Darryl One, the third candidate to succeed George Zack as music director of the Philharmonic, leads the orchestra in a rehearsal Monday night. Copyrighted LexGo photo by Joseph Rey Au.
Darryl One had an appointment to meet the press Tuesday, but something else came up: a pickup basketball game.
Invited to play a midday game at the High Street YMCA, the conductor asked to delay a lunch date for 90 minutes.
Some around here might say the third aspirant to succeed George Zack as music director of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra has his priorities in the right order. And the maestro, who holds a master’s degree from Indiana University, talks enthusiastically about his excitement at being in yet another basketball hotbed.
But that’s only after a good two hours of chatter about conducting and music while sitting at Cheapside Bar and Grill.
One (pronounced Oh-nay) comes to Lexington from Modesto, Calif., where he was the music director of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Association until 2005. He still lives there with his wife and two teenage daughters. He is still music director of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra in Victoria, Texas. Prior to those jobs, One was associate conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Denver Symphony and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. One of the big reasons he likes Lexington is its proximity to his family's home in Chicago and his wife's family in Atlanta.
Our chat was to preview the big concert Friday night, when One takes the podium at the Singletary Center for the Arts to conduct a program of Ottorino Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite III, Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Organ and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.
Here are a few excerpts from that conversation:
On how he got into music . . .
When I was in high school, math was my, ‘strong suit.’ So, I though
that’s what I would want to major in. I was in the high school choir,
but I didn’t know too much about music back then. I had played drums in
a garage band. We played what was current at that time. This one
guitarist liked the Edgar Winter Group, so we did Free Ride and
things like that. We played Doobie Brothers. I liked Chicago, but of
course, we needed horns like that. These guys wanted to make money, so
we tried to be a wedding band and learned things like the Hokey Pokey. It was mostly an opportunity to sock your drums and turn your guitar up high.
In high school I played in the high school jazz band for a while. So, when I went to school, I thought I’d go as a math major and see what I could do with that.
But I wanted to learn more about music. I had drum lessons, but
nothing about harmony or theory. So I went to the music department and
asked if I could sign up for classes. They were giving placement exams,
which were more aural than knowledge, and I scored higher than anybody.
So I had to wait a year, because the major section of theory that was
being offered that semester was level one, and the theory teacher
thought I’d be bored with that. So I came in at level two, and I really
I thought, maybe I should think about being in music. But I didn’t know exactly what, since I wasn’t a virtuoso violinist or anything. I was a garage band drummer, so I couldn’t make a career at an instrument and performing on it. So I went into composition and liked that. My undergraduate degree was in theory and composition.
But by my senior year, I was assistant to the orchestra for two
years and I had already conducted a staged version of Magic Flute. I
had the understudy cast for the opera, so I coached them, and as a
reward, the conductor gave me the orchestra to do a staged concert
version of Magic Flute.
I was a little more enterprising and there was a chamber orchestra and I got wind that the conductor didn’t want to do it. So I went to the head of the music department, and he let me have the chamber orchestra. Now I had a class, and I didn’t have to beg people to play in a pick-up group.
One of the teachers there liked contemporary music, so he put together a contemporary chamber ensemble. But he didn’t want to conduct. He wanted someone else to do it. So, I was director of the contemporary chamber music ensemble, and I had the chamber orchestra, and I was assistant to the orchestra in my senior year, all while being a composition and theory major. Needless to say, I was thinking about conducting more than I was thinking about composing.
Normally speaking on audition kind of concerts like this, someone has to get these soloists set up, because they are booked a year or two or three ahead of time. So you expect you’ll get a concerto assigned to you, strictly based on what your availability is. I’m sure that before they picked any of us, they got all of these soloists signed up for these dates. Then, when they called us up, they said, ‘These are the dates. Are you available?’ So they put it all together and you get what you get. So, it’s happenstance that I’m doing the Poulenc.
As far as the rest of the program, it was already arranged, but
there was a different symphony and a different string piece . . . The first
piece was a string piece for strings and timpani and the program was
designed that way to save a little money, because if you have two
pieces that are strings only, you can rehearse them on one night and
you don’t have to hire winds or brass or percussion. So, I was asked to
keep it the same way.
It was the same with the symphony, which was originally the Bizet, the C, which I don’t believe uses as large a brass section (as the Tchaikovsky). It’s not that that I don’t like Bizet, but it’s not the piece that I would have wanted to do, and as an auditioner, I think you want a piece where you can show yourself off. So, I figured with the constraints, I needed to pick something familiar, something the orchestra hasn’t played for a while. So, I went through with George five or six pieces saying, “Well, what about this?” . . . Eventually we came up with the Tchaikovsky, which seemed fine because it was familiar, so the orchestra could do it without the four full rehearsals we normally have.
As far as the first piece, the string piece, I wanted to do something that was different. Tchaikovsky’s this big, massive, very emotive, closing piece. And you’ve got this organ piece that is all these moods, slightly schizophrenic, happy, sad, poignant, horrific, histrionic, and only strings, timpani and an organ, which is unusual. So, as long as we were going to be different, different, different, the Ancient Airs was a perfect choice. It was all of these 16th Century dances written for string orchestra, with this Elizabethan tone. It’s not particularly long or really difficult to put together, and yet it will be really fun for the orchestra.
So here’s a modern composer, Resphigi, sort of straddling the line there, with a string piece of 16th Century songs. Then, there’s Francis Poulenc, a decidedly 20th Century composer, but in a style that is unlike anything of his. Then, tried-and-true, hum-every-note-when-you-leave-the-concert-hall, ends-with a-bang, orchestra-shows-all-it-can do Tchaikovsky five.
One on his own approach to programming . . .
With the two orchestras I’ve had music directorships with, I try to program a season with an overall theme that links it together. If I just went with a formula of an overture, a symphony and a concerto, I could spit out a gazillion programs, and it would be easy. But that’s not what I want to do. I want to do something that gets the most bang for the buck. The marketing department loves it when there is a theme, something to go by. It’s like watching a television series where there’s a cliffhanger after every episode and you want to watch the next one . . . You feel like, ‘I don’t want to miss the next one, because I want to know what’s happening.’ If you program a season with a link that goes through it, people are more apt to say, ‘I want to hear the whole thing.’ When you program a Beethoven cycle, there are people who want to say they’ve heard all the Beethoven symphonies, or all the Vivaldi seasons or Brandenburg concertos.
That way, the marketing department has a hook they can grab onto. Otherwise, what do you call it? Symphonic Favorites? I’m not saying you can’t do that every once in a while. Not every season has to have a theme. It’s nice to do that from time to time.
Every once in a while it’s nice to have classical favorites or
blockbusters, or maybe it’s an anniversary year, like Mozart, and you
put Mozart in every single one, and that’s what gets you through it.
So that’s where I start. And I’m always interested in doing
something on every concert, if I can, that’s never been played in that
town. It doesn’t have to be contemporary music all the time. When I was
in Modesto, I did that every concert. So you’d look through the entire
repertoire and say, ‘What have they done? What haven’t they done?’ And
you find some strange things. Like the orchestra had never done the
Brahms third. It’s understandable, because there’s no bang at the end.
It sort of whimpers. So, it’s too long to put on a first half. But if
you put it at the end, the audience leaves feeling deflated.
So, I did that, and I love to find these pieces that don’t get played very often. Like Berlioz overtures, like King Lear.
They never played it there, and nobody ever does play it. But it’s a
really interesting piece. You can really hear the story. It’s loose in
some places, but it’s pretty close . . . It’s fun to find those pieces
that the orchestra doesn’t play very often, but isn’t like one of those
things where you say you’re going to do something the orchestra never
played, and the audience says, ‘Oh, no. It’s going to be modern,
Not that I don’t think that’s important, too. There are a lot of
great modern composers out there that need to be played. But you have
to be careful how you dose it . . . My responsibility as music director
is not just to play the same things over and over again, but to play
things that are new and expand the audience. How many people sit there
waiting for their favorite band’s next album to come out and want the
same old songs again? They want to hear something new. But, if you go
hear the Eagles reunion tour, you want to hear, Lyin’ Eyes, Witchy Woman, Peaceful, Easy Feeling. You want to hear the new stuff too. It’s a mish-mash, a little bit of everything.
You can’t go years without playing Brahms Symphonies and Beethoven. We understand that. But you also need to play Aaron Jay Kernis, Michael Torke or Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who are modern composers writing great, very accessible music today. So, it’s nice to get those pieces on, if you can.
On some of his 'hooks' . . .
I’m kind of shameless in that it’s something like Symphonic Storybook Season -- SSS -- or Tales and Scales, or I had Symphonic Shakespeare. Well, there was nothing particularly catchy about that, and the marketing department made it Shakespeare in Love, because of the movie, even though the pieces I chose weren’t necessarily from Shakespeare plays about love. They probably figured people wouldn’t notice.
You can’t do a theme every year. One year we did “People’s choice,” so in a themed year, we put out these surveys to the audience and asked, ‘What are your favorite pieces that you want to hear us play?’ or ‘Who is your favorite artist?’ and put on a season based on those surveys.
On working with musicians to select music and other stuff . . .
Musicians have things they want to do. I always tell the musicians, ‘I’m going to put things together, so tell me what you like, what you want.’ It’s surprising, how little response I get on that. I think the inertia of the work it takes to respond throws them off. If you ask them right off the cuff, they’ll tell you. But they won’t think about it, research a position, write it down in a letter and post it to you. It’s not that they’re lazy. They have other jobs and other responsibilities. There are other things in the forefront of their minds other than controlling repertoire.
They’ll talk about it in contract negotiations. But then it's impossible to get a meeting together, and what they really want is for you to do all this work so then they can have a meeting and say, ‘Nope. Nope. Nope.’ And you say, ‘Look, if we’re going to be an artistic committee, you have to do some work. If I’m going to do 99 percent of the work and then for your one percent, you’re going to come in and shoot down 98 percent of what I did, that’s not going to work.’
On musicians approaching new works . . .
There are very few people who are that studious about it, who not
only want to know their part, but want to know how it fits in. They’re
the ones who are immaculately prepared every time you come to
rehearsal. Then, it’s not like you’re practicing, and it leaves you
time to talk about other things, and then you can deal with things
like, ‘I don’t like the color of this chord. Can you play it on the B
string instead instead of the G string?' There are shades, and let’s
move in this phrase toward this, and nothing so crass and overstated as
ritard. We’re not going to ritard. We’re going to relax and feel the
subtleties. You build the structure so you can say, ‘How are we going
to finesse it and create vivid detail?’ You don’t have that when you’re
saying, ‘That’s an e-flat. It’s still an e-flat today, and it was
yesterday,’ and, ‘Why are you playing an up bow there when everyone
else is playing down?’ and silly stuff like that.
It’s hard enough to get 70 or 80 musicians together and getting them to move together instead of just going bump, bump, bump.
In Atlanta, they were great that way. We were doing a parks concert, and it was all Tchaikovsky -- the Polonaise, the Violin Concerto and the Fourth Symphony. I had one rehearsal. So, they came in that morning, and we played through the Polonaise. It was three minutes, and it was fine. And then the assistant concertmaster was playing the Violin Concerto,
and we played it through for him, and then I said, ‘Thank you. I’ll see
you tonight.’ We didn’t even play through the symphony, because it was Tchaik Four. They all know Tchaik Four. They had just done a tour of Europe the year before, and Tchaik Four was on it.
I just told them, ‘There’s a spot in the first movement where I slow down, so just watch me,’ and they said, ‘OK.’ And so we did the concert, and it was one of the best Tchaik Fours I ever did. After the concert a few of the musicians said, ‘We really liked what you did there. And I said, ‘Oh, the way it slowed down?’ They said, ‘Well, that. But what we really liked is you trusted us,’ and so as a result, they did I everything I wanted them to do. It was one mind, which was kind of great.
On the Symphony Savvy classes he offers in Victoria . . .
I wanted to give a little added value to our subscribers and to attract new people. So I started doing this series of classes called Symphony Savvy. Every year is a different topic. Last year we did, ‘What to listen for in music.’ A lot of people come into the hall and say, ‘What am I supposed to be doing, other than, I like that tune?’ So I did five classes on what to listen for, and I billed it like an infomercial: “Guaranteed! You’ll be able to listen to a piece of music and tell time period and composer.’ So I showed them how to do that, listen the style to determine where it came from. Then I did another where we listened to the structure of the piece to be able to say, that’s an A-B-A piece, or A-B, or that’s sonata form, that’s allegro or a rondo.
This year, I’m doing Musical Build Blocks -- the ABC’s of Composition. Over the five sessions, I’ve been teaching them how to write -- beginning to end -- a piece for orchestra, breaking it down to melody, harmony and orchestration. In the first session, I talked about the elements of a melody and what makes a good melody. Then I said, ‘Let’s come up with that first spark,’ and we got nine fragments. The next session I said, let’s talk about harmony and structure, like a song has a chorus and a verse and this piece has an A section and a B and then return to the A. So they had to choose a form and then I said, ‘Now, how are we going to use these nine fragments?’ So we’ve done that, and now we’re coming up on the third section. We have the melodies, we have the structure, and now we’re going to talk about dynamics and orchestration.
At the very end of this thing, the last week I’m there, the orchestra is going to play it at rehearsal. It’s not going to be a masterpiece, but it’s going to be their piece that they wrote as a group.