BWW Interviews: David Bernard, Conductor on Park Avenue Chamber Symphony at Carnegie Hall

BWW Interviews: David Bernard, Conductor on Park Avenue Chamber Symphony at Carnegie Hall

On October 27th at 2PM, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony led by music director David Bernard returns to the Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall for a program of Dvorak, Brahms, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. We sat down with Maestro Bernard to find out more about his work with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony and the upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall.

Classical World: The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony is one of many orchestras in New York City. The level of competition is fierce and as a result, many ensembles have a tough time building audiences and obtaining recognition. Yet the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony is thriving and has received recognition as a First Prize winner of The American Prize competition in Orchestra Performance over two consecutive years. As its music director for almost 14 years, what is your take on the ensemble's success?

David Bernard: I believe that the foundation of an orchestra's success must be its local audience-a base of satisfied and enthusiastic patrons goes a long way. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony has always been a neighborhood orchestra on the Upper East Side of New York City, bringing very high level music making, eclectic and interesting repertoire and first-rate soloists directly our local audience. As a result, we have been fortunate to build a dedicated and growing following that values and enjoys our artistic product - on the Upper Eastside and from other parts of the city. But our audience is not limited to New York. With our catalog of recordings available on download and streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon.com and Spotify, we reach a worldwide audience. The American Prize fills an essential role by celebrating the accomplishments of ensembles and individual artists on a national level through its competitions. It is great recognition and we are proud to be counted among the winners.

CW: What is your approach to conducting?

DB: I focus on cultivating musicianship and instilling a compelling and distinctive style of music making in the group. For me, a musician's biggest responsibility is to speak the music as clearly and effectively as possible to their listeners. Speaking clearly involves not only articulation, but phrasing, balance, rhythmic discipline and pacing. The trick is cultivating a common understanding of "how" to speak each phrase-developing awareness of how to fit into the overall texture applying balance accordingly, clearly conveying the beginnings and endings of phrases to the listener and pacing the direction and timing of each phrase to be consistent with the demands of the work. When building an orchestra over a series of rehearsals, concerts or seasons, I try to instill this distinctive style so that it becomes second nature to each member of the group.

CW: This will be your fourth appearance at Carnegie Hall as music director of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. I imagine conducting a concert at Carnegie Hall is a unique experience---please share your thoughts.

DB: Carnegie Hall has an incredible past---the world's finest orchestras, soloists and conductors have performed there. Dvo?ák conducted the premiere of his New World Symphony at Carnegie Hall. The conductor's dressing room has a bust of Toscanini and signed portraits of Leonard Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf and George Szell. You cannot escape the history that is imbued in these walls--it is awe inspiring.

At the same time, there is much more to Carnegie Hall than a walk down memory lane. The hall itself creates a pristine concert experience for everyone--not only does the audience enjoy performances with both a clarity and warmth unmatched elsewhere, but the performers onstage hear each other with similar clarity and warmth and benefit from excellent sight lines and lighting. Carnegie Hall is a performing environment that eliminates typical obstacles and in turn helps each performer do their best. No matter how you slice it, conducting a concert at Carnegie Hall is a thrilling experience-one that stays with you forever and never gets old.

CW: Please share with us your thoughts on the program for your Carnegie Hall Concert on October 27th, 2013.

DB: The music on this program is simply spectacular. The first half is dedicated to works by Dvo?ák and Brahms, collegial composers whose music evokes a connection to their more provincial roots in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Inspired by Wagner, Dvo?ák aspired to craft expressive and programmatic musical essays and as a result composed the brilliant Carnival Overture that begins this program. Closing the first half of the program is the Brahms Violin Concerto, one of the greatest concertos of all time featuring lyrical collaborative writing between the soloist and the orchestra. Brahms wrote the work for the violinist/composer Joseph Joachim, who returned the favor by writing a brilliant cadenza that is still used in today's performances of the concerto.

The second half begins with the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2, which combines technically challenging solo passages, a wonderfully lyrical slow movement and a catchy, dance-like finale. Dmitry Shostakovich composed this work for his 19-year-old son Maxim to perform at his final examinations at the Central Music School of the Moscow Conservatory, and in a characteristically witty manner, quotes well known piano studies such as Hannon in the finale. Tchaikovsky's passionate Romeo and Juliet Fantasy--Overture closes the program. This popular work never ceases to captivate audiences with beautiful melodies and exciting music that evokes the twists and turns of Shakespeare's tragedy.

11-year-old Daniela Liebman will be the soloist in the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 in her Carnegie Hall Debut. Daniela brings a rare combination of all the requisite technical facility that one expects from a young prodigy, with sensitivity and musicianship that outpaces her years. She has an innate and captivating sense of musical line, phrasing and pacing that will draw in the audience.

And the soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto will be 21-year-old Jourdan Urbach. Jourdan actually made his Carnegie Hall Debut performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto on one of our concerts and has since grown into a well-known concertizing violinist, composer and social entrepreneur---a true 21-st century success story. It is a rare treat to hear the Brahms concerto performed by such a seasoned young artist.

CW: Following your Carnegie Hall appearance in October, what comes next for you and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony?

DB: On February 22nd and 23rd 2014, I will be leading the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in an eclectic program that includes Barber's passionate and hauntingly beautiful "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" featuring the wonderful soprano Tamra Paselk, Bartok's intriguing "Dance Suite" and Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, marking the completion of our Beethoven Symphony Cycle which began about 10 years ago. Then on May 3rd and 4th, 2014, our season will conclude with a pairing of Dvorak Symphony No. 8 and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with the brilliant and lyrical pianist Spencer Myer.

Tickets for the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony's Carnegie Hall performance on Sunday, October 27th, 2013 at 2PM are available directly from Carnegie Hall's website by clicking here: http://www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2013/10/27/0200/PM/Park-Avenue-Chamber-Symphony/ or by calling (212) 247-7800. For more information about the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, including information about the remainder of the season, please visit http://www.chambersymphony.com.