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L.A. Philharmonic, L.A. Opera's new musicians reflect on move here

The newer classical musicians of the L.A. Philharmonic and L.A. Opera moved to the area for many reasons and are adjusting to their new home and orchestras in different ways.

September 18, 2011|By David Ng, Los Angeles Times
  • Christopher Still (trumpet) and Minyoung Chang (first violin), newer members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Christopher Still (trumpet) and Minyoung Chang (first violin), newer… (Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles…)

The life of a classical orchestra musician can feel peripatetic and unsettled. Much like professional athletes, musicians are frequently on the road and called on to work long hours during the season. It is often physically demanding work, with few breaks in between events. Classical music has another thing in common with pro sports — players switch teams with regular frequency.

Each fall, concertgoers can look forward to seeing at least a few new faces in their favorite orchestra. Jumping teams allows players to advance their careers, experience new conductors and reinvigorate their craft. It doesn't always work out. In 2009, Mathieu DuFour took the position of principal flutist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a trial basis, only to abruptly return to the Chicago Symphony less than a year later.

As the 2011-12 seasons are about to begin, four new(ish) musicians at the L.A. Philharmonic and one from the L.A. Opera orchestra took time to discuss what it has been like making the transition to Southern California. Their experiences are varied and diverse — some came to L.A. for personal reasons, some for professional reasons, and some for both. Here are their stories, told in their own words.

Nathan Cole (L.A. Philharmonic, joined 2011)

Instrument: Violin

Previous orchestra: Chicago Symphony

Personal life: Lives in Pasadena with wife, Akiko Tarumoto, also a violinist

Why L.A.? I auditioned for the Phil because a position on the first stand of violins opened up.... As to the moment that I heard about the opening: The L.A. Phil was on tour in May 2010, and one of the stops was in Chicago, where we lived. We hosted a party for the orchestra at our home, never dreaming that just over a year later we would be moving to L.A.!

Getting used to a new orchestra? I think the difficulty with a new orchestra is getting used to the group sound and way of working with the various conductors. After many years with my former orchestra, I was confident of how the group would react to any gesture by a conductor, whether regular or guest. Here, I will have to guess wrong a few times before that becomes second nature.

Roberto Cani (L.A. Opera, joined 2011)

Instrument: Violin (L.A. Opera concertmaster)

Previous orchestra: Guest concertmaster at La Scala in Milan, Italy, and London Philharmonic; various solo and ensemble work; studio musician

Personal life: Originally from Milan; moved to Los Angeles in 1992 and currently lives in Venice

Why L.A.? I always wanted to come to the U.S. since I was a kid. I was born and raised in Italy, and I studied music and accounting. My dad was an accountant — I couldn't stand it. I realized I had talent as a musician and when I was 20 I left to study in Germany and in Moscow. I followed a teacher who came here from Russia, and I attended USC.

Challenges of being concertmaster? I just started last week. You are almost like a second conductor. You have to look at the conductor and also watch out for your players. You can't relax and you have to be always on top. You don't just play — you have to study the score like the conductor, almost memorize the entire opera.

Life in L.A. as a musician? It's very difficult to be a freelance musician here — I've been lucky, I can't complain… I loved opera since I was a kid, and there was this opportunity. I moved to Venice a year ago — I purchased a house. Being in Venice makes me happy, so I really don't mind the commute [to downtown].

Christopher Still (L.A. Philharmonic, joined 2007)

Instrument: Trumpet

Previous orchestra: Colorado Symphony

Personal life: Lives with wife, Amanda McIntosh, in Pasadena

Hardest part about joining L.A. Phil: The pace of this orchestra is light speed. It is a much more tremendous workload, especially with a lot of new music and difficult premieres. Sometimes the composer is still sketching as you get the part. For example, for [Gustavo] Dudamel's opening gala, we performed John Adams' "City Noir" — which I think is the hardest piece of music I've ever had to play. My first rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl was Copland's Third Symphony, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, and we did it on one rehearsal.

Preconceptions about L.A.: To be honest, I almost didn't take the audition because of my ill-conceived notion of this city. I thought of smog and traffic. When I came out, I realized how naive that conception was. I'm glad I took the audition.

Interests outside of music? I make beer. I have a five-tap kegerator at home. It's illegal to sell it; I just do it for my own enjoyment. There's a home-brew supply store in Eagle Rock and I have computer software to design my recipes. It's surprisingly complex.

Minyoung Chang (L.A. Philharmonic, joined 2010)

Instrument: Violin

Previous orchestra: New York Philharmonic

Personal life: Lives in downtown L.A. with husband Joseph Pereira, a timpanist for the L.A. Phil

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