Music for Chinese Health Balls and Orchestra with the Jackson Symphony

Nov 8, 2018

The Jackson Symphony had a problem with their concert coming up this Saturday: A lack of Chinese Medicine Balls. More on this unique symphonic dilemma with the JSO’s conductor, Dr. Matthew Aubin.

Jamie Paisley: For this second concert of the season with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, your overall goal for this season was in honor of Leonard Bernstein, and this was more about the Young People's Concerts that he had. How?

Matthew Aubin: So one could recreate a Young People's Concert but my thought was rather than do that, he, Bernstein, had created 53 different programs. So I thought, you know I wonder if we could take four themes from the young people's concerts and find works that represented those themes. So the first piece is Capriccio Espagnol, what is orchestration? Second piece, Bernstein did something like 9 young performers concerts where he featured different soloists, conductors, and composers. That’s what I got this idea to collaborate with my friend who's a violist, Mitsuru Kubo, from New York City, and also Jeremy Crosmer, the composer from Michigan.

JP: For this piece, this concertino show-piece for viola and strings, it's called Masks. Now let's walk through the process of what you gave Jeremy. Or did you just say carte blanche, 'do what you want?' How did that process go?

MA: Sure. Basically, I told him I wanted something between 15 and 20 minutes long. I told him some of the qualities of Mitsuru's playing that I really like. I think she has a beautiful low register for instance, and she also has a background in rock music- she was a viola in a rock band! And so she can kind of shred, if need be. So I gave him a little bit of that, and then I just said, you know, as far as instrumentation goes, here's the biggest piece on the program, I prefer not to add anything to that. But you know, he had to be sensitive to balancing the viola, which is this instrument that is kind of the in middle range, right in a way that it would still project over the orchestra.

JP: Also on Dr. Aubin and Jackson Symphony's Saturday evening concert is this piece called blue cathedral, from the Pulitzer winning composer Jennifer Higdon.

MA: It's a beautiful work. I think it's kind of a fun fact to know that when you rent the music you also get the Chinese health balls that are used at the end of the piece, and that's one of the reasons I programmed it, is unusual instruments in the orchestra. So we have these Chinese health balls, we have the wine glasses, prepared piano. So there's some different sounds, but this is the point I want to make: we put our rental order in probably the end of the summer and the publishers said they had rented so many sets out, that they could print us a new set of parts but they wouldn't have the balls. So I had to actually buy them. You know how many sets they have? They have something like 25 or 26 sets! That's how often this piece is being performed right now- pretty nuts! It's a great statement to how popular and how much a part of the repertoire blue cathedral has become in a short time.

JP: And to close the concert, another bit of Americana, which also the Jackson Symphony, you've already given away a pair of tickets because somebody recognized what the music was.

MA: That's right, you know, I think your probably are of, close to my age, maybe a little younger, but you probably remember those beef commercials, right, with Hoe-Down. Bernstein celebrated Copland twice on his 60th birthday and on his 70th birthday as part of the Young People's Concerts. And they had a really tight bond, so it made sense to put Copland's music with this program.

Copland' Rodeo closes this Saturday night's concert with Dr. Matthew Aubin and the Jackson Symphony. Tickets and more info at

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio espagnol, op.34
Jeremy Crosmer: Masks: A Heroine’s Tale for solo viola and orchestra, featuring Mitsuru Kubo, viola
Jennifer Higdon: blue cathedral
Aaron Copland: Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo