This week photographer Sarah Blais conducted interviews with a handful of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s musicians in a back stage edition of The Uniform Project. Not only did she go behind the curtain to capture the details of their dress, but was invited to attend the a performance of Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 & Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 following the interviews (lovely performance!).All photos by Sarah Blais
Sydney Chun has been with TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra) since 1999 and playing Violin since kindergarten. She explained to Sarah that the stage uniform is formal, all black, with long sleeves, but that she creates layers of black textures in her version, with items like her DKNY skirt & beaded top from Zara. As for accessories, violinists cannot wear anything ‘dangly’ or chunky due to their contact with the instrument — so she keeps it simple. It’s also important that she isn’t restricted in her movements, so she prefers not to wear anything too structured. The places she frequents for her outfits include Anthropology, Club Monaco, J Crew, and Zara.
Sydney has just gotten into a relationship — with a new violin (after spending so much time with one instrument, you become attached). The new violin once belonged to another TSO musician, so she’s ready and excited to take it on. When it comes to practicing for a concert, Sydney likes to consider what the composer was trying to say and adds her own ideas to the sounds. When she finished graduate school the Mahler 3 Symphony brought tears to her eyes as she played it in her final concert. At that point in her life, she identified with the piece as a release of one chapter and a step into the next. Right now her playlist (outside of practicing) consists of Train, Eric Hutchinson, Coldplay, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Joaquin Valdepeñas was 12-years-old when he emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. and began playing Clarinet. He studied at Yale and is now the TSO’s Principal Clarinet. It’s required for men in the symphony to sport the black tailcoat with a white vest, dress shirt or cumberbun, black dress pants, and black shoes. Joaquin prefers the cumberbun and is the only musician in the symphony that has kept the white pocket square (classy!). His suit was made in Korea.
Joaquin’s favorite composer is John Corigliano, who creates modern but accessible music, “you can understand what’s going on”. One of Corigliano’s pieces is one of the hardest in the clarinet repertoire — and Joaquin has played it around 20 times. He actually took part in designing his own instrument; Joaquin worked with Yamaha in combining German interior with French exterior in the CSG Yamaha Clarinet. The combination makes for a unique voice…
Chas Elliot plays Double Bass in the TSO and was on his way to Big Daddys (a New Orleans-style restaurant nearby) when Sarah met with him. His meal consists of “straight ahead” oysters (literally just straight oysters) with Champagne. He also wears the tailcoat, but sticks to a white dress shirt and bowtie for underneath. His suit was made for him by Syd Silver years ago (still fits like a charm). Chas has been playing professionally for 40 years. He used to go down to NYC every month for lessons, and did some time in Chicago as well.
His favorite place thus far has been studying in France mainly because the Europeans way of life attracts him. When asked about a composer that suits his personality, Chas referenced Richard Strauss (2001: Space Odyssey) and recommended listening to the entire 35 minutes of the piece we all know the opening to. (Note: TSO does an evening called Sci-Fi Spectacular where they play the music of Star Trek, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Space Odyssey, etc.)
Chas Elliot believes you have to nurture the sound out of your instrument, and that you have a personal rapport with it. Apparently it takes awhile to find an instrument that you don’t want to let go of. He also said that “…all the really great instruments have only been played by great players, so they’ve always resonated in a certain way — they just sound great. You pull that sound out of them.” Apparently instruments made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) are worth millions of dollars and praised as the finest bowed string instruments ever made. After playing Chas has to wind down. “After all, you can’t just fall asleep after a Mahler Symphony”.
Since she was 6-years-old, Roberta Jenson has been behind a cello. She is invigorated when performing & given the chance to partake in a musical and emotional journey with thousands of other people, the privilege to do this on a regular basis is what she loves about her work.
Her Cello is from Italy, and was constructed in 1824. Roberta says certain colours come naturally, while others she has to work harder to achieve for the voice of the instrument. In May, Roberta will perform a solo piece at the Arts & Letters club (looking forward to this!).