Delta David GierTom Dulack  

Designing a Young People's Concert Series

Delta David Gier & Tom Dulack
October 29, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

I attended the May 2, 2019 Young People's Concert of the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in order to visit with my friend and colleague David Gier and his wife Angela (who now live in South Dakota). My husband Algis accompanied me, though he really wasn't up for a "kiddie" concert, having heard me lament the lack of imagination in so many of those I've played over the years. We were, however, both totally blown away and delighted by what we heard and saw.

Four actors, representing New York, Paris, Vienna, and St. Petersburg from four different historical periods, appeared throughout the hall and were obviously in the midst of an ongoing contentious debate about which city's music was most important. David, as conductor, was completely a part of the actors' script, the Philharmonic played several substantial Russian masterpieces, including the Finale of Pictures at an Exhibition, and the concert ended with all four actors dancing to Mozart's 40th in four very different dance styles - an electrifying sight!

At the wrap party after the concert, after congratulating them profusely, I asked David and Tom Dulack, the director and scriptwriter, to share with me their experiences of and thoughts about putting together such a complex concert series for children and their families.

- Ann Drinan

Delta David Gier: It has been a pure joy for me to work with such a wonderfully creative team at the New York Philharmonic: Ted Wiprud, Director of Education, Tom Dulack, Scriptwriter, and Matias Tarnopolsky, former Manager of Artistic Planning. Oftentimes a conductor is a creative island without anyone to bounce ideas off of, so this has been quite a treat for me. No lack of creativity with this bunch.

Tom Dulack: David always came to the actors' rehearsals and rehearsed with us. Unheard of thing for a conductor to do. He was often a virtual member of the acting troupe, his dialogue thoroughly integrated with ours. Terrific!

DDG: Our collaborations generally have begun with a day-long retreat including the four of us. We begin with a theme that ties the four-concert series together, supplied by Ted. The repertoire is chosen around the theme, of course, but each program is carefully balanced, taking into consideration not just repertoire to serve the pedagogy, but also what makes for a powerful, satisfying listening experience. We all agree that the primary goal is to give these families a concert experience they will want to repeat again and again. The pedagogy is very important and we want everyone to come away from each concert more knowledgeable, but each program also needs to be emotionally moving as well.

Regarding pedagogy, once we have had our retreat and have laid out the season's repertoire, we begin the process of teaching. Ted usually begins the dialogue with a list of pedagogical points, to which I add. Ted has a good sense of what can and needs to be taught in a setting like a Young People’s Concert. We can always count on him to keep us from superfluous rambling.

Tom is a wonderful playwright and director, and a non-musician, which has made his role crucial to the process. He forces the pedagogy to be understandable to fresh, young ears. Ted and I dump teaching points into his lap, at which time he begins his unique process of translation and interpretation which somehow, after many, many rounds of emails between the three of us, comes out into a great script. Usually around 10 or 11 AM the morning of the performance!

TD: Avery Fisher Hall is, of course, not built for theatre work; the sight lines are awful. Live television feeds helped a lot when the budget could still accommodate them. But normally I have been forced to have actors play all over the house, up in the boxes, in the aisles, wherever I could get away with it.

I first persuaded the Philharmonic to hire an actor in the second season for our Romantic concert.An actor who had starred in one of my plays in a California production came out and played Berlioz in a section about the Symphony Fantastique. He was also the guest host, and played the piano as well as acting out the execution scene from the symphony. The following year I hired four young actors and wrote a little script for them in which they created thumbnail sketches of eight or nine of the characters in Romeo and Juliet, to help the audience better understand the pedagogy related to the Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet.The success of that show allowed me to keep pushing for more theatre participation in the concerts, and this season Ted was particularly enthusiastic about the idea and helpful in supporting and expanding our theatre initiatives.

DDG: Another point that we all consider to be quite important is that each concert must include at least one substantial piece of standard repertoire, 12-15 minutes in length. These have ranged from pieces like Till Eulenspiegel to movements of symphonies like Sibelius’ 2nd and Shostakovich’s 10th. We have never backed away from music that might be considered more difficult for young listeners, rather considering how each piece fits the program and then how best to introduce it in a way that makes it comprehensible. I have always lobbied for a living composer on each program, and we always try to have them present to talk about their work.

Nor have we shied away from difficult pedagogy. For the Capitals of Music series, we really tried to delve into each city's musical identity: What makes Bernstein's New York unique? Which are the musical techniques that make up the New York sound? How did the music of Gershwin and Copland incorporate American elements to galvanize a style that is recognizably American? In Music 4 Imagination, we dug deeply into Prokofiev's music for Romeo and Juliet – not the easier, lighter music, but the really powerful music surrounding conflict in the ballet. The point was to explore how a composer helps you to experience drama, specifically through the use of harmony and instrumentation. We had two pages of musical excerpts for that program, a lot of detail, great teaching.

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