Now that I am back from Music Academy of the West, I suppose it’s time to update this thing. I realize that it might have been more interesting to have “checked in” during my time in Santa Barbara these last couple months, but as I have said on numerous occasions by now, the whole MAW experience felt like its own world, where it was tempting to think that the rest of my life was on “pause.” As self-centered as this idea is, I’m afraid I gave in to it, to a certain extent, and put off a number of things including phone calls, emails, and updating my website. At least I finally managed to bring myself to update my résumé and repertoire lists last week.
Whatever I choose to say about MAW is going to end up being a huge understatement, as it is very difficult to describe the combination of remarkable music-making, lessons, masterclasses, concerts, and interactions that comprised the eight-week program. To sum it up, it was a positive experience – not only was it great to live in the excessively beautiful Santa Barbara area for two months, but it was a real privilege to work with such an array of incredibly high-level musicians. Some of the concerts I attended are now embedded in my memory as some of the most powerful and exciting concert-going experiences in my life. I particularly enjoyed hearing the members of the faculty perform (especially Jonathan Feldman), as well as visiting artists such as Gil Shaham, and the Academy Festival Orchestra.
I learned a lot through my lessons with Jonathan, and took away some important tools to incorporate into my playing in the future. The time he spent working with me was extremely valuable, and I feel that I am a better musician now. I certainly hope for future opportunities to work with him.
Lesson on Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 8 with Jonathan. Koko Watanabe, violin. Photo courtesy of Natasha Kislenko.
Networking and developing connections with other people was one of my goals for the two-month period, and I feel that this was a success. Besides the faculty members that I met and worked with, and the colleagues with whom I collaborated musically, I made some great friends at MAW.
The other members of the Collaborative Piano studio are wonderful people as well as excellent musicians, and our group of eight could not have been a more perfect and harmonious combination of people – Jacob Coleman, Miles Fellenberg, Suyeon Kim, Yu Ra Kim, Doreen Lee, Luis Ortiz, Chorong Park, and myself. Our teachers – Jonathan Feldman, Hiromi Fukuda, Natasha Kislenko, and Margaret McDonald – helped make us feel like one big collaborative family.
The final concert of the program featured the Academy Festival Orchestra, conducted by James Gaffigan, who was absolutely fantastic. I played piano and celeste on Charles Ives’ Three Places In New England, which made up the first half of the program. The second half was Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, a great way to close the festival. During the rehearsals for the Ives, my friend Matous Michal – a Czech violinist studying at Juilliard under Glenn Dicterow – and I had the idea of attaching an American flag to the stick of the piano. I jokingly mentioned this idea to Maestro Gaffigan, who immediately responded, “DO IT!” We ended up attaching a smaller flag to the piano stick, which raised during an especially chaotic section during the second movement of the Ives, while Matous rose from his seat and waved a full-sized American flag on a stick above the orchestra. A review of the concert can be found HERE.
I am grateful and fortunate to have had this opportunity to work with such phenomenal musicians – there are so many that I could name, and so many that I wish I could have had more opportunities to play with. Fortunately, I am sure there will be plenty of chances in the future, as each of these experiences brings the members of our musical community closer together. I always find myself saying the ol’ “Wow what a small world” cliché, and am always realizing more and more how true that is.
Collabs: Miles Fellenberg, Yu Ra Kim, Doreen Lee, Joseph Yungen, Chorong Park, Luis Ortiz, Suyeon Kim, Jacob Coleman (not pictured)