(what follows is basically an overview of the variety of work I've managed to get busy with since leaving the world of professional full-time string quartet and moving to Canada as a freelance musician...)
So... I’m writing this from Ottawa, two days into a week of work as an extra playing Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade and Shostakovich's 11th Symphony with the NAC Orchestra in NBoC's production of Nijinsky. This is my second stint with the NACO; the first was for the season opener back in September - just before I’d published my previous post. As I alluded to then, I’ve managed to get and keep pretty busy with a variety of musical work in my post-Quartet life since relocating with my family to Canada.
In addition to these couple of trips to Ottawa (and I've just been booked for another week with them in May 2018) I've had a bunch of great subbing opportunities in Toronto's orchestral viola sections. On a couple of My first Canadian freelance work was in early Fall 2016 doing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony with them in Roy Thompson Hall - not exactly dipping your toes in to test the water... It was an amazing first gig, and my just-starting-french-horn-lessons son was able to come into the city with my one night to attend one of the performances.
A few months later, in January 2017 I played as an extra in the pit for the COC’s production of Wagner’s Gotterdamerung - once again, diving in headfirst to the serious rep - not a bad first professional opera experience! Other violists playing that show included Angela Rudden, the principal of the NBoC Orchestra. We had dinner together before one of the performances and aside from offering advice on a range of industry subjects she was kind enough to put me on the sub list for the Ballet, and I eventually found myself playing a run with them as well.
Indeed, all of the performance and teaching work I have found so far in Canada has been thanks to friendships and the generosity of those who have helped connect me with 'the right people' as I've sought out a new, post-Quartet career path.
In the Spring of 2016, when the Quartet work in San Francisco was nearly done, I received a Facebook message from Eric Nowlin, who had heard from our mutual friend Jonathan Vinocour - with whom I'd performed a few times in the previous couple of seasons - about my planned move to the GTA. Eric was preparing to leave Toronto for Detroit after several years as the TSO's Associate Principal Viola and his studio of viola students at the University of Toronto would be in need of a new teacher come Fall. I was very happy for that little bit of serendipity, happy to have at least some work to look forward to when I moved - and conscious that his departure would quite probably lead to more subbing opportunities... and eventually, a chance to audition for his position. I accepted his offer to take over working with his students, and he put me in touch with the admin folks at the University.
One of the final CSQ projects was to record the two Brahms String Sextets at Skywalker Sound in California with Barry Shiffman on viola and Zuill Bailey on cello. We had performed them a few times earlier in the season and were looking forward to what would be our Quartet's final recording experience. Three weeks before the sessions were scheduled to begin the last week of April, I went rollerblading alone one morning near my mom's house in Danville, and took a hard, stupid tumble about three blocks from the end of my round-trip route. The damage was a grade 3 AC separation: the force of my spiraling my into the ground at high speed had ripped apart the ligaments connecting my left clavicle to my shoulder. It was intensely painful, and I couldn't play. A doctor suggested surgery, then reversed their opinion, trying to figure out the fastest way to get me playing again in time for the recording if at all possible. The alternative was to just let things heal on their own - the long term prognosis was about the same either way, but surgery was likely to delay my short-term recovery. My colleagues considered all the options for the production plan and decided to go ahead with the recording as scheduled - we had so many elements in play that we wouldn't be able to reschedule - but we also identified another violist we all respected to be 'on call' to do the recording in case I was still unable when the time came. It was all very awkward, and shitty, and the timing - so near the end of our final season, with so many final projects to do together - couldn't have been worse.
Long story a little shorter: somewhat miraculously I did end up able to play the sessions, and despite the residual pain it felt fantastic to pull through and fully participate in the project that my accident had put in such jeopardy just three weeks earlier. I know it was scary for my colleagues but I also felt well supported by them all as we made our way through the music. The celebration at the end of the whole thing was well-earned. Zuill later texted me warm congratulations I will always remember and appreciate; Barry offered to connect me with some people in Toronto and began introducing me via email to principal players in Toronto - Teng Li with the TSO and Keith Hamm in the COC.
In the weeks that followed I set up a couple of coffee meetings for days when I'd be in the country on one of my periodic family visits carved out of the final stretch of Quartet touring, and had nice initial conversations with each of those renowned and respected players. I didn't know what to expect, I didn't really have a plan, I didn't really know what my goal was other than to meet the people my friends had said I should meet, and see if I couldn't make a decent couple of first impressions. We talked about the ups and downs of chamber music, about the good and the bad of the orchestral scene, about my previous experience, about what might I be interested in doing - about what I might be willing to do... And it began to hit me that I was really off on my own now, professionally speaking, for better or for worse, but I didn't feel anymore like I had earlier in the season, when I'd been describing it as heading toward the edge of a cliff with a plan to jump but no idea about what was actually down there or whether anything would be there to catch me. Now at least there were some smiling, familiar faces looking up at me as I was about to jump!
So I made the move, settled in with my family in Kitchener, got my work permit in the mail just in time to start the school year, and began teaching at U of T and performing wherever I was asked, doing my best to earn more than we were spending.
One year later, in early May 2017, the TSO held a national round audition for that Associate Principal Viola position. I finally had my first chance to actually win a job and upgrade from the freelancing lifestyle to full-time employment with a good and stable income. The freelancing work proved an excellent crash course in some of the standard audition repertoire - which I really had no experience with thanks to my 15 years in a string quartet! With five or so weeks' notice to learn 'the list' as best I could, I made a little daily practice schedule to make sure I got through it all, and scheduled a few mock auditions with new friends in both Toronto and Kitchener. When the day came I played well enough to advance through the first round to the semi-final that took place the next morning, but then made it no further.
Now the day after that, the K-W Symphony, who performs in a beautiful concert hall not 10 minutes' walk from our home in Kitchener, was also holding an audition for their Assistant Principal Viola position. Some of the audition repertoire was the same, some bits were different. With the TSO's audition experience immediately behind me like an excellent warm-up, and now feeling a little like this was my last best chance to grab a stable job - if not as well-paid as what I'd been doing in SF - right where we were already living, I managed to win that one. That was a good day. I had subbed with the KWS several times in the Spring of 2017 and enjoyed working with them: they're a good sounding group, fun, and friendly. They offer an employee healthcare benefits package, the salary pays the bills up here, and this year they're playing a 35 week season which leaves a handful of gaps in the calendar I've been able to still fill with some subbing with TSO and NACO for additional variety and extra income. But forget all that - you just can't beat this commute.
After those auditions were done, summer hit. I was trying to figure out cash flow to get us through to September when the NBoC opportunity - Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake - came up fairly last-minute. Beyond being good money for the work, those couple weeks made me reconsider just how much I might actually like Tchaikovsky (I really didn’t much, before).
At some point I got an email from a violinist I'd met subbing with KWS on a program earlier in the Spring, who turned out to be a contractor for (among other things) the Toronto Concert Orchestra. They've been doing this fun summer pops series at Casa Loma in Toronto for about four years, and she kindly offered me dibs on any of the concert dates - every Tuesday in July and August - I might be able to do. So I picked a bunch and did that the rest of the summer, squeezing in staycation-style family fun here and there like trips to neighborhood parks and swimming pools, and even an awesome (but brief) road trip to Wyoming and back with my kids (mama couldn't travel with us at the time because of her chemo treatment schedule) along the way.
Through all of this, I’ve made new friends, reconnected with old friends, and encountered helpful strangers and generous veteran players who’ve welcomed me into the scene as more than just “the new guy” in town that I am - was? I already don't feel so new here anymore. And the music - so much good music. I’ve really been enjoying the sheer variety of music and musical partners in all these different orchestras, viola sections, conductors coming and going, and the great concert halls and smaller beautiful venues in and around the GTA.
And I haven't even mentioned the chamber music. There's been a lot of that, too, and a lot more coming up soon. Maybe I'll write about that next time.