Q&A with Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby: Vivaldi and His Piccolo Concertos

Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby, photo by Larey McDaniel

Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby, the Seattle Symphony’s Robert & Clodagh Ash Piccolo, will be performing Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto in C major, RV 443, with the orchestra on November 1 and 2. (Get your tickets here.) You might say she knows this piece well. After all, she first learned it when she was in junior high, and for a long time it was one of the few significant pieces in the repertoire available for piccolo. And now, her own edition of Vivaldi’s three piccolo concertos, RV 443, 444 and 445, is in its third printing.

You have published an edition of three Vivaldi concertos for piccolo. What is special about these concertos? What is unique about your edition?

These concertos weren’t discovered until the 1950s, and they were the mainstay of the piccolo repertoire until about 20 years ago. It was about all we had to play. My edition is the first one where all three concertos are in the same volume and where there are “performance tips” included.

When you were learning piccolo, you had these three pieces and maybe a few others. The repertoire has grown significantly since then, but when you return to these, is there a special place in your heart for them?

Yes. For me, I was finishing 7th grade and I was in a 7th–9th grade junior high. The piccolo player in the band was a 9th grader and she was graduating. So, at the end of the year my band director handed me this piccolo concerto (RV 443) and said, “Here, why don’t you learn to play this over the summer.” It really was kind of my introduction to the piccolo — learning to play this piece.

A facsimile of the opening notes of Vivaldi's Piccolo Concerto, RV 443

Dombourian-Eby's edition

In the preface to your edition, you talk about adding dynamics and ornamentation. How do you decide to add all that? How do you know that it belongs?

Well, a lot of that just comes through playing a lot of Baroque music and knowing what the traditions were for ornamentation. In the case of the concerto I’ll be playing, the slow movement is the one that I’m ornamenting a lot, and this is the one movement that has any repeats in it. Almost always, when Baroque composers include a repeat, they expect you to ornament the music the second time around. Baroque music is kind of more like jazz in a way, in that they did not write any articulations or dynamics — they expected you to ornament and put in extra notes. My edition has pedagogical suggestions in there, so hopefully it’s helpful to people who don’t play piccolo much or who don’t have a teacher to explain to them these special “piccolo things” that we (piccoloists) do.

When you look at the facsimile to this work, you get to see Vivaldi in action. He writes notes in the margins. He crosses stuff out. Then he changes his mind and crosses that out and writes in the original again. So you get so see him being human. What did you learn about him from editing your edition of these concertos?

I loved seeing all this. Well, he got really lazy. Look at this section:

You see all the notes he wrote out [in the first bar, on the left]? He started writing them out that way. Then he got lazy and just wrote them as chords — which you can’t play on the piccolo. It’s just an assumed arpeggio. He did that several times, where he’s just kind of like, “Okay, you know what to do here. I’m not going to bother.” That, I thought, was pretty funny.

My favorite quote from the preface is “Vivaldi should not sound like a sewing machine.” Can you explain this quote?

So much of this music is arpeggios, you know, back and forth, like the arm of a sewing machine. What I mean is when you play it, don’t just have it sound like it’s mechanical. Make music out of it. You still play the notes, put expression in it. Which, of course, is not there. It’s not written in, because Vivaldi did not write this stuff in!

Call for Papers

Creative Diaspora: Émigré Composers from the Former USSR

Seattle Symphony
March 22-23, 2014

To complement the U.S. premiere performances of Alexander Raskatov’s Night Butterflies piano concerto, the Seattle Symphony (the co-commissioner of the piece) is organizing a symposium on music of Russian diaspora. Alexander Raskatov is perhaps the most recognized Russian composer living outside of Russia from the generation born after the Second World War. His opera A Dog’s Heart was co-commissioned and premiered by the Netherlands National Opera and English National Opera in 2010 and later performed at Teatro alla Scala in March 2013. His orchestral works have been performed by such luminaries as Valery Gergiev, Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet and others.

Dozens of important Russian composers left Russia as a result of the First World War and the 1917 revolution, including Igor Stravinsky and Sergey Rachmaninov. A “Russian invasion” has left palpable traces in the world musical landscape, especially since many “true” American composers (such as George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and others) were born in the Russian-speaking immigrant families. The impact of the Russian émigré composers on Western music has been even more substantial, because many of them became highly regarded music and composition teachers in the music institution worldwide.  The latest wave of music emigration from the former USSR is comparable in numbers to the early 20th-century’s wave and includes such important names as Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina.

The conference, “Creative Diaspora: Émigré Composers from the Former USSR,” aims to further the discussion of the music created within the diaspora, by promoting music by important but unfairly forgotten or not yet well-established Russian émigré composers and advocating for the inclusion of issues related to Russian émigré music into the general studies of border crossing, emigration and diaspora.

Conference participants include:

Alexander Raskatov, composer

Richard Taruskin (University of California, Berkeley)

Laurel Fay (G. Schirmer Inc.)

Claudia R. Jensen (University of Washington)

Peter Schmelz (Washington University in St. Louis)

Marina Ritzarev (Bar-Ilan University, Israel)

Natalie Zelensky (Colby College)

The conference will take place in Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center at Benaroya Hall. All conference presenters will be invited to the Seattle Symphony’s performance of Raskatov’s Night Butterflies by pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama conducted by Ludovic Morlot on March 22, 2014, in Benaroya Hall, and to a post-concert reception organized by the University of Washington’s School of Music and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

We welcome paper proposals from scholars across music history, theory, ethnomusicology and other disciplines related to the conference theme. To submit a proposal for an individual paper, please send a message with a subject line “Creative Diaspora Submission” with your name, affiliation, paper title and an abstract of no more than 250 words for papers of 25 minutes in duration to elena.dubinets@seattlesymphony.org by December 1, 2013.

Notifications of acceptance will be sent by January 15, 2014. For all program-related queries, please contact Dr. Elena Dubinets at elena.dubinets@seattlesymphony.org.

Assistant and Associate Conductors: Past and Present

Picture this: It’s a Tuesday afternoon and Music Director Ludovic Morlot is leading the Seattle Symphony in a rehearsal of an upcoming Masterworks Season program, the first performance of which will take place in a little over 48 hours. Because it’s a rehearsal, the lights are dim and the seats in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium are empty — except for one man.

That man is Seattle Symphony Associate Conductor Stilian Kirov. He’s seated about 15 rows back and has a score open on his lap. He flips pages to keep up with the music that Morlot and the orchestra are rehearsing onstage, and he occasionally jots down notes in the margins. Kirov is essentially preparing to conduct the concert himself, in the unfortunate event that Morlot is unable to. Rare as this is, it did happen this past January. And, on just a day’s notice, Kirov stepped in and led the orchestra and soloists in the Symphony’s fifth annual Celebrate Asia concert — a stunning and memorable affair.

Seattle Symphony Associate Conductor Stilian Kirov, photo by Yuen Lui Studio

“You always have to be prepared and ready to step in,” Kirov shares. “It was challenging, but I had a great time with the orchestra. The musicians are always wonderful and very supportive, and the soloists were also absolutely fantastic. The experience was very important for me.” But, as the Seattle Symphony’s Associate Conductor (he was Assistant Conductor last season but earned the promotion to Associate beginning in September), Kirov has much more on his plate than covering rehearsals and performances. In addition to being prepared to fill in on a moment’s notice, the Assistant/Associate Conductor’s duties include leading concerts (especially neighborhood, family and education concerts), editing concert recordings for radio broadcast and grant support, and working with the artistic staff on programming ideas.

Just this month, for example, Kirov leads a Mainly Mozart series program, three Community Concerts (two of them side-by-side performances with local high schools) and a Discover Music family concert. In other words, Kirov must continually think about the audience, the way the music is presented, and the inherently community-centered responsibilities that come with being a musical leader at the Seattle Symphony.

As it stands now, the Assistant Conductor position typically runs for one or two years and sometimes includes a promotion to Associate Conductor. The position, which gives young musical leaders some very valuable experience, has proven to be a valuable link in the career trajectories of many former Seattle Symphony Assistant/Associate Conductors. A few examples: Adam Stern (Assistant 1992–96; Associate 1996–2001) is now Music Director of the Seattle Philharmonic and the Port Angeles Symphony; Alastair Willis (Assistant 2000–02; Associate 2002–03) is now Music Director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra; and Carolyn Kuan (Assistant 2006–07; Associate 2007–09) is the newly appointed Music Director of the Hartford Symphony.

Alastair Willis, former Seattle Symphony Assistant and Associate Conductor

Willis, who conducted over 100 concerts in three seasons with the Seattle Symphony, says, “Every experience, large or small, helped me prepare for what was next. The variety of programming, the flexibility, the ton of repertoire I learned, my relationship with the musicians, the musical politics and so much more. It’s no understatement that my three years with the Seattle Symphony helped shaped me into who I am today, and not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for that.”