New Cascade Quartet/Chinook Winds players discuss their goals for upcoming symphony season
The Great Falls Symphony Orchestra ignites the new season on Saturday with help from the Eugene Ballet Company as they perform Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.”
Maestro Gordon Johnson and the rest of the symphony also will welcome two new full-time members to it’s ranks – clarinetist Chris Mothersole, and violist Maria Ritzenthaler. The two musicians also join ranks with the Chinook Winds and Cascade Quartet, respectively.
We here at Big Sky State Buzz caught up with the two and asked them about what they’re looking forward to in this, their first season playing with the symphony.
BSSB: Thank you, the both of you, for speaking with us today. First thing’s first, how’s the adjustment been for you guys moving here, getting acquainted with the symphony and the chamber groups you’re both in?
CM: Well, I got here in July, so I’ve been here for almost three months now. It’s been really nice, and a bit of a culture shock for sure. I came here from larger cities, I was in Boston and then London, so that’s been a big change, but it’s a nice here. Everyone is really close and very supportive. Not just within the symphony, but the entire musical community, everyone I’ve met so far anyhow, be it the community bands, musicians or teachers within the public school system, they’ve all been great so far.
MR: I just got here two weeks ago so I’ve definitely been diving right in. The audition was in August, so it’s all been a blur, but it’s been nice, too. I was living in Chicago and then I was in Minneapolis for a few years, so I’m embracing this small-town feel, which is great. Everyone in the quartet has been really wonderful and really helpful, helping me with anything I need so far.
BSSB: Now, Chris, you had your first official shows with the Chinook Winds last weekend. How did that one go, and are you relieved to get that first one under your belt?
CM: Yeah I’m definitely a little relieved, what with all that build-up and everything to finally see it come to fruition. And, I mean, we’ve done a few smaller shows around Montana during the summer and then went down to Los Angeles, as well, so I did have some experience playing and performing together with the rest of the quintet, but it’ll be nice to get more used to playing with people who have been playing together for three years now. But, those first performances here were really great, and it was a good turnout for both shows. Like Maria was saying with the Cascade Quartet, the quintet has just been a joy so far, they’re all full of energy and easy to play with.
BSSB: OK, Maria, how about you, are you looking forward to playing with a group that’s been performing together for as long as they have? I think Thad (Suits) and Mary (Papoulis) have been performing together for at least 15 years. Is that scary, or are you excited to jump in with them?
MR: It’s kind of nice knowing that they have their own way of doing things and that as a newcomer, I can sit back and become one with the way they are used to working. They also, I can tell, though, appreciate a little fresh air too. Megan’s relatively new with the group, but Thad and Mary have been playing for quite a while now. You can get that sense that they’ve played together for a long time, which for me gives me a great experience to play with people who know each others’ styles that well musically.
BSSB: When you’re new to a group, does that change the way you play at all, or do you play the same whether you’re new or not?
CM: I guess there’s a bit of a difference not only with the way we play, but the group as well. For me coming in, of course you have your own individual sound, and that’s something you keep no matter what, so you’re just getting used to, like Maria was hinting at, how the others play together, how they mesh and you kind of have to adjust in some ways to fit within that.
MR: It’s also good to remember that when we play in the chamber groups, we’re without a conductor so we’re trying to pick up on the communication skills. For me, it’s picking up on the ways Thad and Mary communicate without saying a word, so you start to try picking up on that too to help flow with the moment.
BSSB: So, what are the both of you looking forward to in particular with this season’s set of shows, either the chamber series or the orchestra performances?
CM: I’m actually really excited for our first concert coming up. Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” is one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. There’s so much wonderful music on there and then to get to do it with an actual ballet company is a rare opportunity. Then, aside from that, I’m excited to do the performance where both the Chinook Winds and the Cascade Quartet do the joint concert, as well. That gives us a chance to play around with different arrangements, so I think that’ll be fun.
MR: I’m looking forward to the first quartet show. Ravel’s String Quartet is such a well-known piece and it’s so great and fun and I’ve played it a few times in the past, I think it’s a good way to start in wih a new group of people – playing something you’re a little more familiar with. Then, with the orchestra, I’m excited to play Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” because I’m excited to play it with a full orchestra. I’ve only played it in excerpts during my audition.
BSSB: In my years of covering the Great Falls Symphony, one thing that they’ve done well with is taking risks musically and doing things that appeal to younger people as well as the older ones. What are you thoughts about changing things up in terms of what types of music the symphony plays?
CM: I think it’s necessary. It’s very important for a group to be able to do that and it’s one of the big ways we grow, not only as individuals but as a group. I mean, say you play the same Beethoven show every year, it’s easy to get stale, so the fact that they’re taking risks and trying different things is really great.
MR: Well plus you see it everywhere across the country. The current model for some orchestras doesn’t really work, there’s organizations that aren’t able to sustain themselves so I think it’s important to find new ways to reach the community by doing concerts with music you might not expect to hear. It’s a great idea.
BSSB: You both seem like relatively young people. Do you think the symphony can keep attracting younger people to it’s shows? How do you think that’s doable?
Maria: Well, firstly there’s that wall for people where they feel like symphony music is something they don’t get, and I hate that. I hate that people feel like they can only clap at certain times or they’ll feel anxiety for not being familiar with classical music. That’s the thing, though, it’s not something you have to “get.” I think it’s a kind of collaborative experience between a live audience and the musicians on stage. I think another great way the symphony can reach young people is through education, as well.
BSSB: I know that’s a big part of the audition process, or it has been in the past, at least, finding musicians that not only are talented musicians, but also are excellent educators, also. Have you guys had experience with that portion of what it means to be a part of the symphony here?
MR: I was very aware that that was an important part of the audition process. In fact, we had to do a 5-minute instrument demo geared toward 4th graders, so I think it was very important at the audition that we take that portion seriously and yeah, I love teaching. I’ve done it with all ages all over the place. I’ve taught college level to little beginners. I don’t have any students yet, but I do have lots of openings and I’d love to get lots of new students. That’s one of the best ways, I think, to keep this art form alive. The kids play the instruments, and then they want to see the orchestra and then they get their parents to come along with them and then they realize they’re seing something they didn’t realize they were missing and it continues the cycle.
CM: Yeah I had to do the same kind of thing as Maria and it was interesting to see that it was such a big part of the audition because that hardly ever happens. I saw it on the list of stuff to do, but it was very surprising, but i’m glad they did because we need to keep finding new ways to reach out to audiences and one of the best ways is through education. I think not only can we teach others, but we also end up learning something about ourselves too so it’s a great chance for everyone to develop.
To see Maria, Christopher and the rest of the Great Falls Symphony in person, check them out Saturday evening at the Mansfield Theater here in Great Falls. The first symphony starts at 7 p.m. Also keep checking back to Big Sky State Buzz for more on that performance later this week.