Student Spotlight: Embedded with San Francisco Symphony
By Libby SeidnerTweet
Editor’s note: This summer, UMS launched a new 21st Century Artist Internships program. Four students interned for a minimum of five weeks with a dance, theater, or music ensemble part of our 2014-2015 season. Libby Seidner is one of these students. She spent five weeks with the San Francisco Symphony.
Photos: On left, a photo from my first time on the Golden Gate Bridge. Walking across the Bay to Sausalito was one of my favorite SF activities. On right, view from Baker Beach. All photos by Libby Seidner.
During my first week at the San Francisco Symphony artistic planning coordinator Jim Utz asked me, “You do realize that you’ve come to the busiest symphony orchestra?” I nodded and smiled, but I had no idea what I was in for. At 52 weeks, the SFS has one of the longest seasons of any symphony orchestra. Those 52 weeks are packed with recording projects, album releases, domestic and world tours, concerts for families, as well as fantastic series concerts at their home, Davies Symphony Hall, right in the heart of San Francisco. The Symphony employs 107 musicians and 140 staff.
Being a fly on the wall of this large non-profit organization was an unbelievable learning experience. As part of my internship, I worked on artist interviews, collected behind-the-scenes photos, managed education events, the Britten Festival, an album release, and more. For college students, finding opportunities to work with a symphony orchestra while in season is nearly impossible. The UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program provided me with the professional and education experience of a lifetime.
Photos: On left, Davies Symphony Hall at night from street level. The building was designed specifically to look open and inviting from the outside. On right, a view of city hall from the third floor balcony of Davies. It was amazing to see the entire city covered in rainbow to celebrate pride week.
One of my favorite components of the internship was interviewing SFS musicians. I got to know Symphony personnel while discussing repertoire, the upcoming tour, and the historic relationship between UMS and the SFS. Over the course of the interviews, I found myself feeling closer to the orchestra and more connected to the music they were making.
While attending concerts and listening in on rehearsals I had “friends” to listen for. For example, I got to know principal clarinetist Carey Bell, who studied undergraduate clarinet performance and composition at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. We bonded over shared experiences of Zingerman’s Deli, the practice rooms of the SMTD and the amazing Ann Arbor student community.
The experience of building these relationships taught me the importance of reciprocity between audience and artist. As an audience member, I am more engaged when I have context. Building relationships with orchestra members reduced the distance I often felt as a listener. I hope to build this bridge for UMS audiences.
Photos: On left, SFS principal clarinetist Carey Bell and me after our video interview. Carey received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, studying clarinet performance and composition. On right, Carey Bell coaches a chamber group of local amateur musicians during the Community of Music Makers event.
UMS and the SFS are organizations that work well together because of their shared commitment to access and innovation. Both are looking to provide the best arts experience to as many different people as possible. While I was at the SFS, development of a new series called “Soundbox” was underway. This future concert series will take place in a smaller hall and be directed towards a younger and more diverse audience. The concerts will feature new music and have a host who’ll share insights into the performance.
Similarly, UMS encourages college students and community members to get involved in the arts through programs like U-M classes about the performances, educational electronic media, half-price student tickets, and internship opportunities. These organizations inspire me to think broadly about arts institutions as community organizers. What is the role and responsibility of an arts organization in the community?
One such inspiring SFS initiative that engages reciprocally with the community is the Community of Music Makers program, led by Lolly Lewis of the education department. These events brings local amateur musicians into Davies Symphony Hall to be coached by Symphony musicians and conductors. At the end of a day of hard work and rehearsals, the local musicians have a chance to perform on the Davies Symphony Hall stage.
The performance is the most beautiful part of the event.The musicians perform for each other and a few close friends and family members. The intimacy of the small performance makes the giant hall seem less intimidating and foreign. The idea is to open up the private stage into a public place for genuine civic activity. Not only do the amateur musicians tend to become more engaged audience members and supporters of the SFS, but the Symphony musicians have had a rare chance to meet their audience. The Community of Music Makers program serves as a superlative model for community arts engagement.
Photos: On left, a local amateur string trio coached by SFS cellist Barbara Bogatin during the Community of Music Makers event. On right, after several hours of coaching, the ensembles perform for one another on the stage of Davies Symphony Hall.
In addition to connecting with the Bay Area community, the Symphony reaches a half a million listeners every year through domestic and world tours, weekly radio broadcasts, and media sales. My internship lined up with the release of the SFS’s recording of West Side Story. This live recording is the first-ever complete concert performance of Leonard Bernstein’s original score.
Having the chance to see what’s involved in a major recording release was an incredible experience. Although many of the media meetings that I sat in on were over my head, the energy surrounding the album release in those weeks was palpable—holding the CDs before they became publically available was thrilling.
The release culminated with a party at the top floor of Twitter headquarters on Market Street. Here, I got to see Michael Tilson Thomas and the stars of the recording up close, as well as hear performances of “Maria” by Cheyenne Jackson (Tony) and “I Feel Pretty” by Alexandra Silber (Maria). #IFeelPretty #SFSWSS #TonightTonight!
Photos: On left, Cheyenne Jackson and Michael Tilson Thomas at the West Side Story album release party in the Twitter building. Mr. Jackson sings the role of Tony on the album. On right, Alexandra Silber performs “I Feel Pretty” at the West Side Story album release party in the Twitter building. Ms. Silber sings the role of Maria on the album.
My internship also lined up with an SFS series concert featuring international violin soloist Gil Shaham (who’ll also perform in Ann Arbor in November!). Mr. Shaham and the SFS have had over 26 performance engagements together, and the violinist also has strong ties to Ann Arbor, having commissioned and premiered several pieces by U- M composition faculty, including William Bolcom and Bright Sheng.
I was very excited to hear Gil Shaham and the SFS play but never imagined that I would meet him. When I proposed the idea of video interviewing Gil Shaham about Ann Arbor and the upcoming tour, I expected the answer “no.” However, I was surprised and delighted that Mr. Shaham was happy to talk to me!
Meeting Gil Shaham was one of the major highlights of my internship. His extreme musical talent is matched only by his warm personality and approachability. We shared stories of Ann Arbor, performing in Hill Auditorium, the San Francisco Symphony, and UMS. Needless to say, the Ann Arbor music community is very much looking forward to the reunion and return of these artists to the stage of Hill Auditorium this November!
The Symphony’s support in this project was a testament to the character of everyone involved at the SFS. Although I was an intern, not very high up on the food chain, no one treated me that way. Whenever I had an idea or request, I was provided with the resources. I am so grateful to have had the chance to work at such a giving organization.
Photo: Several members of the Operations Department celebrate General Manager John Kieser’s birthday. From left to right: Andrea Drummond, John Kieser, Jeannette Wong, Joyce Wessling, Casey Daliyo, Nicole Zucca, and Jessica Huntsman.
Excellence and innovation were terms that I heard frequently around the Symphony office, referring to the talent on stage and off. A world-class orchestra, elite administration, and excellent people, make the San Francisco Symphony so incredibly successful as an international arts leader, a community organizer, and an orchestra. I had an amazing summer working with the best symphony orchestra in the best city. As the song goes, “I left my heart in San Francisco.”
Interested in more? Check out San Francisco Symphony through our archives.