Name, age, occupation, where do you live and where are you from.
Barbara Yahr, 47, Orchestra Conductor, NY, NY
You're the Music Director for the Greenwich Village Orchestra, what exactly does that entail?
Being a music director is certainly a varied and interesting job- sometimes it feels like a cross between being a group therapist and an air traffic controller. First and foremost, my job is to conduct the orchestra. I choose the music for the programs, rehearse and perform the programs. There is all the technique of bringing the music to life: setting tempos, adjusting the phrasing, balance, and dynamics of the performance. There is also plenty to do behind the scenes. I work with my colleagues of in the orchestra and on the Board of Directors to shape the direction and goals of the organization.
Your orchestra is made of people from entirely different backgrounds (artists, attorneys, editors, programmers, scientists, teachers, to name a few), how does that influence the music/mood/approach?
Our orchestra has a really wonderful atmosphere to it which may be due to the fact that everyone is there because they really want to be. We have professional classical and jazz musicians, but we also have college professors, teachers, research scientists, attorneys, doctors, medical students, editors, actors, web designers and the list goes on. We all love music and more specifically, symphonic music. My job is the same whether I’m conducting hardened professionals in major orchestras or the GVO: it is to inspire the orchestra to sound better.
Your bio says that you've been around the world in your career. What brings you back to New York, how does the city compare and contrast to the other cities of the country and the world?
The life on the road is not as glamorous as everyone might think. I’m very glad to be back in NY with my family. In many ways, NYC is more like some European cities than some of the smaller cities in America. American cities tend to shut down at 6PM when everyone goes home and it can be hard to find a good place to eat after the concert.
Is music appreciation in the New York/United States much different than that of other cities/countries?
Classical music is more accepted as part of the day to day culture in Europe. With government support, a small town in Germany might have a full time opera, theater and ballet company. But they too have trouble getting young people in to hear the concerts, just like in the US. Some Europeans are extremely sophisticated – American audiences tend to be enthusiastic and less cerebral in their relation to music. One striking difference is that the audiences are so quiet in Germany, there were times I wanted to turn around to see if they’d all gone home.
What is your favorite piece of music, period of music, composer and why?
This question is like asking a parent which is his or her favorite child. I get very involved in whatever piece I’m preparing. Shostaokovitch 6th was my favorite piece this September, and Beethoven‘s Eroica dominated November. I will add that I love conducting Sibelius, Dvorak, Schubert, Haydn and Bartok just to name a few.
Is your passion mostly in classical music, or would you say you have wide ranging passion for music?
My passion is classical music, but I grew up dancing and singing in musicals and I am a fan of the masters of tin pan alley. I love the Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Evans. There is something intrinsic to any great music. The other day, my step son played me a guitar solo from the Allman Brothers and I was completely blown away.
Do you think orchestral music is lost on today's youth or do you think that there's a segment of the population that will always love orchestras?
No, no, no! If kids are exposed in the right way to orchestra music, it would knock their socks off. . Everyone is looking for an experience of music that will make them feel something. Sometimes that’s a rock band with the amp turned up to 10 but it might also be the Rite of Spring If you play shlock for kids, they won’t get it. That’s why I play Beethoven on concerts for young children, as we will this week end. We do it in small doses but I think the power of that music will come through no matter what the age of the child.
Our children’s concerts have been a huge success with kids. I’ve set up a separate orchestra called Kid Music!, composed mainly of GVO players, to make it possible to host more children’s concerts each year. We have kids dancing in the aisles – the music isn’t lost on them!
Sunday, the Greenwich Village Orchestra will feature the winner of its Young Artist Competition. How did that competition come about?
I’ve never like the idea of competitions but we started this one because I wanted to give young musicians a chance to play with an orchestra. It is a very important experience and one that is hard to come by at an early stage in a musician’s life We had fantastic finalists and it was very tough to choose a winner. Our soloist this year, 14 year old Keir GoGwilt won not only because he plays the violin extremely well, but because he had an understanding of the music he was playing that was both compelling and moving. He is extraordinary.
What place or thing would you declare a landmark?
Washington Irving High School is a landmark already but I’d just like to second the vote. The auditorium and lobby of this school are incredible. Other than Carnegie Hall, acoustic quality of the auditorium has few equals in the NYC area. It’s one of the great secret locations in Manhattan.
What advice, if any, would you give to Mayor Bloomberg?
To come to the GVO Gala Benefit in February when we will be raising money for Washington Irving High School. Last year Bob Kerry narrated Copeland’s Lincoln Portrait. The money we raised went to the Washington Irvington music department. Some of it funded the school jazz band’s participation in a national competition. They won first prize. I’d love to have the Mayor with us in the future.
When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone?
My favorite walk is near our apartment in Riverside Park. When I’m learning a score, I can walk there, going through a score in my head, singing, conducting , whatever -- and because it’s NYC, no one even looks twice.