What led to you pursue music, and how did you wind up playing the English horn?
My family is very musical. My parents met in high school orchestra when they were 14, and my older brother plays violin, so it was a natural thing for me.
I started on piano when I was about 4; it’s my voice, it’s where I live. When I was 10, I wanted to do something more social, so of course I chose an instrument that requires you to spend hours and hours alone making reeds [laughs]. Initially, I really wanted to play the bassoon, which were very expensive back in those days, or the French horn. Somehow that morphed into me pursuing oboe.
I didn’t really intend to play English horn; I thought of myself mostly as an oboist. When I auditioned for the English horn position in the Nashville Symphony, they kind of took a chance on me. I hadn’t played a lot of English horn.
What’s the first concert you ever attended?
I think it was a Nashville Symphony children’s concert. I was probably about 3 or 4. And as the story is told, my mother bribed me with candy to keep me from fidgeting.
Could you have imagined that one day you’d be performing with the Nashville Symphony?
Not in my wildest dreams.
What makes the Nashville Symphony unique among orchestras?
The Schermerhorn is the best hall I’ve ever gotten to perform in regularly. You shouldn’t say it’s better than Carnegie Hall, but you can say it’s as good. There are still times when I walk onstage, hear the first note and think, wow, that really sounds amazing. And the staff and the orchestra work really well together in a way I haven’t experienced in other orchestras. Nashville is such a musical city, and it’s always been a better orchestra than it should have been. Even when the orchestra paid its musicians very poorly back in the ’60s and ’70s, string players would come to Nashville because they could earn extra money playing sessions on Music Row. So it always had a really good string section, but now it’s a terrific orchestra.
What is it like performing onstage with an orchestra?
It’s hard work, but it gives you so much back if you are receptive. Like any other job, there are going to be easy days and hard days, but it’s a thrill to hear the music come alive.
What are some personal highlights of your time performing at the Schermerhorn over the past decade?
The first that comes to mind is when Yefim Bronfman performed Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto. Bronfman’s one of these giant pianists, and it was an electric three nights. Then on the third night, he did an encore of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, and it was the fastest, cleanest reading of it I’ve ever heard — it was unbelievable! We did Stravinsky’s Petrushka with Giancarlo Guerrero, and that was an amazing concert, because, among many other things, Giancarlo is so highly attuned to rhythm. Music is made up of cells, like a fractal, so when he finds these little cells and gets them just right, the whole piece takes on an aura.
Why does classical music matter?
Smartphones are terrific and amazing, but they also have downsides — and one of them is what happens to our attention span. So for people who love classical music, going to a concert is like an enforced meditation. You’re giving up two hours to go on a journey of sound and memory. And people who don’t love classical music should still go and allow themselves to feel the way they’re going to feel about it. If you feel bored, there are probably musicians onstage who might be feeling bored, too — and that’s OK. Everything can’t be a thrill a minute. With smartphones, everything is spectacle, but you need some downtime to regroup, and music offers a way to do that.
In addition to your role with the Nashville Symphony, you perform a lot in other ensembles as well.
I’m starting to facilitate something called the Nashville Concerto Orchestra. None of the musicians get paid, but it affords us an opportunity to perform as soloists. We spend all of our childhood learning how to play this music, and then we get an orchestra job, and we don’t get many opportunities to play what we cut our teeth learning our craft on, so this orchestra gives us that chance.
I also do my annual Mozart birthday concert. January 2017 marks our 15th year, and we've become a nonprofit called Mozart in Nashville. It’s a joyous thing hosted by two churches — St. George’s Episcopal and Edgehill United Methodist, and each year we partner with a different nonprofit that benefits from the exposure as well as splitting the proceeds with the churches. This year, our nonprofit partner is the Mary Parrish Center for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence. Art is better when it’s shared in community.
I love Mozart, but his music is hard to play. It’s not like Beethoven, which will give you goosebumps even when it’s performed by nonprofessional musicians, because it’s just that resiliently crafted. Mozart’s music is beautifully crafted, but it needs a little more attention to make it really bloom.
You were born and raised in Nashville. What do you think about our dramatically changing city?
I think we’re maintaining the core goodness that I love about Nashville. The restaurants are incredible, and many of them are doing it in a responsible way, with locally sourced ingredients. A lot of people are still moving here to make music, and that’s exciting. I love going to any coffee shop and when I ask people what they do, they say, “I play the guitar and write songs.” It’s like going to Hollywood, where everyone’s waiting to be discovered. I think that makes Nashville unique, and I’m glad we’re not losing that.
Mozart and Brahms.
Favorite non-classical musicians?
Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Stephane Grapelli and Béla Fleck, among many, many others. It was a highlight when Fleck came and performed his banjo concerto with the orchestra.
Favorite venue other than the Schermerhorn?
I love just being in the Ryman.
The Last Emperor, Hair, City Lights, The General, I could go on. The music in Hair is incredible. Actually, the stage version was among my first musical experiences: my parents took me when a touring company came through town in the late 1960s.
I can’t name just one book, although I’ve recently read The Chess Game by Stefan Zweig and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.