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MSU Symphony plays Stravinsky, Brahms

Portrait: Kevin Noe
Melissa Ingells
MSU Director of Orchestras designate Kevin Noe

By Melissa Ingells, WKAR News


EAST LANSING, MI – The MSU Symphony Orchestra presents its first concert of the fall semester tonight. WKAR's Melissa Ingells recently spoke to Professor of Music and Director of Orchestras designate Kevin Noe. She asked him about the first piece on the program, the Brahms Violin Concerto.

KEVIN NOE: It's a very sensitive work. And I think that one of the strengths of it is that it's less on flash and glitz, and more on substance. I think it has a very personal quality about the way the violin is used in the piece, and the orchestra playing is not insignificant, you know, as sometimes it can be a little bit in concertos.

So, I think it's been a great piece for us to work on for a variety of reasons. Of course, we're honored to have Dmitri Berlinsky playing with us. And I also think that it's a great contrast between "The Rite of Spring" since the styles of playing are completely different. The impetus behind each note is very different.

So, I think it's a perfect compliment, and the sonic language takes place in a very different space than "The Rite of Spring" does. Of course, "The Rite of Spring takes place in a different space than any other work, so

MELISSA INGELLS: It kind of does come from a different world. Describe what it's like to work on that with a group of students, because it is so different in terms I mean even though it's, gosh, close to a hundred years old now, it is rhythmically incredibly interesting, and, I'm assuming difficult. Tell me about your experience working with that.

NOE: Well, working on "The Rite of Spring" with anyone is like no other experience. In fact, as soon as we started, I immediately started calling all of my friends and saying, you know, I just cannot wait until you have this experience because it's like nothing else.'

There's a kind of visceral energy in the room that I neither I nor the musicians are really responsible for. It comes from Igor. It's really the ghost of Igor's in the room. It's very strange. I know it sounds like nonsense, but it's really true. There's something singularly unique about this piece.

And at a certain point obviously it's difficult, it takes a lot of rehearsal, it takes a lot of stripping away, a lot of kind of rehearsal surgery to get it done. But at a certain point, there is a kind of energy that takes over the room that makes it harder and harder to make mistakes. It's very hard to explain. That there's something where you feel trapped into the zone, you feel locked into the zone, and it helps you on its own.

Of course we have to concentrate. Of course it's always hard, that's true. But there's something unique about this the force of it all has a kind of I'm thinking of an analogy sort of like a star which is exploding, which is very much like "The Rite of Spring," but it has so much gravitational force that it keeps holding itself together somehow. That's kind of like working on "The Rite of Spring," sort of like that.

And when you said the thing about the time period in which it takes place, and so forth, and the timelessness of it, and it's a hundred years old and yet it feels so fresh and new. There's really no other work like it, and I think that probably any group of great artists that you put together would put it on the top ten works of art of all time, not just the top ten works of music, you know?

INGELLS: What is your native instrument?

NOE: I started actually as a trumpet player and was very serious about that for quite some time. And I'm honored to tell you that my first trumpet teacher, and one of the first real musical influences in my life was the trumpet teacher here. Richard Illman was my first teacher.

INGELLS: And then you got more into the conducting area, post-trumpet, or did you have other instruments that you did for a while?

NOE: Well, actually, I was quite certain by the time I was a junior in high school that I had wanted to be a conductor, and that I was going to go to undergrad to get a degree in performance, because I felt strongly that you had to be a good player first, in order to understand just how difficult it is to actually put two notes together in the right time, and in tune, with the right kind of color and so forth.

And I was going to take that very seriously, and then I would go to grad school for conducting and study with my teacher, Larry Rachleff. I sort of had my eyes on him being the only teacher I would even consider working with from the very beginning. And I was fortunate enough that it all worked out kind of in exactly that way. But I realize I got wonderful streaks of luck, and I'm thrilled to be here.

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