Lynne Richburg, Viola
How did you hear about the orchestra, and how did you get started with the group?
I had been working for three or four years at the Sacramento Symphony as its Assistant Principal Viola, but the Orchestra had just gone into chapter 11 when I made a call to Stuart Canin and he started telling me about this exciting new orchestra that was being formed in the Bay Area. I knew Stuart from the Music Academy of the West, where he’d been my chamber music coach.
At that time, the Orchestra had three violas. Richard Fleischmann was the Principal, and the orchestra’s co-founder Weisaslaw Pogorlowski was also in the viola section. There was only the one opening, but Stuart said if I got me resume in right away he would make sure I got an audition.
I was thrilled when I got the called that I won the audition! An I was very happy to learn that another member of the Orchestra would be Rene Mandel, who played in the Music Academy of the West quartet with me that Start had coached! We even won the quartet competition, and we received $100 each!
Can you talk just a little about what was appealing about the idea of a conductor less orchestra to you then?
Well, we were all younger then (laughs!). Seriously, I can tell you that I knew – I think we all knew right from the beginning – which this was going to be a hotshot orchestra. We had that buzz, and you just knew this orchestra had the potential to be something special. Stuart was Music Director, Rene Mandel was there and I had heard all about Nico Abondolo, our Principal Bass for many years, and that there were 11 other top rate musicians from the Bay Area that I had not known before, but came to know as we started this journey together.
The founders (Miriam Perkoff and Miewesslaw Pogolorski – spelling is wrong, I know!) wanted our music to mix with other forms of art like dance and visual art. Everyone in the orchestra loved the idea of it being different, and O think we were all really, really excited.
We had 25 rehearsals for our first program. Rehearsals were only on weekends, but Stuart laid down the law that you couldn’t miss any rehearsals – not one! That happened to work well for me at the time, because the Sacramento Symphony musicians were out of work, but it was still a real sacrifice. For example, the Caramoor Festival had called me at the request of Andre Previn and invited me to participate in their festival in upstate New York. I ended up having to say no because I had committed to this new orchestra.
What was it like performing with founding Music Director Stuart Canin? Can you talk a little about his leadership style?
Stuart gave the orchestra a strong foundation and helped bring it to a high level immediately. Since it was a brand new orchestra starting from scratch, he was extremely disciplined and everyone had to be at every rehearsal. He had high standards, a strong work ethic and you had to be prepared.
While the idea of a democratic collaboration during rehearsal was there from the beginning, there was less of it at the beginning, over time it has evolved into what we have now.
One thing I remember about Stuart is that he always seemed to have more energy than everyone in the group! Back then, we stood during all the rehearsals and concerts. Over time, many of us would grab chairs or stools during rehearsal, but not Stuart, he always stood!
Is the idea still motivating for you now – still exciting? Can you talk about why?
Yes- It is a constant challenge to keep growing as an artist and together as a group. It is exciting to see NCCO continue to reach for new heights and continue to make a presence as it is introduced to new audiences.
What do you think makes the NCCO so special?
You can feel the quality of the music making, the focus, energy, passion, dedication and communication. We are an amazing group of musicians, who each have something different to offer. We work hard, and play with our hearts. When we join together to make music it can be quite special.
Can you talk a little bit to the audience reading this about what else you do when you’re not performing with the New Century Chamber Orchestra?
The past 12 years I have commuted to LA to do studio work: mostly movie soundtracks, and several times the Academy and Emmy Award shows, record dates and work of this type. I have a private viola studio in Sacramento and really enjoy teaching. On occasion I coach the Youth Symphony, and play select recitals and concerts. For the past 16 summers I have been a member of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony and also on occasion performed chamber music as part of their music festival in Sun Valley, Idaho. I love going there; it is one of my favorite places in the world!
Later, Krista Bennion Feeney served as Music Director for seven years, bringing her own wonderful style of music-making to our orchestra. Can you talk a little about Krista’s years with the group?
Krista brought new qualities, colors and a very different type of expression to NCCO. I feel like we went through a period of “smoothing off the rough edges”. What I mean is that Stuart had been very dominant, but with Krista everything for the Orchestra was more carefree. We could relax a little and let go. We needed to breathe, relax, explore color and the warmth of our expression, and Krista encouraged us to do that.
She was also a baroque music specialist and we explored this style of playing quite often.
Even though we still worked hard, rehearsals definitely had more collegial atmosphere. By this point, many of us had other jobs and major commitments, and she was always so understanding about our schedules.
And I particularly enjoyed the special projects she created for us such as Gang Situ’s String Calligraphy with the Lili Cai Chinese Dance Company, and the Abbey Road project with music by the Beatles.
I know you are especially close to Paula and John Gambs, and you sometimes stay with them when you’re performing with NCCO. Can you talk a little about what their friendship has meant to you?
John and Paula Gambs are two incredibly special people. They have been 2 of our biggest supporters from the very beginning, and in many ways are the heart and soul of NCCO.
Paula has been President of the board from the very beginning. She is also the “orchestra mom”. She is supportive, enthusiastic, is at most of our rehearsals and she and John are at most of our concerts no matter where we perform. The occasional baked goods and amazing parties for the orchestra and board are just a few of the many thoughtful things they do to help the musicians and the NCCO organization. Their enormous generosity and enthusiasm for NCCO makes it feel less like a job and more like a family.
Over the years they have been so kind to open their beautiful home to many of the musicians coming to play with NCCO from out of town. I have been a fortunate and frequent guest at their home over the years! They always make you feel relaxed, welcome and taken care of, and after getting to know them and their family throughout the years, they all now feel like part of my extended family.
Four years ago, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg joined us as our Music Director. Can you talk a little about the new directions you feel she has taken New Century, and how she has changed us?
I think Nadja was the perfect person at the right time to help pull it all together. She has ignited a new fire in our music making, continues to demand a high level of music making, and brings her extraordinary passion and dedication to this organization. She has provided a vision and platform that has given us a national presence.
Her programming is very interesting- a perfect blend between new, edgy and traditional. I feel very excited to be on this part of the journey with NCCO as it continues to unfold. It is both thrilling and rewarding and I am eager to see where this current path will take us!
I feel that each in their own special way, all 3 of the NCCO music directors were perfect for us during the time they were and have been with us.
If you can have one wish come true for the New Century Chamber Orchestra, what would it be?
That it remains a joyful musical and personal experience, and that it realizes it full potential.
This interview appeared in the November 2011 20th Anniversary Gala Tour Kick-Off Celebration program book.