was made for and where all it's been?
David Coucheron: It was in a collection before it was bought in London by the under sales on many tier fund. But it it's been through a journey with me because previous owner, didn't really take Too much care of it. So when I first got it, it was a very moody violin and I was explained it in the way that there's a lot of tiny micro cracks in the wood being so old. And when you have a violin that's not properly sealed up, so to speak you have. Very big variations depending on temperature and humidity. So every time there's different weather, it will change to instrument a lot. So after playing on it for a couple of years it was sent to restoration in London where it was for three years. It took them three years to sort it out. And when I got it back, it's a much more stable and reliable.
Robyn Bell: girlfriend, this and at you. I love it. I love it.
David Coucheron: It's kind of scary to, think that , you carrying on your back , such a precious instrument, that's irreplaceable they're not making any more of them. I had to change my mind a lot about how to treat the instrument in the sense, you know, after a concert, I would always have to go home first and. leave violin and home. I can't go somewhere afterwards. I have to take extra care when I fly. I always put it on the other side of the bin where I'm sitting so I can see people are reaching in and grabbing and moving things around. , I have to carry it with me everywhere. I can't leave it in the trunk of the car. I have to put it inside the car. It's a lot of process go through and It it's a little stressful. I have also a modern violin that play on. That's a copy of this, which is great because the dimensions are exactly the same. So, you know, if I play outdoor concerts or something that I think could be potentially harmful for an old instrument, I just used use the new one.
Robyn Bell: It's fascinating because I can play my trumpet anywhere.
David Coucheron: I know I'm really jealous. Of that. I really wish that
Robyn Bell: Except for you see the trumpet players coming in for the Atlanta Symphony. I mean, they have a B flat trumpet, a C trumpet, a Piccolo trumpet. You got to carry like 10 of them with you. So don't be so jealous.
David Coucheron: Yeah, but I got like 12 different bows and at least four or five different violins. So I mean, we could lay our equipment out in comparison time.
Robyn Bell: would win hands certain. So once again, to reserve your ticket for the live performances, April 15th, through 18th and Holley Hall, or to purchase the streaming access that will be available April 22nd through 27th, go to the Sarasota Orchestra's email@example.com. This has been incredible getting to know you and Stephen better the past hour. And we'll make sure that they need to schedule you some beach time while you're here. Eat plenty of coconut shrimp. And mahi mahi he go on a boat ride? Do some fishing,
David Coucheron: I do miss the Siesta beach. I spent a lot of time there. Most of student, whenever I could, we would go to Siesta
Robyn Bell: Well, you could not have picked a better week to be here. It's going to be fabulous weather thank you so much for your time today and for sharing your musicianship with us here on the Suncoast, I'm really looking forward to the performance and maybe we can meet up for coffee or cocktails as I like to say while you're here.
David Coucheron: I would absolutely love to that would a pleasure to have a little resembles of normalcy life. Again,
Robyn Bell: Well, cheers to live music returning to the concert halls and to Mozart and Mendelssohn. Thank you, David.
David Coucheron: Thank you for having me.