The changing face of classical music

“Driven: Six Incredible Musical Journeys,” by Nick Romeo. From the Top, Inc.  136 pages. $14.95.

Nick Romeo’s interview-based profiles relate heart-warming success stories in an arena in which the odds for survival, let alone success, are slim. These six young musicians come from different walks of life, but each is committed to invigorating the world of classical music performance so that its audience is broadened. Each appeared on the PBS show “From the Top,” which goes beyond conventional performance videos to represent young classical artists as appealing individuals through interviews and life stories. 

Nick Romeo

Charles Yang, a prodigious classical violinist, is also an accomplished rock and blues guitarist. His activities as a crossover artist are one model of how the classical repertory can be brought to a wider audience. Mr. Yang’s personal style involves a degree of informality and spontaneity that vanquishes the stuffiness associated with the protocols of classical performance, building a dynamic artist/audience relationship.

Similar motives spur Greg Anderson, a Julliard-trained pianist, to team up with classmate Liz Roe and develop exciting performance art to go along with their piano duo concerts. They create original narrations to interact with the music. They incorporate theatrical elements into their recitals, adapting popular hits and adding dance and costume elements into videos that have gained enormous popularity on You Tube. Such innovations provoke audience response and even participation. Mr. Anderson’s DMA dissertation at Yale examines the question “What can we do as performers and programmers to make recitals more interesting?”  He and others are “expanding  . . . what a classical recital can be” while maintaining the expectation of superb musicianship.

Nick Romeo’s narrative about soprano Nadine Sierra and the Metropolitan Opera competitions is one of several that track the competitive, high-pressure world of classical performance and the toll it takes on a young individual’s life. Mr. Romeo traces Ms. Sierra’s journey from her childhood in Fort Lauderdale where her teacher recognized her talent to a teenager whose vocal gift developed at a remarkably young age. She worked with the Palm Beach Opera and later trained at the Mannes School of Music in New York with renowned teacher Ruth Falcon. Mr. Romeo builds narrative tension as he traces Ms. Sierra’s preparation for each step in the Metro competition to ultimate success.

In exploring trumpeter Matt Muckey’s path to a seat in the New York Philharmonic, author Romeo stresses the need for an auditioning musician to maintain the combination of calm and focus that makes an optimal performance possible. He also underscores the need to anticipate and industriously prepare the pieces that candidates will most likely be asked to play.  The seat at the New York Philharmonic for which Muckey competed had been open for years, as winners of past competitions were not considered good enough to claim the seat! After Matt Muckey earned it, his comprehensive method of preparation became imitated by others.

Clifton Williams’ story, like all the others, is suspenseful and uplifting. Williams was introduced to music education through the Shirley Abrams Gospel Ministry as a young boy. Soon playing church gigs, he was accepted into Washington, DC’s prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts. His piano teacher recognized Williams’ exceptional talent, especially his ability to play anything after hearing it once. The church music performance style that Williams mastered required improvisational skills and the ability to interact with the audience. Clifton Williams has become a crossover performer, his love of gospel, jazz, and classical music blossoming in powerful and complementary ways. 

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the February 2, 2012 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Nick Romeo pdf 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Nick Romeo pdf 2

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