The first concert of the Juneau Symphony’s season will also be its first with Jacqueline Brand, a violinist and associate concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Here in Juneau, she replaces former concertmaster Lisa Ibias.
As concertmaster, she will be the lead musician for the orchestra. Music director and conductor Troy Quinn compared the position to that of a U.N. diplomat between him and the rest of the orchestra. Brand interacts with the leads (principals) of other sections, like brass or percussion, as well as directing her own. With her in the first violin section of the orchestra are Kathy Maas, Heather Parker, and Huo Gua Xia. This will be their first concert together.
“These folks see the most notes, the most rhythms (out of all the sections),” Quinn said. “It really is the melody of the orchestra, so technically, first violins have to be very proficient. A lot of time, the orchestra is looking to that section and the concertmaster for the leadership of where the music is going. It talks the most in the orchestra …. There’s not much down time when you’re playing first violin. You’re in the action… all the time. So it takes a tremendous amount of skill and focus to do that.”
The new concertmaster
Brand has been playing the violin for over 50 years, first picking it up when she was three and half.
“My mother really wanted me to be a violinist, a musician artist. She wanted to be an artist but she didn’t get a lot of help from her mom, so she was like ‘my daughters will do this.’ My older sister did play the violin, apparently said I was always begging to play, so she put a violin in my hand,” Brand said.
She has had an active career. She studied under the famous Russian violinist Jascha Heifetz at age 12, taking Heifetz Master Classes for four years. She also studied under Eudice Shapiro, a well-known violinist and recording artist, and Ruggiero Ricci, an American violinist known for his performances and recordings of the works of Niccolò Paganini. She received the Young Musicians Foundation Awards, came in first place at the Coleman Chamber Ensemble Competition, has been honored at numerous national competitions, and has participated in many symphonies and festivals.
Brand has also had the opportunity to work on motion picture soundtracks like “War of the Worlds,” “Avatar,” and “Rogue One,” and with recording artists like Michael Bublé, Justin Timberlake, and Tim McGraw. It’s an exciting experience to record, though different to be in a controlled environment instead of performing live where there’s a give and take with the audience, she said.
For her, music is an act of joy.
“Bring love to what you do and make sure you’re really enjoying it and having fun with it,” was her advice to younger musicians. “Don’t take it too seriously, because it’s supposed to be about giving. The people I know who didn’t get beat up really hard when they were young seemed to have an easier time performing — and the love of it. Make sure from the beginning that you have that love of music.”
She compared being a professional musician to being an athlete; both require dexterity and regular practice.
“If you don’t practice for a while you feel it,” she said. “You can’t pick it up after a month and say ‘Oh yeah,’ it’s more ‘Oh dear.’ I’ve played for over 50 years, but if I don’t practice, if I miss two or three days, everybody knows. It’s a relentless thing, but when it’s all happening, there’s nothing like making music with everybody. I remember playing in Carnegie Hall with the (Los Angeles) Chamber Orchestra and it felt like the World Series. Everyone in their section is on their bases, everybody mattered and everybody counts.”
She is excited to play in Juneau for the 2017-18 season as concertmaster, even if it rains, she said.
“It’s fun for me to have a completely different change of pace and to make music with people who enjoy it and love it. In LA it can be a little more intense and not about the joy,” she said.
Longtime Juneau violinist
“I think one of the things that is really special about coming together in a symphony is that you’re just one little piece but you’re in this big, whole picture and it’s such a neat feeling that you fit. It’s glorious. It’s just really cool,” said longtime member of the Juneau Symphony Kathy Maas.
Maas has played more than 100 concerts with the symphony over the course of 45 years. Like Brand, it was her mother who introduced her to the violin.
“I had two sisters, and my mother was a violinist, and so she decided we just had to have a string quartet in the house,” she said.
String quartet music, especially Beethoven’s, has remained a favorite to play. Regardless of what it was, she said she came to appreciate every piece she learned with the symphony.
Her advice for young musicians is to start out practicing correctly.
“I spent a lot of years practicing incorrectly, and it’s only been in the last few years really that I tried to turn that around. Now I’m trying to undo 60 years of playing that wasn’t done right. I think it’s really important for me that I pass on to someone that they need to practice correctly,” she said.
Fiddle me this
“I really appreciate the opportunity to be here in Juneau and be in this high caliber orchestra in a small town of 32,000 people,” said Heather Parker, who has played with the Symphony since 2009.
Parker has been playing for 21 years, starting at age nine. In the beginning, she fiddled (a fiddle is a violin, just played in a different style), something she describes as “freer.” A fiddle is often played by ear, and that skill has helped Parker in the first violin section.
Music, she said, brings people together.
“One of the special things about live performances is that you have this whole community built of both people here and from other places that are all on the stage at the same time with the same goal, and you also have this audience that is there for that experience that will never be recreated in exactly the same way,” she said.
Violinist and teacher
Fellow first violinist Xia is busy in the Juneau music scene. He has played with the symphony since 1995. He teaches in Juneau through the Suzuki method, a music curriculum and teaching philosophy created by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki. He’s also active with the Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) program in the Juneau School District. In 2016, he became the director of the Juneau Student Symphony, which is sponsored by the Juneau Symphony, an orchestra made up primarily of youth.
“…the Juneau Symphony saw a need last year to help youth graduating from the JAMM program bridge the gap between the JAMM program and playing in a full orchestra setting of the Student Symphony,” said Juneau Symphony president Sarah McNair-Grove. “We sponsor what we call the ‘Small Ensemble’ for this purpose and Xia is also the director of this group.”
The first concert of the season will be Saturday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium and will feature three different pieces.
First is “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius, which pairs with the Juneau Public Libraries’ Big Read event of “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, Quinn said. The library is giving away free copies of the book and inspiring community discussions and events around its themes.
“We picked a piece that would be inspiring and sort of go with their theme, and really talking about communities overcoming hardship. …(‘Finlandia’ has) sort of become the Finnish National Anthem. There’s a middle section of this piece that has a hymn tune that’s very famous so it’s been played a lot not only at funerals but at national gatherings in Finland, so we’re bringing a little Nordic to Juneau for October,” he said.
The second piece will be “The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, “a beautiful serene piece in which the violin echoes the bird … it’s a beautiful pastoral showpiece for the violin and for chamber orchestra,” Quinn said.
The final piece is Johannes Brahm’s “Symphony No. 3 in F Major,” which has never been played in Juneau before, Quinn said.
Tickets can be purchased through the Juneau Symphony, Hearthside Books, and the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. For more information on future concerts, go to juneausymphony.org.
“I think we’re lucky to be in a community that really appreciates the arts,” Parker said. “The fact that the Juneau Symphony has been around for 55 years is great. We have a pretty musically diverse community and I think that’s a really special thing.”
• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly’s staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.