ToniMarie Marchoni, Paul Nemeth and Jennifer Chu play the oboe, double bass and piano respectively in the New Juilliard Ensemble, a group based at New York‘s Juilliard School. They are a jet setting bunch who have just returned from a Japanese tour and numerous trips across the US and Europe individually. Robert Leeming caught up with them in one of their rare free moments.
Muso: Speaking as someone who used to dread auditions to get in ensembles and orchestras, I would imagine there was a particularly daunting audition to get into an ensemble as prestigious as yours?
ToniMarie: There is an official audition process that you have to go through I believe, it is probably very daunting but I don’t think any of us here went through one!
Paul: I substituted for a friend in one of the fall concerts and I’ve played with them ever-since, the thing with the NJE is that there is no permanent members. The musicians rotate all the time.
Jennifer: A lot of people get the chance to be involved, you are usually fished out of other Julliard groups. I played a solo in another ensemble that is run by Joel Sachs, the leader of the NJE and he invited me to join after that.
Muso: The NJE is a chamber ensemble in the traditional sense isn’t it? How many instruments are involved and what individual roles do your instruments play within the fabric of the group?
Jennifer: The ensemble is based on the London Sinfonietta, so it is usually made up of around 13 musicians, violin, viola, cello, double bass, woodwind, brass and piano of course.
Paul: The number varies depending on what the composition requires. The double bass has tended to play a backing role to other instruments in pieces written for ensembles in the past . Composers have tended to be stingy when it comes to handing out solos. But that’s changing, more and more modern composers are showcasing the double bass, so I’m getting more and more things to do.
ToniMarie: Joel is a master programmer though. He has such an amazing knowledge of modern and classical composers, he can pretty much dig out the most unheard of pieces that feature an instrument he wants to showcase solo. So there’s nobody that gets just “back-up”. Everyone get their moment.
Muso: It’s very much based on playing new commissions isn’t it? Can you give me an idea of the kinds of things you play?
Jennifer: Yes its pretty much brand new music that we play, always written within say the last ten years. I was recently involved with NJE’s premiere of Robert Rodriguez’s Musica Por un Tempo at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. It was a piece based on the works of Henry Purcell and we played that over a pre-recorded rumba dance rhythm. It was pretty original.
Paul: I’m involved in a premier of a new work in September to mark the completion of a huge renovation and extension at Julliard. It’s a piece called Paths To Parables II by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, I think he’s from Uzbekistan. The music is based on rabbinical tales, Jewish religious stories and there is a narration that goes along with the musical interpretations, that is supposed to be Woody Allen offering a commentary on the stories.
Muso: That sounds amazing….haha….I love Woody Allen.
Paul: It is funny, I believe the person who is playing Woody Allen is going to dress up as a Rabbi and the narration is actually things Woody Allen has written, so as you know its hilarious. The humour is also set in the sound of the music as well I feel.
Muso: How was the tour of Japan that you recently returned from, what did the ensemble get up to on that?
Jennifer: Well I wasn’t involved with that one!
ToniMarie: It was an amazing week, we were all welcomed heartily where ever we went. We did four concerts at Suntory Hall, which is a huge concert hall in the middle of Tokyo. We also did a concert at the Tokyo American Centre, which is part of the American Embassy. They try to improve relations between the two countries through culture.
Muso: Sounds all very exiting. What kind of things did you play at the Embassy?
Paul: It was all modern repertoire again. But we focused on the diversity of American culture, playing pieces by for example Japanese-American composers and Hispanic-American composers.
Muso: What has been your favourite concert that you have played with the ensemble or indeed during your time at Julliard?
Jennifer: Uhm tough one!
Muso: Oh very……you didn’t think this was going to be easy did you?
Jennifer: Haha, I think for me it was the concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art that I mentioned before. We performed in the Sculpture Garden there, which is a really refreshing place. It’s kind of boxed in by the museum on one side and the city on the other, which does some wonderful things to sound. That was part of the Summergarden festival they have, were the museum is filled with music through the summer evenings.
Paul: I think for me it was probably the Suntory Hall concert. We played a piece called “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” by Jack Beeson. Joel used to be a student of his at Colombia University, and he got Jack, who used to be a major player of the New York music scene to compose this piece for us. Its totally contemporary, but not avant-garde.
Muso: Who are you inspired by musically?
Paul: Definitely my string teacher Orin O’ Brien she was the first woman ever to play with the New York Philharmonic, so she worked under Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, all the greats that have led the New York Phil. To be taught by someone who has such lineage as that is amazing…..I mean she’s worked with people when she was younger who worked with Gustav Mahler.
Muso: Ok last question, a bit lighter. What is the most listened to track on your Ipod? ( A frenzied few minutes of Ipod clinking and giggling ensue)
Jennifer: Well I love Chinese pop at the moment, my top 25 is full of that.
ToniMarie: My favourite song I would say is “In My Life” by The Beatles. I love that song. Listening to The Beatles records when I was little was one of the things that got me into music. I really love Brahms too particularly his first symphony and Opus 118 No2 in A Major. Which was one of the first things I learnt to play on the piano and I still do today because it is so amazingly cathartic.
Paul: I’m constantly hunting out different Classical works really, its such a wide genre and there is so much variety to seek out.
Muso: You cultured lot! Well thank you for talking to me and good look with all your upcoming travels and ventures.