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NSO's different drummer

In today's Washington Post: NSO's new timpanist takes over tonight, by Anne Midgette.

By Anne Midgette  |  March 11, 2010; 8:31 AM ET
Categories:  Washington  
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I disagree with Anne's comment that tympanists "are certainly not the showiest members of the orchestra." Those of us who remember the days of Fred Begun, with no disrespect to the musical ability of the tympanists who followed, nor of Mr. Wilkinson the assistant principal, know that the tympanist can be just about the most noticeable person on the stage. Fred Begun's balletic performances were a wonder to behold as well as to listen to, and just from the photo of a grinning (no way to call that just a smile) Jauvon Gilliam suggests that we will again have someone to delight us in concerts to come. Charisma seems to radiate from the page and since the auditions are behind a curtain, we have an equal dose of musicianship to look forward to.

Posted by: William Kirchhoff | March 11, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

This was a good article. Hope to see him in action soon.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | March 11, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

This is my first comment to Anne Midgette's blog, but I hope it won't be my last. I'm an end-member classical music activist. That includes being an unapologetic advocate for reform and audience (and amateur musician) empowerment. When Anne arrived from the New York Times and presented her first reviews it was immediately clear that she had a ferocious writing talent, besides knowing her music. For some concerts dealing with music beloved of audiences, like the full performance of Grieg's Peer Gynt suite,and Handel's Messiah, I detected a slight curl of the lip, rhetorically speaking. She acknowledged personal lack of interest as though to assure music critic colleagues that she had not "sold out".

Over time, however, I've come to appreciate and increasingly look forward to her work. The above article about the National Symphony's new tympanist, for example, brought out the human side - Jauvon Gilliam's making the effort to rent a van and take his drums with him from Canada to Washington for auditions in Washington - twice. She has written on many more musical performances than her predecessor, Tim Page. She also shows more in-depth interest in music in the Washington area. For example, she revealed to readers that one of the reasons the superb outgoing conductor, Ivan Fischer did not continue as music director was a disagreement over contract. That was a big loss - especially from the perspective of youth music and outreach.

Hungarian conductors get a more "holistic" training than do graduates of American conservatories. Besides the skills and technique of orchestra leadership, knowledge of repertory, etc, they learn how to encourage players and orchestra sections to maintain and enhance their technique, build youth connections, and develop partnership and interest in audiences and the community.

That kind of musical leadership was practiced by earlier American music critics like Henry Finck, writers and popularizers like Sigmund Spaeth, David Ewen, and broadcasters like Deems Taylor. The last of this breed was Leonard Bernstein. But we're seeing a slow turnaround from establishment-oriented attitudes of the past 50 years, and I think I see a shift in Anne Midgette as well.

Posted by: Telemann1 | March 11, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

When I wrote the above I had not yet browsed other material in the Classical Beat. I found real contributions to music and music lovers in the Washington area. Examples include an interview with Ivan Fischer about his impressions of the orchestra's tour in Arkansas, and - mirabile dictu - an offer to readers to contribute a review of a concert she had missed! Now this is building bridges to audiences that sets a new standard for music critics. This is not the more commonly encountered focus on self and opinion found among music critics - even audience oriented ones like Alex Ross. It's searching out important and interesting material, and inviting readers to share in the exploration. This is a far cry from Milton Babbit {"Who cares if you listen"), or Charles Rosen, who has written what many establishment leaders believe, that untrained music lovers are incapable of making valid assessments of the quality of music.

Posted by: Telemann1 | March 11, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

As an amateur timpanist (and it's not "tympanist," folks; that's archaic), it was a treat to read this piece on the NSO's new guy. It sounds as if he's put in the effort and has the talent. I wish him the very best and look forward to hearing him play.

I would add that "showiness" has little to do with being a good timpanist. Too much emoting and arm-waving can get one in trouble when concentration and listening are what's called for. No one should expect a timpanist to be showy any more than they would an oboist.

Finally, I noted Mr. Gilliam's being auditioned, professionally, behind a curtain. My experience many years ago was out in the open, where conductors seemed fixated on the number of mallets (not "sticks") one used. Maybe there's something to "showiness" after all.

Posted by: jwfuller | March 12, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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