Amateur Music Network's Lolly Lewis spoke with SF Chamber Orchestra Music Director Benjamin Simon about AMN'S Third Annual Side by Side partnership with the SFCO: what drew him to this music and why he keeps coming back to working with amateurs.
Ben Simon has successfully made the transition to conductor following twenty-five years as a violist performing in several of the United States’ most elite ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Naumburg award-winning New World String Quartet, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In 2002 he was appointed Music Director of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and has transformed that organization into one of the premiere professional ensembles in northern California.
Lewis says, "Ben was one of the first people I thought of when I started Amateur Music Network. We had worked together many times over the years, and I loved how the SF Chamber Orchestra, with its free concerts, was all about making the highest-quality music and giving back to the community. I knew he would really understand what AMN was trying to do. And right away he suggested the Side by Side - bringing audience member string players right onto the stage after a concert for a reading with professional musicians as stand partners. We're in our third year of the partnership now and each one is better. I'm really grateful for his visionary leadership. Plus, we always have such a great time!"
Amateur Music Network: Elgar's music really seems like it comes from another world, and so does Piazzolla's. What do you hear in these pieces?
Ben Simon: I agree, Elgar comes from a gentler time. There's so much emotion and deep feeling, but there's a civility and ease about the music that just warms my heart. And I think Piazzolla is the greatest South American composer of the 20th century. His music captures the spirit of time and place in the way all great music does. This just happens to be the bordellos and brothels of some dark waterfront street in Argentina. The danger, excitement, and sensuality of the Tango infuses his music with a life we can hear and experience today.
AMN: What do you hope people will experience playing in the Side By Side?
Simon: It's so much fun for our professional musicians to relax a bit with a new friend and stand-partner. We hope that fun communicates throughout the group and that we all have a great time. Making music with other people is what it's all about!