Gregorian Previews MSU Symphony Concert

Jan 27, 2012

WKAR's Melissa Benmark spoke with conductor Leon Gregorian about the next MSU Symphony Orchestra concert, which features a new Tuba Concerto by MSU professor Ron Newman.

LEON GREGORIAN: It will be a world premiere with Phillip Sinder as our soloist. It's a very, very interesting work. And with Phillip Sinder, actually, it features the percussion section, four wonderful percussion players who really add a lot of flavor to this piece.

It's very interesting. Usually the three movements that we normally associate with concertos, they're like, Allegro, Adagio, or Vivace. Now, Ron Newman writes, "First Movement: Interactions, Resulting Reactions." Second movement is "Clarity with a Touch of Nostalgia" Three: "Maynard Ferguson Played the Valve Trombone." So, it's, there's a certain amount of humor in this and virtuoso work, but very listenable.

MELISSA BENMARK: Because a concerto for an instrument like a tuba is so unusual, what do you think can take that from being something that people sort of regard as a novelty, to being something that people just really stop thinking about as unusual and just get into and enjoy the piece.

GREGORIAN: Well, first of all, normally when you hear the tuba, you always hear the tuba in the middle of the low range. In the concerto, you hear the high range. I never realized how beautiful the high range really is, and the sound is, I would say, close to the French horn sound, but a little more weight to it. I think more people should write for the tuba. I think it's a very poetic instrument.

BENMARK: You also have (Ravel's) "Daphnis and Chloe" on the program, which strikes me as being difficult, perhaps, in the sense that it is just so, rhythmically, just sort of floats in places. Tell me about the experience of conducting that.

GREGORIAN: Well, the second half is all Impressionistic, with the Debussy "Nocturnes" and then Maurice Ravel, "Daphnis and Chloe: Suite #2," which of course is from the ballet, and the most often three movements that is played in a concert version of it.

It is very challenging, not so much for the conductor but the soloists and the orchestra members. Because there's very soloistic writing in the woodwinds. Great imitation of birds, and the Sunrise, the Pantomime and then the General Dance. I mean, he doesn't stop, it, you know, it just gets more adventurous as it goes on, and so on.

So, it's really a virtuoso work for the entire orchestra, and there is no secondary role. Everybody is a soloist, you know. And I think that's what makes it so exciting. Plus, the fact that Ravel is such an incredible orchestrator. When he says "Sunrise," you do hear, and you visualize the sunrise. Even though you don't see it, you know that's what that is. And that's generally...the excitement is just unbelievable.

BENMARK: Can you tell when you're playing the music of someone who was primarily a single instrumentalist, versus someone who's so noted for orchestrations like Ravel. Can you tell that there's a love of the orchestra as an instrument?

GREGORIAN: Oh, I think so. I think so. You know, the Russians, I will say Rimsky-Korsakov. The French will say Debussy, Ravel. You know, Americans will probably say Copland and Bernstein. So, there is a difference, there is a difference, and a pleasant difference. You know, you really see them at their very best. Because not only do they write good melodies, good rhythm, what have you, but their imagination is unbelievable, just unbelievable. And what they can do with a few instruments is just beyond me.