Archive for the ‘Tours’ Category

NTSO Music Festival

by Rebecca Lo

I had a wonderful time and experience when I attended the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra Festival in Taiwan over the summer of 2013. The NTSO Festival is a two week orchestra training camp. Students had opportunities for private lessons, orchestral and wind band training, as well as participating in public master classes during the camp. The faculties are renowned musicians from the NTSO and different orchestras from all over the world. The faculty members from the US whom we may know include Mr. Cho-Liang Lin from Rice University and Juilliard school; David Chan, the concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and faculty at Juilliard school; Brian Chen, viola professor at USC; and Ben Hong, assistant principal cellist of the LA Philharmonic.

The location of the camp was in Wu-Fong, the suburb of Taichung City, my hometown. The transportation system is convenient in Taiwan, so that it usually takes only around 30 minutes by bus to get into the center of the city. We stayed at a 3-star musical-themed hotel attached to the NTSO concert/rehearsal hall. This is a government-funded festival, so it only cost around $330 USD, covering the tuition, hotel stays, daily meals, and all other transportation and fees.

When we first arrived, we were required to do an orchestra seating placement audition. The two-week intense orchestra training was to prepare for our tours around Taiwan. We gave three concerts in three different cities, including a performance at the National Concert Hall in Taipei City. All of the faculty were with us during every orchestra rehearsal. They would stand by us and coach us at any time during the rehearsal. This is one of the most unique experiences that make it different from other summer festivals.

0319a massage chairs

There are massage chairs on every floor in the hotel; what we musicians need the most!

0319b musical themes

Different styles of musical themes on each floor, including classical, Chinese traditional, pop, disco music.

0319c hotel room

Our room in the hotel

0319d music museum

There is a little Music Museum in the hotel as well

0319e meal

Our typical meal at the festival

0319f faculty concert

Faculty Concert

0319g master class

Mr. Cho Liang Lin’s master class

0319h group photo

Picture with Ben Hong and Cho Liang Lin

0319i concert hall

The national concert hall in Taipei

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this camp for anyone who is interested in going to Asia or will be in Asia during the summer time. The age group is a bit younger; however, you can still learn a lot from the camp and meet a lot of awesome people. If any of you are interested, feel free to contact me for more information!

Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra Tour

by Jarita Ng and Stephanie Mientka

Ask any Shepherd School student what he or she likes about the school, and we are pretty confident that one of the responses would be along the line of, “I love orchestra,” and “the orchestras are awesome.” You get the picture.

There are two orchestras at the Shepherd School—Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra and Shepherd School Chamber Orchestra. Woodwind, brass, and percussion players rotate between the orchestras every concert; string players stay in either orchestra for the semester. We have rehearsals three times a week. Standard. (Unless you are comparing that with the orchestra programs at Cleveland Institute of Music, Curtis Institute of Music, the Juilliard School, or other schools that have rehearsals the week or two before a concert, then the Shepherd School program is pretty intense.)

What was not so standard this year was the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra Debut Tour that took place in February. There were two concerts at school before the tour, one at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore on February 15, and one at Carnegie Hall in New York on February 19. It was the first-ever tour that the Shepherd School Orchestra did. We enjoyed the musical experience as much as we enjoyed the friendship shared while traveling, eating, sightseeing, hanging out, and of course working through the endless rehearsals together. Here’s a glimpse of the tour:

Friday, February 14
Houston to Washington, D.C.

What could possibly be a better way to start Valentine’s Day other than meeting up with your friends at 5:30 a.m. after a long concert the night before? We flew to Baltimore on a chartered plane. TSA agents came to the school to do the security check, which was a new experience for most of us!

Despite the fact that our concert was the next day in Baltimore, we stayed at a hotel a block away from the Smithsonian. After we checked into our rooms in the afternoon, some of us almost immediately ventured to the museums. (Jarita: I practiced a little, out of guilt.) We had a free evening in D.C., but we didn’t do anything crazy knowing that the concert was the next day. Although we did decide to record the 4th movement of Mozart’s 35th symphony as a group to send to our wonderful orchestra repertoire teacher, Joan DerHovsepian, as a Valentine’s Day present!


Hanging out bright (actually dark) and early at Shepherd School lobby Photo credit: Rice University


We learned how to do the Rice University owl sign 10 seconds before this was taken. Alex (front left) doesn’t look that happy in here. Photo credit: Rice University

Saturday, February 15
Concert in Baltimore

We left D.C. in the morning to travel an hour to Baltimore. When we arrived we had a simple lunch, then some free time before the dress rehearsal. We hung out, and some of us decided to start a massage train, which isn’t exactly the most efficient and relaxing way of getting a massage. But hey, it did the job.

Some Shepherd faculty members were at the rehearsal. Leone Buyse (flute), Michael Webster (clarinet), Kenneth Goldsmith (violin), and some Rice Alumni who play in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra came to support us. We are fortunate to have such dedicated faculty!

The concert program for this evening was:
Hector Berlioz: Le corsair, Op. 21
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
Soloist: Jon Kimura Parker
Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

Concerts are almost always more fun to play—especially after rehearsing so much and getting to know the pieces well—as they can be spontaneous in a performance. In the famous 18th Variation in Rachmaninoff before the last chord, Mr. Parker did something different. Everyone’s breath was taken away for what seemed like forever before Mr. Parker played the final chord. It was magical. (Here’s a link to a recording of the variation, played by Mikhail Pletnev and the Berlin Philharmonic. Wish we had a recording of the concert so you would know what we mean!)

Jarita: The most memorable moment of the concert, aside from the goose bump-inducing time in the Rachmaninoff, was how my D and G string pegs slipped, and my strings were completely loose one line before my solo in the fifth movement of Bartók. There was not enough time to tune them back, and my mind was running in 20 different directions, which is why I didn’t exchange my viola with my stand-partner, Aaron Conitz, sooner than I did. The result was me playing three notes successfully on the A string, and the rest was attempted, but nothing came out. Right after that, I gave my viola to Aaron who, very purposefully, walked off stage and came back within a page of music. He’s my hero!

Stephanie: During our hour-long bus ride to Baltimore I couldn’t believe how much energy there was on my bus. We had spent five weeks preparing and rehearsing for the tour, and the day was finally here. I can definitely say we were more than ready to perform! The Meyerhoff was such a gorgeous hall, and it was an honor to perform there. I remember first walking on stage for the dress rehearsal and just feeling totally blown away. There was so much excitement in the air that the dress rehearsal felt like a performance! We had a lot of downtime before the concert, and by the time the clock struck 7:30 p.m. everyone was ready to go. This is one of those performance experiences of a lifetime, and no one in the orchestra will ever forget that night. As of today, this was one of the best musical experiences of my life, and I know so many orchestra members that would agree.


Having fun in a massage train before dress rehearsal Photo credit: Antoinette Gan


Dress rehearsal in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Photo credit: Rice University


The viola section after the concert (L to R, back: Marie-Elyse Badeau, Rachel Li, Yvonne Smith, Daniel Wang; front: Chi Lee, Leah Gastler, Jill Valentine, Meredith Kufchak, Jarita Ng, Blake Turner, Stephanie Mientka, Aaron Conitz) Photo credit: Stephanie Mientka


Larry Rachleff and Jon Kimura Parker after the concert Photo credit: Rice University

Sunday, February 16
Free day in Washington, D.C.

Free day in D.C. means museum day. Most of us went to the Smithsonian museums, some of us to the memorials or the White House, among other tourist places. In the evening more than half of the violists went out to an Irish pub in Georgetown. It was such a treat for us to be able to spend the day seeing national monuments and visiting world-renowned museums. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend our day off. The museums that day were packed with Rice owls!


Violinists (L to R) Eugeniu Ceremus, Anastasia Sukhopara, Jordan Koransky, and Christiano Rodrigues at the National Gallery of Art Photo credit: Boson Mo


Marie-Elyse and Jill having the time of their life in front of the National Monument Photo credit: Chi Lee


Violists at the Irish pub; we know how to have fun (clockwise starting with Daniel, Jarita, Chi, Jill, Stephanie, Rachel, Marie-Elyse) Photo credit: Stephanie Mientka

Monday, February 17
Washington, D.C. to New York City

We had an early start. We left at 8:00 a.m. to take the bus for five hours to the DiMenna Center in New York City for a rehearsal. We were so exhausted from the walking and fun the day before that most of us slept during a large portion of the ride. After we arrived at the rehearsal space, we had some lunch and started warming up. However, the truck that was responsible for transporting the basses and the box of music for the whole orchestra was not there when the rehearsal was supposed to start! We had no idea why it wasn’t there, but it was 1.5 hours late.

Despite the instruments and music arriving late, we had a good rehearsal and some in-music entertainment from our conductor Larry Rachleff, when he danced to the music of Christopher Rouse’s Violin Concerto while Cho-Liang Lin was playing the extremely difficult cadenza. At the end of the cadenza, Mr. Lin suddenly stopped playing, while trying to catch his breath from laughing because Mr. Rachleff’s dance was hilarious; he “face-palmed” and said, “Sorry, I lost it!” Told you that orchestra was awesome!

We had the evening off. But knowing that the Carnegie Hall concert was the next day, we took some much needed rest.


Cho-Liang Lin, “Sorry, I lost it!” and Mr. Rachleff pretending it’s not his fault Photo credit: Dorothy Ro


(Most of) Our wonderful viola section before our rehearsal at DiMenna Center! From front to back: Jarita, Blake, Leah, Meredith, Rachel, Jill, Chi, Yvonne, Marie-Elyse Photo credit: Stephanie Mientka

Tuesday, February 19
Concert in New York City

The day we’d all been waiting for was here! Carnegie Hall, New York City. One of the most famous halls in the world, and our Rice University Shepherd School of Music Orchestra had the privilege and the honor of performing there. After a good night of sleep, we all walked across the street from our hotel and entered Carnegie through the stage door.


Walking from our hotel to Carnegie. (Aaron and Jarita) Photo Credit: Stephanie Mientka

We had about a two-hour rehearsal in the beautiful hall, and we were honored again to have so many of our amazing faculty there listening and offering advice, including one of our viola professors, James Dunham!


Our wonderful viola section! (Front Row, L to R: James Dunham, Jarita Ng, Rachel Li, Meredith Kufchak, Yvonne Smith, Daniel Wang; Back row, L to R: Jill Valentine, Aaron Conitz, Blake Turner, Leah Gastler, Marie-Elyse Badeau, Chi Lee, Stephanie Mientka.) Photo Credit: Rice University

Carnegie is the type of hall where an orchestra can explore another dimension of dynamics and color. Maestro Rachleff spent this rehearsal not rehearsing the music, but pushing the orchestra to explore the new sound world we were playing in. Every moment spent in that hall was precious time, and I hope (of course!) that all of us will have the honor again, but it is a rare honor.

That evening our concert began promptly at 8:00 p.m. When I (Stephanie) walked out on stage, I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of audience members that were already in the hall. As 8:00 p.m. drew closer, more and more people filled the seats. I saw so many friends, family, and faculty among the general public there to support all of us. How special is it to perform in one of the world’s best halls and be surrounded by so many people who care about you?

The concert program for this evening was:
Hector Berlioz: Le corsair, Op. 21
Christopher Rouse: Violin Concerto
Soloist: Cho-Liang Lin
Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

The Rouse Violin Concerto was definitely a challenge to play, but such a wonderful addition to the program. It was a piece that took a lot of time to put together, but the end result was so powerful. Stephanie had the honor of bumping into Mr. Rouse himself while taking the elevator before the concert! What a nice man and fantastic composer.

At 8:00 p.m. Maestro Larry Rachleff walked out onto the stage of Carnegie Hall and conducted one of the best concerts our orchestra has ever played. (And this time Jarita’s pegs didn’t slip at all! However, Blake’s did. Speaking of viola jokes . . .)

After the concert there was a wonderful reception in the Museum Room in Carnegie, and there were many friends, faculty, family, and Rice Alum waiting there to congratulate all of us. A night none of us will ever forget!


Carnegie Hall Performance, February 19, 2014 Photo credit: Yvonne Pan

Wednesday, February 20

Stephanie: The day after our concert at Carnegie Hall was an entirely free day in New York City, which is such a treat for us. I was also really impressed by how people chose to spend their day. I decided to check out MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) with a good friend from the City, and I am not kidding, I saw half the orchestra there! I’ve had the great honor to play music with such amazing people, in and out. Jarita spent her day trying violas at various shops around the city, which was another great way to spend the day! (Jarita: but I got a headache at the end from trying all the violas. I think I tried at least fifteen, at two different shops.) It was a great day for everyone, but we all knew that the trip was ultimately coming to end.

Thursday, February 21

Bright and early at 7:00 a.m. we all met in the lobby of our hotel to begin the trek back to Texas. Everyone was more than exhausted from the week’s adventures, and most people slept immediately upon boarding the bus, and then the plane home.


Headed back to Texas! (Park Central Hotel, Manhattan, New York) Photo Credit: Stephanie Mientka


Our chartered plane from United Photo Credit: Stephanie Mientka

On the evening of February 21 at 8:00 p.m., the Shepherd students who stayed home performed a “conductor-less” concert.

The program included:
Mendelssohn: The Herbrides, Op. 26, “Fingal’s Cave”
Stravinsky: Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550

The students spent a week working with three members from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and prepared a completely conductor-less concert. They also put the entire program together in only one week, which was very impressive and inspiring. It was such a nice homecoming for us to arrive and hear a wonderful concert performed by fellow Rice students. The communication among the musicians on stage was superb. They looked like they were having fun without a conductor (oops)! The concert was absolutely fantastic!

The Chamber Orchestra concert concluded our week-long music adventure. Life bounced back to normal immediately on Friday with classes, lessons, and chamber-music rehearsals, but with many memories to savor.

Closing reflections

Stephanie: The week-long tour went by in a whirlwind, but we all came home forever changed by the experiences we had, the new friends we made, and most importantly the musical experiences that we had and shared with our wonderful audiences. It was such an honor to be a part of such an amazing ensemble of musicians. The person and place to thank for that is Maestro Larry Rachleff and the Shepherd School of Music. Without the amazing orchestral program at the Shepherd School, we would not have received the immense amount of community and donor support that made this trip possible. Thank you all so much for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Jarita: At the end of the dress rehearsal at Carnegie Hall, Mr. Rachleff, after a 15-second long silence that he gave to the orchestra and himself, expressed his gratitude; made sure we understood that the tour was something special to ourselves and to him; and reminded us to take “mental snapshots” that evening. It was a bittersweet moment knowing that it was close to the end. Along the tour, I took in and remembered as many moments as possible—the time and experiences shared with old and new friends, the musical experiences, and just being in the moment doing what we love inside and outside of music. It was a privilege to have had this experience. I am extremely grateful to the school, donors, staff, faculty, administrators, and fellow colleagues for making the tour possible; it is one of my best experiences yet in life.