TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine has become all things to all people, and concentrates on revealing information for students at all levels. One of our favorite subjects is music, and we are very fortunate to be able to introduce Maestro Barry Araujo Kolman to all of our readers. Maestro, please tell our readers about your musical education and background.
BAK- First of all, thank you for that nice introduction. I am thrilled to be interviewed by your magazine.
I knew I loved music when I was as young as 9 or 10 years old. I took up the clarinet when I was in 5th grade and decided then that I wanted to be a musician. I love to perform even at that early age but when I was 15 years old, I was already giving clarinet lessons at the corner music story in Brooklyn, New York. So I was also bitten by the teaching bug. At Midwood High School I played in the Band and the Orchestra. One of our most famous alumni was Woody Allen who went to Midwood when he was living in Brooklyn. From Midwood, I received a New York Regents Scholarship to attend the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, NY, one of the best music education schools in the country. There I received a good dose of teaching methods but I still kept up with the clarinet. At that time, I was studying with David Weber, principal clarinet with the New York City Ballet Orchestra. He was a big influence in my musical life. Armed with a Bachelor in Music in Music Education degree, I taught in the public schools for a while but still wanted to fulfill a dream of mine; to study with Karl Leister of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. I received a Fellowship to travel to Germany and work with Leister. It was my first time I was out of the country and really loved the experience. From there, I received an Assistantship from Illinois State University and earned a Master of Music degree in Clarinet Performance. I performed a lot throughout Illinois during that time. But there was one rehearsal that changed my life. Once, while I was a student at Illinois State, the Orchestra Conductor was a no-show and the students were starting to leave. As the big shot Graduate Student, I said nobody goes anywhere. I went up to the podium, and with only the Violin I part as my conductor’s score, I began to conduct the Orchestra. It was a life changing event and from that moment on, I wanted to be a conductor. Hearing all those sounds coming at you at the same time was a glorious experience; also having that power wasn’t too bad either. I was able to land another Assistantship to study conducting at the University of Northern Colorado where I received a Doctorate of Arts degree in conducting as well as winning the Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence as a result of my dissertation and studies. I continued to play clarinet professionally but looked for as many conducting jobs, big and small, that I could get my hands on. To this day, conducting orchestras, playing clarinet, teaching, as well as travelling throughout the world is still a big part of my professional life.
TAEM- What orchestra do you currently conduct, and where is that located, and tell us about some of the great guest artists that you introduced here?
BAK-Presently, I am Music Director and Conductor of the Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra located in Lexington, Virginia; this is my 24th year there. During my tenure, I have collaborated with so many great musicians from around the world including such outstanding soloists as members of the world famous Netherlands Wind Ensemble; the awesome American pianist (and body builder!), Leon Bates; one of the most outstanding young violinists, Natasha Korsakova (who performed with a temperature of 102! Most soloists would have cancelled out.); the great Saxophonist, Greg Banaszak of the Cleveland Symphony; and Mark Nuccio, Principal Clarinetist of the New Philharmonic. We have hosted many great conductors as well including Robert Shaw, former maestro of the Atlanta Symphony. I have also formed a partnership with the exceptionally talented young singer of tango, Estefania Holman from Argentina. She and I have put on several shows around the world entitled, Tango Tonight!
TAEM- What style of music do you prefer, and why?
BAK-Now that’s a tough question because I like so many different types. Of course, I love all the great orchestra and opera composers; Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Puccini, Shostakovich, Copland, Adams. I especially like American music and I always bring an American piece to my guest conducting engagements. So many foreign musicians think that our roster of great American composers is composed of only Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein, There are dozens more that are also great. I spent about a year working with the Czech-American composer Karel Husa in preparation of recording I made of several of his best known works. It was a great experience; Karel was extremely gracious and gave me full reign as far as interpretation was concerned. That CD is a real favorite of mine because I got chance to work with a living American iconic composer.
But my interests go beyond the usual and there are many. I have a great love for film music and have recorded two film scores by Max Steiner of King Kong fame. The rhythms that permeate the music from Brazil are infectious…Villa Lobos…such a fantastic composer. And from Argentina, Tango, of course, especially from the great composer, Piazzolla. I have a fondness for hip-hop music and its poetry; sort of reminds me of the poets and beatniks from the Village in New York. It seems as I get older, I gain a greater appreciation for a wider array of music from around the world. If it sounds good and I like it, I add it to my list. As a die-hard New Yorker, there’s nothing greater than going to Broadway to see a musical. I remember my mother taking my sister and me to Wednesday matinees when we were kids. I would also go to Lincoln Center and just gawk at the Met, the State Theater, Alice Tulley Hall, and Juilliard next door…it was my favorite place to hang out when I was a kid.
TAEM- We learned that in 1993 you became the first American to conduct the State Orchestra of Azerbaijan and the following year you conducted the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in Russia. Please tell us about these events and the thrill of your accomplishments there.
BAK-How long is this interview again? I think there is another book in there when I tell you and your readers about those two very unforgettable but extremely different experiences. Back in the 90’s, Arkady, my concertmaster at the time, was a recent immigrant from Russia. His wife was pregnant with his first child and was ready to give birth at the exact time of their flight to the US. The day after they arrive in the States, she gave birth to America’s newest citizen. Arkady put me in touch with the Minister of Culture in Baku, Azerbaijan. I was invited to conduct their State Orchestra and I unwittingly accepted the invitation without realizing the country was at war with a neighboring former Soviet State. I’ll never forget the flight. I was on Turkish Air; we stopped somewhere in Europe and was told to get off the plane right onto the tarmac. We were ordered to point out which luggage was ours and then we boarded; never once going to a gate. The plane took off for Baku, the capital. We landed hours later and taxied which seemed for hours. We finally passed several airport buildings which looked like they were bombed out. Some were still smoldering. What did I get myself into? I was met by my host and whisked away to a very concrete 1960’s Soviet hotel. I was warned that the city was under a midnight curfew and I was not to be outside after midnight. I was definitely then really scared. That night, as I looked outside my hotel room window, I could see several soldiers with really big guns setting up road blocks. No I don’t think I will venture outside tonight. The next day, after the first rehearsal, I met some American missionaries, which was a relief. They were extremely helpful in teaching me how to survive in Baku. In fact, one of them cooked me dinner, and we were joined by other Americans. I felt a little less tense until I looked at my watch and it was 2 minutes to midnight! And my hotel was 10 minutes away! And nobody in the room had a car! Some quick phone calls were made and I was shoved in a car, told to not say a word and just sit real low in my seat. We were stopped by the checkpoint right outside my hotel, some words were exchanged as well as some cash, and I was told to run not walk to the hotel entrance. And this was just for the first day!
The Orchestra had some difficulty with the American pieces I brought, some Copland among others, so I knew it would be a long week. One extremely poignant event happened while I was in Baku; one of my hosts took me to the cemetery where all the young deceased soldiers lie because of this war that was still going on; their photos were placed prominently graveside as was the custom. So many very young kids and their grieving sobbing mothers and fathers. I think it was closest I ever came to a war zone.
On the lighter side of my visit, it was performance night and I was told that about a dozen players were not present; they were playing in the opera orchestra which was performing the same night. The Minister of Culture heard about this and quickly dispatched himself to the opera house and literally plucked these players from the orchestra pit to play my concert.
The next day, the day of my departure, I was summoned to the Minister’s wood panel beautiful office for tea and chat. He sincerely expressed his gratitude for my traveling to his country and as a souvenir handed me this gorgeous jewel laden very sharp dagger. My first though was “wow” this is really cool and then, how the heck am I going to get this thing past customs and on a plane. I was told to pack and get ready for my trip to the airport. Much to my surprise, I was escorted by several heavily armed soldiers, one who went with me to the departure gate, whispered something to the security officer, and I was allowed on the plane, dagger and all.
My conducting in St. Petersburg was a two year project for me. I became very interested in the life of Anton Rubinstein; his life and works. He was the founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and composed several symphonies, among other works. He also suffered immense anti-Semitism during his lifetime and was constantly dogged by the local newspaper music critic. His symphonies are not too well-known, unfortunately, and I wanted to change that. His Symphony No. 3 was never recorded as far as I could determine so I made that my goal; record his Third Symphony and performed it St. Petersburg. After a year of pestering those in charge of the St, Petersburg Symphony I was finally invited to perform an all-Rubinstein program in honor of his 100th Anniversary of the composer’s death.
Finding the music itself was a hunt but I did find it in New York but only the score. The parts had to be generated, every single one. Though the music software, Finale, was available, it was an extremely tedious job to write out each individual part. Then I had to find an orchestra who would record it and after over a hundred phone calls and securing some grant money, I recorded what was to be my first professional recording with a fine orchestra in Kosice, Slovakia.
Later that year, I was to go to St. Petersburg and conduct the Orchestra. The players never performed this piece and they found it so unusual for an American conductor to bring them a Russian work. We performed it twice and the local music critic was indeed very complimentary and pleased that a new “masterpiece” was discovered.
While in St. Petersburg, I visited Rubinstein’s home and gravesite. I walked over to the Conservatory which was rather run down. I walked through the halls and envisioned a pleased Rubinstein with his Conservatory. Tchaikovsky was one of his students who attended the Conservatory. I was using Tchaikovsky conductor’s podium in my rehearsals and concert which was incredible. As I turned a corner, I saw what looked like a bronze like plague containing the names of the first students of the conservatory; sort of an Honor Roll. The first name, in Russian, was Tchaikovsky. I really felt that I was standing on hallowed ground.
The entire visit and the concerts wrapped up an incredible two year journey into the life of this wonderful but forgotten composer and teacher. This particular recording has remained very popular and has been purchased by many surprised buyers.
TAEM- Please tell us in detail about the other great European orchestras that you conducted.
BAK-Most of the Orchestras I conducted in Europe were quite excellent and very respectful to me as I was to them. Most of the musicians spoke English but I tried to speak mostly in German and French depending where I was conducting.
Of the many ensembles I have been fortunate enough to conduct, there are two that come to mine. I was invited to conduct in Bialystok, Poland. I remember stepping up to the podium and looking out to a sea of very young but eager musicians; most of them just recent graduates of the local Conservatory. I was a bit concerned since I knew most of them lacked professional experience. But after a brief “Guten Tag” and an enthusiastic downbeat, I knew that this concert was to be a special one. These wonderful musicians worked extremely hard, listened so closely to my suggestions, and played with such expertise, expression, and technical prowess, I soon forgot how young they were. The concert was received so very well and it taught me to never go by first impressions or how young or old your musicians are, you will often be pleasantly surprised.
Another unforgettable experience wasn’t really a musical one though the chamber orchestra I was invited to conduct consisted of some of the best string players I have ever come across. My manager was able to secure an engagement for me with a chamber orchestra in Belgium. It was first time conducting or even being in that beautiful country.
At the airport I was greeted by the Manager of the Orchestra, a very gracious gentleman. After the introductions, it was time to go to work and the first rehearsal of an all-American program showed some great promise. Following the rehearsal, the manager took me to a very wonderful restaurant. I walked inside and there was a pile of fresh (so I thought) raw clams being prepared. This is an acquired taste for which I thank my Dad for showing me the way. When I was young, my Dad taught me how to eat clams on the half shell, raw, with some hot sauce; just slurp them down. So seeing these clams brought back fond childhood times. We both ordered a dozen and they were delicious. I was dropped off at a very nice hotel nestled deep in the woods, outside the city. And then evening came and I became the sickest I ever thought possible. Those fresh clams, well, were not so fresh. The only emergency phone number I had was that of the Manager but after countless tries, with no answer, I figured he wasn’t doing too well either. The next day was an off day; no rehearsal, nobody to pick me up. I was stranded in this beautiful hotel just writhing in pain; no meds, no doctor, no one to help me. Twenty-four hours of extreme anguish.
The rehearsal day finally came, I was picked up for rehearsal; I was still very sick but you know what “they” say, “The show must go on.” Obviously, “they” never ate rotten clams! The Manager was also out for several days. But when I explained to anyone who would listen that I was quite ill, no one believed me. Was my French really that bad? “Malade”….how hard can that be to be understood. I did the rehearsal half standing, half leaning on a chair and was taken back to the hotel by another administrator. Finally, I was understood and a doctor was called to the hotel to find a poor sick, slightly dehydrated, American conductor pleading for some help.
The concert went great but from that moment on, I swore off raw clams on the half shell; sorry Dad.
TAEM- Aside from the Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra, tell us about some of the other great American orchestras that you conducted.
BAK-One in particular sticks out immediately in my mind. I was called to conduct two family concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic, one of America’s finest orchestras. The call came a year before the concert which is usual. At that time, I had already begun to perform a special program called Tango Tonight! with an exceptional singer of tango, Estefania Holman, from Argentina. To this day we are still performing Tango Tonight! We have even performed the program several times in Europe.
To be in front of the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic was a thrill and an honor. Each concert was sold out. It was by far the best Orchestra I have directed. We have an encore of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita which Estefania sings and that really brought the house down with not a dry eye in the house. Whether it is in Bialystok playing Tchaikovsky or in Buffalo doing Tango, when it all clicks it is an amazing experience. You know then why you spent so many hours studying and practicing; just for those few hours, it is all absolutely worth it.
TAEM- You have also conducted great recordings including your latest from the film Where Do We Go from Here? Please describe this aspect of your life for us.
BAK-As I mentioned, one of my loves is film music and recording the music of Max Steiner was exciting after months of preparing the parts. Like the Rubinstein, much film music from the earlier part of the 20th Century is either gone or, if you’re lucky, the score can be found somewhere. “Where Do We Go From Here” is an ongoing project of mine. It’s one of the many patriotic morale-building war movies that were made during World War II. This movie is a musical comedy which starred Fred MacMurray with music and lyrics by Kurt Weil and Ira Gershwin respectively; an odd combination at first blush. Many symphonic composers worked in Hollywood and produced some very excellent scores. To record this music, I need a small cast and a good size orchestra; I am looking for funding for this project which I hope will come to fruition. The music is great and many of the songs are extremely fun and funny.
I still program film music in my concerts. Bernard Hermann was Hitchcock’s composer and I have programmed his creepy and alarming “Psycho Suite” several times. Film music should be given some serious thought and programmed more often. I recall that after a tough recording session with the “Charge” scene from “The Charge of Light Brigade”, the musicians told me that the music was one of the most difficult they have ever played.
TAEM- We learned that you have just published the book The Language of Music Revealed Please tell us something about it.
BAK-During my years as a University professor, I knew that there were many music appreciation course offered mainly to non-music majors at Universities across the country. Why no beginning courses in teaching non-music majors how to read and write music? So I developed a course at Washington and Lee University. For several years, I was using several different textbooks but I found most of them the same; in a word, boring. These books were not written with the non-major in mind. They were often long, confusing, and unimaginative. I decided right then to write my own. I had a lot of input from students because I wanted to write something from the student’s point of view and something that would keep their interest and of course teach them effectively. Let’s face it; music theory can often be as dry as the Sahara. So after several years of writing, and rewriting, The Language of Music Revealed was born.
TAEM- What are some of the important aspect of this book and what audiences do you target with it?
BAK-Three important things were missing from the music fundamentals books I examined and I must have examined more than 30 different books: first, graphics, second, songs from the pop world, and third, a sense of humor with a certain attitude.
In my book, there is a “guide” a funny looking guy who pops up from time to tim
e throughout the book, giving advice, cracking very corny jokes, and encouraging the reader that “you can do this”.
The music examples I picked are from the classical world as well as from the pop world. At the end of each chapter, there are some exercises and at the end of the book, there is an answer key for all of the examples, not just for the even numbered examples found in most books. Best of all, the book doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like most textbooks do nowadays.
Because the book is not your typical “textbook”, I like to refer to it as an “un-textbook” and therefore can be used not only by college students but by high school kids taking a theory class as well as the average inquisitive reader. The book is written in a language everyone can understand. It has been translated into Spanish and I hope to have that edition out on the market next year. It would be the first of its kind; a music fundamentals book in Spanish.
In the Language of Music Revealed, I have tried to explain the complicated in a straight forward easy to follow manner spiced with a little sense of humor from time to time. I have taught this course for about ten years, so I had a lot of feedback. The purpose was to make more accessible to everyone an easy way to learn to write music without talking down to my reader. There are so many amateur musicians out there who play guitar or piano but can’t read a stitch of music. Now the secret is out; anyone can learn to read and write music. Guitar players can learn to chord their favorite songs. Budding song writers can finally transfer their music from their head to paper. Music appreciation; meet your rival!
TAEM- Where can the many students who read our publication purchase it, and who is the publisher?
TAEM- We understand that you also have your own blog site. Please provide us with some information about it and how our readers can find it.
BAK- With someone who has been in the music field for over 35 years, I certainly have a lot to say. I believe I can see the great and the less than great about our field. I try to find a balance between the two in my blogs which can be found on my website at: www.maestrokolman.com. I try to cover the entire gambit of music: performers and performances, the challenges our professional orchestras are facing recently and the future of orchestral music, the lives of great musicians from all genres, music education, and how music itself can influence people’s lives. Just recently, I have concluded a three month study regarding music and autism. This is actually an ongoing investigation and is very close to my heart.
TAEM- Maestro it has been an honor and a privilege to be able to have you interview with our publication and I assure you that our world-wide student readership will enjoy learning all about you. Please keep in touch with us so that we can keep our readers informed about all your experiences in the future.
BAK- I certainly will. It has been my pleasure. Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to talk to your worldwide readers.