Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Flying high

Jeremy Constant keeps music down to earth by leaving it

Express Staff Writer

Jeremy Constant. Concertmaster Jeremy Constant with his home-built aircraft, Stella Luna, which he flys between orchestral concerts. Courtesy photo

Jeremy Constant serves as the Concertmaster for the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, which debuts for the season on Monday, July 30. He gave an interview to the Express last week that resulted in the following Q&A.

What's the difference between the music director and the concertmaster?

The concertmaster is the violin in the orchestra. What the public generally sees is that he is the guy who comes out last and tunes the orchestra. He is kind of the rep of the orchestra. His job is to help the conductor achieve his vision with the music. It's another set of ears and experience set to accomplish that.

[Music Director] Alasdair and I get together before the festival, play solos, talk. It is the music director's artistic vision that the whole organization revolves around. He picks the programs, the artists, the music and how it will be played, who it will be playing it. It is a very collaborative effort.

How important is the audience to that vision?

There is a difference in what you hear in the rehearsal and in the concert, with the audience being the most critical element. As performers we need the energy. It's one thing to beaver away in practice rooms but we're all doing it to perform live. We always get something from the audience merely being there, it's what we tap into, and you can definitely feel the difference from one day to the next. You can tell when they like the story you're telling.

What we're doing is we're responding to the musical director, but we're tapping into the audience energy. The great musical director guides it but they don't get in the way. He capitalizes on the talent in front of him. Everyone is tapping into everyone else's energy and intentions.

So listening to one another is key?

There are lots of things that go into being really good at this. In music school, when you get together in small strings, one of the big challenges is listening to the other person. Once you've practiced your part, it's common to play it the way you practiced it, but one of the first things you learn when playing with others is you have to listen to them and you have to accommodate them. Then you have to interpret it and resolve it on the fly. It is not just one person is the leader and everyone else follows.

So you have to be top in your field to accomplish the fast turnaround of our SVSS. Why do musicians put them through such grueling conditions?

Sun Valley Summer Symphony is populated by some of the best musicians in the world, that's what makes it fun, that's what makes them take this as their summer vacation. And, it's one of the things that makes it unusual. Usually, you have three or four rehearsals per program and then a show, in Sun Valley, it's one rehearsal, one concert. You have to be very, very good to be able to survive that, to get through that. You can't do that without being really, really good. But you get to do it here, in this beautiful setting.

How do you prepare for a stretch of music like this?

Basically the preparation just in terms of learning the parts is similar to the preparation I do through the year, but there's so much more music in such a concentrated period of time. My former housing host was a pass holder and was astonished out how exhausting it was in a little over two weeks in Sun Valley, it's very intensive. If an audience member comes to every concert they will get more than two years worth of music that an average music subscriber would get, and it's all free. It's astounding.

How does the free series contribute to the overall health of the genre?

We musicians and guests are far flung across the continent. Any time you can do free concerts like the pavilion, you're always going to attract people that wouldn't consider coming to a concert hall. Some are intimidated by it. For people who haven't been to a concert ever, or in a long time, it can seem standoffish. The lawn area, where you can look at Baldy, bring the kids and the dogs and picnics, is more inviting. There's a wonderful mix of year-round people here and those coming up for the summer, and this festival serves both equally. Some will leave thinking that maybe they'll go home and try a concert. For those people that this is their home orchestra, it's a hell of a home orchestra.

Who is Stella Luna and how did she become an airplane?

I built it over seven years. I flew it up to Sun Valley in 2010 and gave lots of rides to folks, but it wasn't painted and I wasn't feeling a name. I've had my license since 1996 and had been renting planes up until then. My wife, Sharon, is a visual artist and she painted it last spring using these Golden Era paint schemes with scalloped trailing edges, like bat wings. That became a visual theme. We have lots of nieces and nephews and we read the "Stella Luna" story to them. It lent itself to tail art.

Is cloud bumping lyrical?

An absolute escape. One of the great things about flying for me is that when I'm flying, I'm not thinking about anything else. There are plenty of times when I'm doing something else and thinking about flying but never when I'm flying am I thinking about doing something else.


After winning the Grand Prize in the 1979 Du Maurier competition in Canada, Constant continued his studies in New York with Ivan Galamian and then with the great violinist Itzhak Perlman. An active musician, Constant joined the San Francisco Opera orchestra in 1980, the San Francisco Symphony in 1984 (with which he continues to perform as assistant concertmaster), and the Marin Symphony as concertmaster in 1994. In 2000, Constant became concertmaster of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony. He is a frequent soloist with these orchestras and a participant in the Edgar M. Bronfman Chamber Series, Chamber Music Sundays and many other chamber music series.

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