There he was, just north of his fourteenth birthday, violin bow moving with high energy and precision, neatly in sync with the other string players on either side. He was in the midst of some of the finest musicians in the country. In fact, on his left sat the recent runner-up in the International Primrose Viola Competition. As I watched the first rehearsal of Edvard Grieg’s masterful Holberg Suite for strings, I was intrigued by this stark juxtaposition. I wondered what was running through young Anthony Preucil’s mind.
I could sense a bit of unease at first. Although he knew that this was going to be a very different experience from his normal youth orchestra routine, it was one thing to anticipate it and another to actually take part in it. There was going to be no careful first reading of the score or detailed look at the more demanding passages like he was used to. No, from the first beat, every musician plunged into the work as if their life depended on it. No hesitation, no second guessing – this was full bore playing of the kind you expect on opening night.
I think it’s safe to say Anthony was caught a bit by surprise, but within a short time he could see what was expected. He had to be one of them, and the beauty of it was, he had ten models for the best behavior a string player can exhibit, playing their hearts out all around him. It didn’t take long for the lesson to take effect. He was soon moving bow and body with the rest of them. He was sensing the direction of the phrases and responding to the emphasis the music suggested right along with the others. As alert as he was, on the edge of his chair, he seemed to relax a bit and grow more confident. I could see his growth as a musician happening before my eyes.
It all took me back many years ago to my graduate student days. I had a friend who taught clarinet at Northwestern University. She was an excellent player who frequently played with the Chicago Symphony. Every year, she gave a solo recital at NU. One day she asked if I would perform on her upcoming recital. She said she wanted to do the Mozart Quartet for Piano and Winds. I jumped at the chance. Then I asked her who else would be playing on this great masterpiece. She said Larry Davis would play piano. That didn’t surprise me because he was a pianist on the faculty and my friend had used him before, but I knew he was really top-notch – the kind of pianist a major operatic singer would choose as an accompanist for a Carnegie Hall recital. Then she told me that Dale Clevenger would be the horn player and Ray Still the oboist. I gulped! Dale Clevenger is still the Principal Horn with the Chicago Symphony and Ray was then the Principal Oboe. These were gods, and I was so mortal it wasn’t funny – a mere graduate student still playing on what at the time was a very good student instrument. I was elated and scared silly at the same time.
The rehearsals were the experience of a life-time. I still remember it vividly after forty years. I was transported to a whole new realm of musicianship in the matter of minutes. I couldn’t absorb everything fast enough. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A million couldn’t do this justice. I was reborn. They taught me, mostly by example, and encouraged me as well. Every minute of every rehearsal I improved. The performance went quite well. I had gone toe-to-toe with the best. I swam with the sharks and made a huge step toward growing fins. I still remember what this experience did for me.
When I had a chance to talk with Anthony after one of his rehearsals, I could tell, he was growing some fins himself, and he knew it. He talked about how it was both easy and challenging to operate at this rarefied strata. He thought it was worth months of private lessons. Our June/July season is now over and Anthony is back in Illinois, but he will never be the same. The 21st season of Door County’s Midsummer’s Music has worked its magic on many audience members, but nothing compares with what young Anthony Preucil experienced. We will be back in the week leading up to Labor Day with two different programs and six concerts. Come hear and watch the magic unfold before you ears and eyes. Call 920-854-7088 or visit www.midsummerSmusic.com for reservations or more information.