John Lamb, Published March 12 2013
Guest conductor didn’t get into classical music until college
While many conductors have a history in musical performance or at least studied classical music from a young age, One says he wasn’t exposed to orchestral music until college. While his contemporaries were likely studying Beethoven and Brahms in high school, One was bashing it out in a garage band in the 1970s.
“I had dreams of maybe playing on a stage someday,” he said last week from his home in Modesto, Calif.
One gets his turn on a big stage this weekend, but not in the way he dreamt of as a teen. Instead of swinging the drumsticks, One will keep the beat with his baton, leading the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony through its fourth Masterworks concert of the season.
One (pronounced OH-nay) is the fourth of five visiting conductors trying out for the musical director opening. Whether he gets the job or not, he’s come a long way since he used to beat the skins to Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears.
He gives some credit to the horn sections in Chicago and BS&T for warming him up for the horn sections in symphonies.
Though he sang in the choir and played in high school bands, it wasn’t until he was a math major in college that he really studied music. After receiving a top score on a music appreciation placement test – even beating out music majors – he started taking music theory and music history classes.
“At that point, I just found it so much more interesting than the somewhat dry math classes,” he says. “It just fascinated me how they were put together. The form, the kind of harmonies used, it was a lot more complicated.”
What he found so interesting was the elaborate structure of the music, more complex than the 3-minute rock songs he cut his teeth on.Even when he was listening to rock, One was always curious about how the music worked. He would listen to his idols like jazz drummer Buddy Rich and Bobby Colomby from BS&T (“probably the most underrated rock ‘n roll drummer that ever existed”) at half-speed to break down their beats.
He gradually switched to a music major and started studying composition, though he says he’s not much of a composer.
“For me it wasn’t the creation so much as the construction that interested me. As a composition student, I learned about the techniques of composition and tore apart and analyzed all of these works as to how they were put together. Learning how they were put together fascinated me more than creating these things myself,” he says. “I don’t think I can improve on Mozart or Mahler or anything like that as far as adding to the canon, but I could appreciate what the piece was like and as a conductor could study a piece, deconstruct it to its elements and then re-assemble it in a performance.”He takes that reconstruction approach not only to music, but how it is shared and experienced, including rearranging where musicians sit to alter how pieces are heard.
“It can make for a better, more interesting, more attractive performance not only for the musicians, but the audience itself,” he says.
He also challenges how music is ordered in a concert.
“Does it have to be an overture, concerto and a symphony every single time?” he asks.
Not this weekend.
One’s program opens with “Savannah River Holiday Overture” by Ron Nelson, a composer still living in Arizona who One praises for his accessibility.
“I like his craftsmanship. I like how he puts the pieces together and works with the orchestra,” the conductor says.
He then moves into “Violin Concerto No. 2” by Max Bruch.
“It has all the elements one wants,” One says. “A very contemplative opening that moves into a dynamic section with lots for the violin to play. The second movement is slow and expansive and very melodic and the violin gets to soar and play these wonderful melodies; the last movement is a bravura showcase for the violin.”
Rather than going straight into a symphony, One brings in another overture, Gioachino Rossini’s 7-minute long “Overture to ‘La Scala di Seta.”
The program closes with Edward Elgar mysterious “Enigma Variations,” a piece with a story for each of the 14 variations. He hopes to cast a little light on the piece’s background with a power point presentation to enhance the experience.
“It’s always fun to get a new toy, to open it up and think, ‘What wonderful new thing am I going to get?’ ” he says. “That’s the type of experience I like to give to the audience.”
He thinks using visual elements could help the appreciation of the music not just in adults, but young children, particularly grades 6 and below. After that, kids are too busy with school then trying to establish themselves in the working world. Once adults are settled, starting around age 35, they become more fertile for exposure, he says.
One says like appreciating wine, classical music takes time, maturity and patience.
“It’s something people tend to come to later in life, but a lot of them come later in life because there was a seed that was planted when they were very young,” he says.
If you go
What: Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Festival Concert Hall, NDSU
Info: Tickets range from $15 for students to $35 for adults. (701) 478-3676.
For more information: www.fmsymphony.org
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533