Inside the Music: An Interview With Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Jonathan Carney by Jane Coyne

I caught up with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Jonathan Carney at the Music Center at Strathmore over the weekend. Along with the BSO principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski, he is preparing for three performances of the “Brahms Double Concerto” with the Baltimore Symphony this weekend.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Jonathan Carney. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The BSO concerts will be conducted by Cornelius Meister, chief conductor and artistic director of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the “Brahms Double,” the BSO is slated to perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D Major and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, composed by Richard Strauss. Concerts are scheduled at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore on this Friday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm, and at the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday at 8pm.

Click here to purchase tickets to this weekend’s concerts!

Jane: You have a lot of responsibility this week, preparing for your performance of the “Brahms Double Concerto,” fulfilling your regular duties as concertmaster of the BSO, and also working with guest conductor Cornelius Meister. What does this all mean in terms of your practice and rehearsal schedule leading up to the concerts that are scheduled this weekend?

Jonathan: Dariusz and I will rehearse about 10 hours together privately before we meet with the conductor to run through the work with him only. Then we will have about two hours with the orchestra to work on texture and tempi. We would have both put in another 40-50 hours of individual practice in the months leading up to our first rehearsal.

How many times have you performed the Brahms Double? When was the last time?

I have performed the Brahms about a dozen times. The last time was with our former principal cellist about 6 or 7 years ago.  

I was very impressed with the fresh approach to the Tchaikovsky “Symphony No. 4” that you and the BSO performed with Juanjo Mena last week. How does a musician of your caliber, stature, and experience stay in love with a work that is so loved and therefore so frequently played? 

I have performed the Brahms about a dozen times. The last time was with our former principal cellist about 6 or 7 years ago. Staying fresh on any given repertoire is easy when a great conductor is on the podium. Most musicians can be artistically self-contained if necessary. This helps us to stay fresh on performing the great warhorses.

You will be performing the “Brahms Double” with BSO principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski. How does working with him in this context differ from your normal relationship where you share your respective responsibilities as concertmaster and principal cellist?

Cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski.

Daruisz and I play so much chamber music together that this is simply an extension of that. Even orchestral playing is a form of chamber music … albeit a rather large chamber ensemble! We always communicate as if we are playing chamber music, whether it be for a work with two, three, four, or 120 players on stage.

Cornelius Meister last appeared with the BSO when he made his debut with the orchestra in April 2011. How did this relationship begin? As a musician, what do you most enjoy about working with Cornelius? 

A guest conductor is invited to work with the orchestra sometimes purely by reputation, other times by recommendation from within the profession. Cornelius is a fine young talent. In my last performances with him, I performed the “Bruch d minor concerto” with the BSO. It was a huge pleasure to work closely with him on this work.

In addition to the Double, Cornelius will be conducting Mozart’s “Symphony No. 35” and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, which was composed by Richard Strauss. As a guest conductor, how much input did he have in terms of programming the concert?

Programming is done by committee. The conductor and our artistic staff, as well as our orchestral artistic committee will all have had something to do with the programming of this concert.

The BSO and Marin Alsop are well known for supporting high talent, emerging composers and conductors, many of whom show huge career growth as a result. You are all to be congratulated for doing so. Speaking on behalf of the orchestra, what are the related challenges and rewards involved?

Finding talent within the profession is one of our primary directives. It keeps the orchestra sounding fresh and is the principal reason why we all love our orchestral life. The orchestral stage is the most exciting place to discover new talent as well as to expand our relationships with the great maestri.

The BSO and you, personally, do so much to support young musicians at every stage of their development. What would you say to these young musicians and their families in terms of coming out to see you and Dariusz perform both as featured soloists, but also in concert with the BSO? What does a young musician gain from this experience, and is this opportunity different or better when and if the student does know you?

Live music is essential to the overall growth of the individual. It expands all aspects of the human condition. Great orchestras are a great testament to modern western civilization. I would recommend that in order to truly enhance one’s life, concerts should be seen and heard on a regular basis. Knowing people on stage and in the audience makes it so much more fun for all of us!

Jonathan, thanks so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to speak with me. I can’t wait to hear you perform this weekend!

Hear the Music

Check out upcoming Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Concerts at Strathmore and the Meyehoff using this handy Season at a Glance Calendar. Tickets may be purchased online, by calling the BSO Box Office at (410) 783-8000, or by calling the Strathmore Box Office at 301.581.5100.

The Music Center at Strathmore      Joseph Meyerhoff  Symphony Hall
5301 Tuckerman Lane                           1212 Cathedral Street
North Bethesda, MD 20852                   Baltimore, MD 21201

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Jane Coyne
Jane Coyne has been involved in the arts for all of her life. As a singer, she has toured the country as a soloist, appearing at major venues throughout the United States, performing with musicians including Duke Ellington, Johnny Coles, Paul Gonzalves, and Tyree Glenn, and she has appeared in many musical theatre productions. She has managed the careers of a number of a number of international conductors and composers and previously served as the vice president of the National Philharmonic at Strathmore, executive director of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras, and associate director of Washington’s Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts. Jane directs the National PTA Reflections Program (one of the largest arts education programs in the country). She is also one of the founding directors of Young Artists of America, and manages the career of her son, composer and violinist Joshua Coyne.


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