Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Me2/Orchestra

Last night I was reminded of Ronald Braunstein, a fellow Juilliard student (we were not friends, but we did work together occasionally). Ron was studying conducting there, though he had entered as a composition student. He was an interesting person to me, partially because he was clearly talented, but mostly because he allowed himself to be vulnerable. The operative strategy at Juilliard in the late 1970s was to give the appearance of being highly successful and invulnerable. The 21st-century term that would apply would be "bulletproof."

Ron was not bulletproof, but he was a serious high achiever. Immediately after graduating from Juilliard in 1979 he went off to Berlin and won the gold medal in the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Competition. He worked with Karajan as an apprentice, and conducted orchestra all over Europe and Asia. After returning to America, he conducted the pre-college orchestra at Juilliard and the preparatory orchestra at Mannes. In 1981 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and, like other people with the disorder, he has had challenges navigating his way through professional and personal life.

Braunstein now lives in Vermont. In 2011 he formed an orchestra in Burlington for musicians living with mental illnesses to play in, and in 2014 he started one in Boston. Here's a link to the Me2/Orchestra's website. There's a page there with links to articles about the orchestra as well as a link to their YouTube channel. The orchestra does not require an audition. Participants can choose to reveal the nature of their mental illness if they like, but it isn't necessary. It isn't even necessary to have a mental illness to participate! They welcome people of all ages: patients, family members, friends, physicians, counselors, people recovering from addiction, and caregivers.

It makes me very proud to know that Ronald Braunstein is doing something truly good with his life and his talents.

Here's a clip of the orchestra playing at the King Street Center in Burlington, VT.

I was surprised, when going through some of my brother Marshall's writings (which I keep mostly private), to find that Marshall knew Ronald Braunstein too. Here's an excerpt from Marshall's memoir (SSO would be the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, which was having a conductor search in October of 1984):
Braunstein actually got to meet us by a fluke before rehearsals ever started--he got on the same plane with us. We were returning from Boston, and Elaine’s wedding, and he got on at LaGuardia, a day early so that he could have a break before meeting the SSO management. That gave him a chance to look over the first movement of Alien Landscapes, which I’d just finished scoring. Unfortunately we never heard from him again.

I disagreed with some of the things he did in rehearsal--taping, for instance. (With IRIS, and Michael Stern, there is an excellent reason for it: we record commercially.) But his Barber Adagio for Strings (with his parts) and his Beethoven Fifth (with all the repeats) had stunning musical conviction. Also featured was the Ginastera Harp Concerto, with Heidi Lehwalder as soloist.

There you have it!

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