In February 2020, the Boston Symphony Orchestra will perform in China for the third time after a second China tour spanning 35 years. In this century-old symphony orchestra, many musicians have worked in the orchestra for more than half a century. They were participants of the Boston Orchestra’s first visit to China in 1979, and were the mainstay of maintaining the orchestra’s performance standards for decades. The orchestra gave them a music home, and they also dedicated their youth, talent and life to the orchestra.
Before the Boston Symphony Orchestra visited China for the third time, this magazine interviewed two musicians who have worked in the orchestra for 50 and 45 years: Assistant of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Assistant Principal Bass Lawrence Wall Lawrence Wolfe and violinist Sheila Fiekowsky. They will unveil our decades of musician career at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In addition, joining the world’s top orchestras is the dream of many young musicians, and Lawrence and Sheila have unreservedly shared their professional advice for young musicians.
● _ Yu Qian
◎ _ Sheila Vyekovsky
○ _ Lawrence Wolf
● First of all, please let the two musicians share your respective musical careers with our readers. What was your experience before joining the Boston Symphony Orchestra? Why choose to become a professional musician?
◎ My music career started in public schools. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and my parents are working class immigrants from Poland to the United States. Our neighbors play the violin and show it to me and my sister. I was only eight and a half years old and I had never seen a violin before. She asked me, “Do you want to play the violin?” I said, “Yes.” Because in my opinion, she is an elder sister and an example. The next day, she told her music teacher, and they took me to the music classroom, asked me to sing a song, and handed it to me. The teacher was a double bassist. When he felt that he could no longer teach me, he helped contact a violinist working in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the lady became my violin teacher. She is like my second mother and my teacher.
○ My music career also originated from public schools. I was born in the suburbs of Boston. I remember having a good sense of music and harmony when I was a kid. In fourth grade, my music teacher was a trombone player, so they gave me a trombone at first. Some athletes are born with hand-eye coordination. I am born with ear-eye coordination. When I hear music, my hand can compare the emotion of the music. So when I was nine to eleven, I was learning trombone. At the time I was very young and often felt uncomfortable in the throat when playing the trombone, so I didn’t like to play the trombone very much. But obviously I am talented in music and learned the bass part through the trombone. In the fifth grade of elementary school, I started to learn double bass, and when I learned basic performance, I had the opportunity to enter the symphony orchestra.
◎ Is it for girls of the orchestra?
○ Yes, for the lovely girls playing the violin in the orchestra.
◎ The orchestra is also a social group.
○ Yes, this is a very important reason. I have my own circle of friends in school, and the Symphony Orchestra has provided me with a brand new circle of friends, all friends who play music. As Sheila said, our music education system in public schools provides us with instruments, training and school orchestras. Soon after I entered the orchestra, our orchestra’s music director told me that there is a better orchestra waiting for you. So I got more involved and went into a better orchestra. Whenever I improve, there is always a better band waiting for me. In this way, when I came all the way from the junior high school and high school orchestras, the next better orchestra was the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra. At the age of eighteen, I participated in the selection of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the first time, and entered the final round of selection.
◎ Wow, I don’t even know these.
○ I was full of surprises. Of course, I participated in the selection again later, and I had to do it. I am very fortunate that my home is not far from Boston, and I am fortunate to have met my music teacher in a public school. My father also found another mentor for me. After trying my best to teach me everything, the teacher recommended me to the next teacher. I am grateful to my parents for providing me with a good environment, and I am grateful that Boston has such an environment to provide me with better orchestras.
● Do you remember what happened during your selection? Are there any interesting or scary stories to share with us?
◎ I completed my undergraduate studies at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, and then went to Yale University for graduate studies. The distance from Yale University to Boston is just a short train ride. So I came to the Boston Symphony Orchestra to participate in the selection. Sixty people were competing for a violin seat. The selection of the orchestra was all behind the scenes, and the judges couldn’t see you. They told me, “Stomp in, we don’t want the judges to know that you are a woman.” Until the final round, the judges can’t see you. I saw that all the judges were elderly men, and I was only about 22 years old. In the end, I got this post. By the end of the day, it was almost midnight. I still remember Zheng Zeer commanding in front of me, a big face in front of me. They are doing this to observe your flexibility and it is not difficult for me to follow the command at any time. When I got a job, the band’s executive director gave me a glass of wine to celebrate my joining the band. I officially started playing in the orchestra the following fall, and I became the tenth woman to join the orchestra. That was in 1975.
○ Well, it was a very different age. Our selection is very fair, and the composition of the band is now quite international and diverse. My selection experience was a little different. First, they said to me, “Go lighter, don’t break things.” I’m a big man. My experience may be more complicated. I mean, when I came to the selection of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I was not thinking “I want to get this job so that I can do what I like and get a stable one of the best orchestras in the world. Salary, can also fall in love, get married, have children with the girls in the Tangerwood Festival Choir, you can buy a house, provide a mortgage, and send your children to school. “No, if I was thinking about it at the time, I do n’t Maybe sit here. The advice I got back then and the advice I give my students are the same. You can’t pin everything you want on a selection. You should participate in the selection just because you like music and don’t think about anything except what you want to express. In other words, use your own voice to bring Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach’s music to life, and hope they can recognize your voice. The psychology of participating in the selection is that you can’t think about how important it is, don’t complicate it.
◎ This is quite difficult.
○ Yes. About 50 or 60 people participated in the selection with me.
◎ At that time, many people wanted to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
○ Same now.
◎ Yes. The difference is that the average age of the band members is now lower, and we have become the elders in the band. The orchestra is much more fun now. Playing with young musicians is a lot of fun for me.
● Both of you have worked in the orchestra for 40 or 50 years. The young musicians of that time are now masters in the orchestra. You do n’t know how many times you have performed some songs, but you have also passed on the tradition of the orchestra to newcomers. How do you feel about this?
○ The tallest building that used to be near Carnegie Hall was the Osborne Apartments, which is 14 stories high. On the top floor of Osborne, you can see the Brooklyn Bridge. Today, the tall buildings outside Carnegie Hall, Osborne still stands elegantly there, but it is not the tallest building. The orchestra is the same. I am the “Osborne” in the orchestra. We and young musicians learn from each other.
○ Every time I think “this is the way to play Brahms”, I find that they have completely different interpretations, better than my interpretation. I will pass what I have learned to my students.
◎ I totally agree with what Lawrence said. In addition, I would like to add that if you don’t accept new ideas and change yourself, you will be eliminated. You must accept the fact that new ways of interpretation will always appear. You can learn new things from people of any age. In the orchestra, I played with a 26-year-old cellist, but his music is so mature that he is like my elders in music, so age and musical expression have nothing to do with talent.
For me personally, for a long time, I didn’t have any closer group in the band. Firstly, there are very few female members in the orchestra. Secondly, I read a lot of books and I don’t get close to them. However, the young members of the orchestra are now full of energy and it is fun to be with them.
● The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance schedule is very compact. As members of the orchestra, how do you balance performance, family, and teaching? Is there a so-called “standard day”?
◎ Our schedule is as follows: Tuesday morning rehearsal, Tuesday night performance; Wednesday morning rehearsal; Thursday morning rehearsal, Thursday evening performance; Friday afternoon performance, Saturday evening performance. In the era of Masaru Ozawa, we also recorded on Monday and Saturday mornings. We recorded a lot of records. Ozawa Masaru is the oldest music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. When I have children, in order to take care of them, I sometimes can’t attend the show. Ozawa Seiji is very supportive and respects my family. I have two children to take care of and I missed a lot of tours for my family. My husband and I work together with a babysitter to help, but my child knows that they will always come first.
○ There is no one-time plan. My wife is a singer and she also performs and teaches. When the children are still young, we will discuss the plan of the day every morning, who will take care of the children from time to time, and spare time to practice and teach in the busy schedule. It’s hard, but it’s also very fulfilling. I think I should be a good father. My twin daughters are forty years old and they will chat with me.
◎ Lawrence’s daughters have been my child’s nanny. At the time, Lawrence was a male who took care of more families. When you have a child, it is already a full day of toss before you go to work. I remember one of my former colleagues saying to me, “Sheila, it’s a holiday for me to come to the band.”
● The two of you have worked in the Boston Symphony Orchestra for decades. For you, what is the special charm of the orchestra that inspires you to work in the orchestra for a long time?
◎ Working in an orchestra is not always perfect, but most of the time it is fun.
○ For me, during the fifty years of the orchestra, I was grateful. I am grateful for my musical talent and the opportunity to develop it. I was born for music and had the opportunity to become a professional musician. Sometimes there are concerts that I don’t want to play anymore. But for my young colleagues, I try to find new ideas in them.
◎ A few years ago, when our current music director took over, he directed us to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It was really new, completely different and exciting. Think about it, how many times have we played this work!
○ Hundreds of times.
◎ When Simon Rattle directed us to perform the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, his understanding and interpretation were completely different from other conductors. It was too fascinating. We still love to play. As long as I can maintain my performance, I will continue to play. When one day I can no longer maintain my performance, I will leave.
○ We are like athletes, many of the actions we do are repeated.
◎ Yes, you must learn how to take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to play concerts in wind and rain. If you have the same professionalism as us, no matter how much you don’t want to sometimes, you will still appear in the concert hall.
○ For me, my colleagues are the most important factor that motivates me to continue. For example, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony I have played hundreds of times. It is one of the best of classical music, so it has been performed many times. Whenever I find myself a little tired, I start listening to my colleagues’ performances and look for new inspiration in them.
◎ Lawrence is different. His attitude is very positive and positive, which is very valuable. I have known Lawrence for so long, he is indispensable to the orchestra and his voice.
○ Thanks to my colleagues. Seeing their best efforts, I also worked hard to dedicate myself to the best.
● What does the band mean to you?
◎ The orchestra is a big family. I regard young members as my “children” because they are as old as my children. When I am away, they will send a message greeting me. Even if I didn’t feel good that day, I would still insist on participating in the show, because if you were not there, everyone would worry.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra is special. Its sound is so unique. The strings are beautiful and subtle. It is one of the world’s best orchestras and I am honored to be a member of the orchestra. People will ask me why I’m not retiring. I like to play classical music. I don’t participate in the performance of popular orchestras. I often give myself vacations to balance my busy performance life. My job and colleagues are great.
○ I think we would also like to thank the management of the orchestra. Our executives and orchestra managers were all musicians, and later chose to work in the arts administration. They fully understand our needs and listen to us openly and help us.
◎ We also have a strong union to protect our interests. For example, when our rehearsal is overtime, we can get overtime pay, which many orchestras do not have. Of course, we are also obliged to participate in a lot of fundraising and popularization work, and we are happy to participate because we understand the importance of fundraising for the orchestra.
● During these decades, has the Boston Symphony Orchestra introduced some new technologies, such as live concerts or concert rehearsals?
◎ Yes. For example, they set up a camera on the front of the conductor, and the audience sitting in the back can see the conductor’s expression and movement if they have an iPad. Some musicians now use the iPad to flip the score. Our music data management staff is awesome. Now as long as you have an iPad, you can find the scores of our performances on our website.
○ Yes, we are already a modern orchestra, all schedules can be found online.
◎ We have gone paperless. All the required information and scores are online. I no longer have to worry about forgetting to bring the score, I can practice anywhere. I think we have the best music data manager in the world.
● What advice do you have for young music students dreaming of joining a top band like you?
◎ Find the right teacher. Find a teacher who resonates with you and you feel you can really learn from him. If the teacher is not suitable, change another. I think the right teacher is the most important, and then enjoy and practice. Lawrence, what do you think?
○ Where to start? 50 years of experience. Practice, yes. In addition to the exercises, there is also the joy of music, color, and your personality. These are all from within you. You must first understand yourself before you can understand the music you play. Good teaching is half practice and half psychology.
Many years ago, when I was a young musician, I was very skillful. I could play faster than anyone, but when I heard my friend (she recently retired from the New York Philharmonic), I found her to have a unique voice. I learned from her that technology is not the most important thing. What people want to hear is what you want to express and how to express it. Give vitality to works of long-dead composers, and give voice to dead composers. Try to use your own instrument to express what the composer wants to express. In addition, try to find your own voice, just like a good speaker, will not only give you what you expect, but also infect you with his distinctive personality.